When exactly did the human diet start to fall apart?
Most people would point to sometime around the mid to late 20th century.
The argument goes that the rise in junk food consumption led to an explosion in chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity. Some experts will point to the sugar or fat content of processed foods as the primary driver of chronic diseases. Others will argue that it is the hyperpalatable combination of both fat and sugar.
On one end, the plant-based community is arguing that saturated fat and animal products are responsible for these modern diseases. On the other end, people are arguing that vegetable oil consumption (supercharged by excess sugar & refined grains) is the underlying cause of most chronic diseases.
One could even make the argument that it was our sedentary lifestyle, driven by technology, that left us in a country where more than 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the array of medical conditions that are plaguing the western world.
So, what do all of these theories have in common?
They overlook a whole class of foods that have essentially disappeared from our diets. We initially shifted away from them with the introduction of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. And in the past 100 years, we’ve shifted even further away from them.
These are foods that our grandparents ate without thinking twice. Maybe you or your parents even ate them as a kid. We likely ate these foods for millions of years before they nearly vanished from our diets and our stores.
What are these forgotten foods? Only some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet…
Primarily, organ meats. However, there are other obscure cuts of meat and animal products that have fallen out of favor. Some examples are bone marrow, bone broth, chicken feet, oxtail, beef tongue, sweetbreads, fish eggs, and even the brains of some animals.
Including these in your diet is what’s known as eating nose to tail. We like to think of it as a nose to tail lifestyle since animal products can be used in a wide range of products from lipstick to jet fuel.
As a society, a nose to tail lifestyle means less waste and better health outcomes. For virtually all of history, we thrived eating different parts of the animal – not just the chicken breast or filet mignon.
Beef liver is probably the most notable of these forgotten foods. Many of us, our parents, and our grandparents grew up eating liver and onions regularly. Nowadays, most kids would be terrified if a slab of beef liver found its way on their plate. Some of the most shunned foods are animal foods – specifically these off-cuts of meat.
We might think these fell out of favor because they taste funny. But maybe our taste buds just became accustomed to eating cookies and cake. It’s no coincidence that these nutrient dense cuts of meats fell out of favor right around the time chronic diseases took flight.
Modern international trade allows both plant and animal foods to be flown all around the world. As a result, our diet is more diverse than ever, yet we’re not reaping any health benefits from it. We might be eating more tropical fruits than ever, but the less popular, nutrient dense cuts of meat remain scarce.
We are given the luxury of choice, and we can choose to eat solely chicken breast for our protein if we want, but is it optimal? It might work. You may gain a lot of muscle doing so, but you’re missing out on the whole range of nutrients found in the other parts of the animal.
Let’s suppose you only ate the same foods every day for weeks or months (perhaps even years). If these foods don’t cover your nutritional bases, you could wind up developing nutrient deficiencies that can manifest as subtle symptoms like fatigue or more severe symptoms like migraines.
You probably wouldn’t attribute these symptoms to any one cause. The deficiency might even resolve if you switch up your diet once in a while. But that’s not going to be optimal if the deficiency returns every so often.
Based on the number of people with chronic diseases, there are probably millions of people walking around with undiagnosed nutritional deficiencies. Too bad doctors aren’t writing prescriptions for beef liver and oysters!
Eating nose to tail is an optimal way to obtain the near-complete nutrient requirements that humans need to thrive; you might not meet these requirements from eating exclusively muscle meat. Across the globe, traditional diets include the off-cuts and organ meats that the Western World has left behind.
Take a wild guess at which populations are healthier.
Despite recent research, people continue to avoid eating fatty cuts of meat. Not only does animal fat provide amazing flavor but also provides us with key vitamins and satiety. A fatty ribeye steak will provide you with more nutrition and satiety than a chicken breast of the same caloric content.
Dessert and junk food are a lot less tempting when you have a big ole steak sitting in your stomach. The same can’t be said about a hunk of grilled chicken. There isn’t much debate over which one tastes better – that’s for sure.
Now, you could eat 100g of chicken liver or 100g chicken breast and get roughly the same amount of protein. However, the liver will provide your body with far more nutrients like, iron, vitamin A, B vitamins, and trace minerals such as copper, selenium, zinc and manganese – all of which keep our body in balance.
Nose to Tail is Our Ancestry
Two million years ago, as hunter-gatherers, we ate both animals and plants. Animals were the preferred food source as they contained far more calories and nutrients than plants of equivalent weight.
But there’s a big difference between the cuts of meat we eat now and the animal foods that we ate back then. Now, we eat processed cuts of meat. Back then, we ate unprocessed animals.
Note the distinction between cuts of meat and animals. Currently, people eat a small variety of cuts of meat as opposed to feasting on the whole animal. We’re not saying that animals shouldn’t be cooked or processed, but why are we discarding all the bones and some of the most nutrient dense parts of the animal?
Ancestrally, we ate the entire animal or whatever we could get our hands on. We didn’t choose chicken breast or pork chops and then leave the rest of the animal. That would be like ordering the whole menu and then only eating one plate worth of food.
Unlike humans, many animals have multiple stomachs and mechanisms that transform the hard-to-get nutrients from plants into food. Cellulose found in grass is a great example of plant material that many animals can properly digest – humans can’t. Animals are probably the best source of nutrition for that very reason.
Humans are not biologically equipped to obtain nutrients from many plants that package their nutrients with tons of fiber and antinutrients. Therefore, plants are less bioavailable to us than animal sources of nutrition. Some nutrients can only be obtained by eating the animals that upcycle the nutrients from plants that are otherwise inedible to humans.
This nutrition comes exclusively from eating animals in the form of meat, eggs, organs, blood, milk, fat, collagenous tissue, and more. These animal products give us a food source that we can safely consume and derive incredible nutrition from.
Take the Sami in the Arctic Circle, for example.
They wouldn’t eat the lichen (a type of moss that was the only plant around for most of the year) found on rocks. But they would eat the reindeer that ate the lichen and even drink milk from these reindeer. In that sense, the Sami obtained the nutrition that the lichen provided. These nutrients were upcycled.
Nose to Tail for Health and Nutrition
Organ meats are undoubtedly the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.
Different nutrients are stored in different tissues in our body in varying amounts. Eating the organ meats gives us a more complete nutritional profile and thus reap the health benefits of eating animals.
Organ meats also contain nutrients that aren’t found in significant amounts in the typical cuts that Westerners opt for (steaks, chicken breasts, pork chops, etc.). Organ meats contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes, co-factors, and amino acids like CoQ10, choline, omega-3 fats, collagen, and vitamins A and D.
The nutrition from animals goes well beyond protein. Yes, animal foods have a complete amino acid profile. However, there can still be a significant difference in amino acid ratios depending on the cut of meat as mentioned above.
The amino acids proline and glycine will be far more prevalent in collagenous tissue such as skin and bones, while leucine will be present in greater quantities in muscle meat. Glycine and proline play a vital role in collagen synthesis and connective tissue, which could be useful for anyone wanting to take better care of their skin and joints.
Even animal fats provide nutrition. People tend to avoid the fat on their meat and avoid egg yolks without realizing that these tend to be the most nutrient dense parts. Hold the egg whites. We want the yolks. Better yet, the entire egg.
In the wild, when a lion makes a kill, it bites into the heart and other organ meats first. Why?
It instinctively knows that these are the most nutritious parts of the animal and that these nutrients will help fortify its body. Early humans were said to suck to the marrow out of bones in an attempt to get nutrition (and I just observed the Hadza doing this in Tanzania). Yet, we have removed ourselves from natural processes and lost these instincts amidst all the processing of food.
Let’s bring these nutrients and knowledge back to our dinner table. Here are some types of meat you may have not even thought of trying:
Organ meats such as liver, kidney, and heart from any animal
- Fish eggs, caviar, salmon roe
- Bone marrow, bone broth, gelatin
- Oxtail, shanks, and other fatty meats on the bone
- Crab, lobster, shrimp, sardines
- Oysters, clams, mussels
The list above showcases a variety of foods rich in micronutrients, some of which are full of cartilage, tendons and ligaments. We rarely eat them because they’re seen as unpleasant and undesirable. Still, the reality is that these cuts of meat can add a real crunch, flair and flavor to cooking. Combine that with the nutrient density of these foods, and you will find yourself craving more!
Many of the seafood options above allow us to literally eat the entire animal nose to tail. This means you’re getting every nutrient that the animal needs to live (which is chock full of nutrients that YOU need to live). It’s amazing how nature works!
Seafood also contains nutrients like DHA, iodine, zinc, copper, selenium, iron, and fat-soluble vitamins A & D – nutrients that are less common in the muscle meats of beef, chicken, and pork.
These nutrients, like iodine or zinc, are more easily obtained from seafood. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive either. Canned fish such as sardines with bones in is a great cost-effective option (eat the bones for extra calcium). Canned smoked oysters are another favorite of ours.
Eating fish has been shown to help reduce the incidence of heart disease, improve inflammatory markers in multiple sclerosis patients, and protects against chronic memory impairment. And you can bet it does more than that.
Eating seafood is an integral part of nose to tail and also being human! More and more research is attributing seafood and the nutrients it contains as a driver of our evolution and explosion in brain size as a species.
Nose to Tail for Sustainability
Nowadays, we have access to an abundance of food. We’re very picky eaters. What’s worse is that most of the food waste within the supply chain occurs at the end consumer – when we throw away food!
But this is a relatively new phenomenon. Throughout history, most food was far too precious to throw out. The massive buffalos that tribes once hunted were full of valuable nutrients that supported their growth and robust health.
Tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans had more limited access to food. We would’ve eaten plants or animals and made the most out of what we ate.
We didn’t waste any part of the animal. In fact, we probably didn’t waste any plant foods either. We didn’t throw away the fatty cuts of meat under the guise that dietary fat would make us fat. We didn’t avoid cooking beef liver because our family complained about the smell!
You get the picture: we used and ate all of the animal – every part you can imagine.
Most people today only eat muscle meat – this is especially true in western countries. This means we’re leaving about 50% of the calories from the animal on the plate or on the shelf in the store. There is high-quality nutrition and plenty of calories left to be had from the ears, marrows, feet, tail, head, organs and more.
It’s no secret that we waste a lot of food, and a lot of it happens on the consumer end. After all, if there’s demand for a product, someone will find a way to sell it.
By eating nose to tail, you’re helping to consume food that would otherwise be wasted while also enriching your body and supporting your health and immune system.
How’s that for sustainability? You can’t expect that kind of sustainability from the soybean or palm oil industry.
Although some people suggest that animal products are wasteful, fruits, vegetables, and cereal are actually the main sources of waste across the world. These account for 82% of the 1.6 billion tons of food wasted each year.
Dairy, meat, and seafood are at the bottom of the list. It turns out that most people understand how nourishing animal products are – they’re significantly less likely to be thrown away.
You can get nose to tail meats for relatively low prices. We sell them, but so does your local rancher. Buying in bulk, like a side of a cow, allows you to get the best bargain.
Alternatively, you could go and barter with your local butcher. Some will give away the bones for free, which you can use to make bone broth. Others may give you some fat trimmings for free – that’s quality nutrition that is otherwise being discarded.
It is far more ethical and sustainable to eat the whole animal versus picking and choosing what parts of the animal to eat. We should embrace eating and using the entire animal in the same way that indigenous populations have been said to use every inch whether it was for food, clothes, or tools.
That’s A Wrap
At this point, you might be asking yourself, why wouldn’t I eat nose to tail?
Maybe because you don’t care about your health and hate the planet.
In all seriousness, though, you’re missing out on a lot of quality nutrition and savings if you don’t. And we’re not even trying to sell you a product. You can probably find beef liver in your local supermarket for less than $3.00 per pound.
Eating nose to tail honors our ancestry, our body, our animals, and our planet.
Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us how great you feel once you’ve tried it for a few weeks!
EAT WELL. LIVE WELL.
Brian Sanders, founder of NoseToTail.org and Sapien.org
Dan Patterson, Head Writer at Sapien.org