Nutrition in America has taken many different directions throughout history, and continues to do so today. Through advancements in technology and research constantly changing the landscape of nutrition, it’s tremendously difficult to keep up with the “right” way to eat. Intermittent fasting, paleo, veganism, and the ketogenic diet are just some examples of nutrition protocols that claim to move an individual toward optimal health. It seems as if humans are constantly looking for new answers regarding nutrition in the modern world; convenience, low energy, high stress, and overall lack of fulfillment from food are all concerns. While advancements in research are usually an obvious source for gaining awareness around what we think we know, it’s equally important to reflect on history to understand what made humans thrive and evolve to where we are today.
The history of our ancestors and indigenous people have one thing in common—eating primarily “nose to tail.” This simply means that these early humans consumed as much of the animal as possible. This includes not only the best cuts of meat, but the organs as well, including the heart, liver, kidneys, and even testicles. Many people believed these organs were a life source of the animal and that its life source would become one with the human who is consuming it. Organs were cherished, and consuming them was seen as an honor, with humans often eating them raw as soon as possible after the animal was killed. Organs also happen to be some of the most nutrient-rich foods available on our planet. It’s no wonder that the modern world has moved into a state of un-health as these foods have become less and less prioritized in the modern diet. Most of the current foods today have fewer essential nutrients per volume.
The human body requires approximately 40 different micronutrients for normal metabolic function. Maximizing nutrient density should be a primary goal because deficiencies of any essential nutrients can contribute to the development of chronic disease and can even shorten lifespan. Eating nose to tail can significantly increase the intake of these nutrients. Different organ meats provide different essential nutrients. Two, in particular, are extremely convenient and accessible in many grocery stores: liver and bone marrow.
Liver is one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet. It contains significant amounts of folate, iron, vitamin B, vitamin A, and copper. Eating a single serving of liver can help hit the daily recommended amount of all of these vitamins and minerals, reducing the risk of nutrient deficiency (2).
Iron is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the United States. Iron deficiency can lead to certain types of anemia, resulting in fatigue, muscle weakness, and a lack of focus. Liver is an excellent source of both iron and vitamin B12, which work in combination to keep your blood cells in good working condition (2).
Liver is also full of vitamin K, which is critical to the health of the skeletal system. Vitamin K helps the body process and add calcium to bones. As a result, it helps maintain the strength of the skeletal system. Getting enough vitamin K has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic conditions such as osteoporosis. Vitamin K is also important in maintaining the health of the circulatory system (8).
Liver does have a taste and texture that can be off-putting. Luckily, not much needs to be consumed to reap the benefits. Consuming liver raw can be extremely difficult but rewarding. Luckily, it can also be frozen and blended into different smoothies or shakes, as well as soaked in milk to get rid of the metallic taste. However consumed, liver is sure to bring a host of essential nutrients back into the body to aid in its optimal performance.
Another historically consumed tissue is bone marrow. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found in the center of bones, and is mostly concentrated in the spine, hip, and thigh bones. Its stem cells produce red and white blood cells. These cells move oxygen throughout the bloodstream, assisting with tasks like blood clotting.
The fat tissue in bone marrow contains a hormone called adiponectin. This hormone helps break down fats. It can help maintain insulin sensitivity, and has been linked to lower risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other obesity-associated cancers (3).
Bone marrow is also full of collagen, which improves the health and strength of bones and skin. It is also rich in glucosamine, a compound that helps address osteoarthritis, relieving joint pain, and reducing inflammation in the joints (4). Glycine and conjugated linoleic acid are both abundant in bone marrow, and they’ve been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties (5). Chronic inflammation is linked to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s (7).
While not nearly as unpleasant, bone marrow can still be consumed raw. It is a perfect delicacy that can be added to toast or crackers. It can even be sauteed or used as a sauce on meat dishes. Most commonly, bone marrow is simmered for up to 48 hours to be used in broths or soups. With this much versatility, there’s no way not to not enjoy this nutritious tissue.
There will always be many different types of nutrition protocols and ways to consume different types of food. Regardless of the health or performance goal, the one thing all humans need is an adequate amount of essential nutrients to keep the body functioning optimally and to limit the development of chronic diseases. To understand how to optimize your nutrition, training, and overall lifestyle, schedule a FREE strategy session with a professional coach at Central Athlete and get on the path to the most robust, healthy, and balanced version of yourself.