If you're looking for a post about acai, gogi berries, flax, or chia seeds… keep moving, because this isn't it. These super-foods are all from animals. Yes, animals.
If you were to leave me off somewhere on an island with either only plants or animals to eat for my survival, do you want to guess which I would choose?
Here's a hint: it would be the most nutrient-dense food available.
I'd like to note that this post is intended as a quick snapshot view of some of the amazing health benefits of foods that are commonly demonized in mainstream media. This is not my end-all-be-all post on why we should eat these foods, nor should it serve as an ultimate explanation of why they aren't to be feared.
1. Eggs – whole eggs, especially the yolks.
Did you know that eating cholesterol doesn’t actually raise the cholesterol levels in your blood much at all?
Shocking, perhaps, but true.
According to Uffe Ravnskov, author of The Cholesterol Myths, Ignore the Awkward: How the cholesterol myths are kept alive, and Fat and Cholesterol are Good For You, dietary cholesterol tends to increase serum (blood) levels of cholesterol is only about one-half of one percent!
We’ve been scared away from some very essential nutrient dense foods by media and marketing hype that began circulating in 1984 when Time Magazine published an article that speculated about the effects of dietary fat and cholesterol on human health.
As it turns out, there was not sound research to support this claim, but we as a nation ran scared from one of nature’s most perfect foods!
Gary Taubes rebutted that article, and the mainstream demonization of fat in general, in his New York Times Magazine article “What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?”
Did you know that cholesterol is the precursor molecule in our bodies from which all of our hormones are made?
The truth of the matter here is that eating cholesterol is not only healthy for our bodies, it’s highly recommended to promote healthy hormone balance.
What else is so great about eggs?
Eggs are rich in choline, which is critical for cell membrane integrity, nerve-to-muscle communication, and optimal liver function. Vitamin A, iron, cholesterol, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12 and selenium are also rich in eggs. Eggs are like little a nutrient powerhouse!
Hungry for more?
I talked a lot about the fear people have about eating eggs, especially the yolks, in my post: “Can Americans trust Dr. Oz for nutrition advice: only in moderation.”
Can't eat eggs? Check out my 15 egg-free Paleo breakfast ideas here.
2. Liver – your grandmother used to serve it regularly for good reason!
The liver is the filtering and detoxifying organ of the body, so lots of folks got the false impression that the organ itself was filled with toxins and should not be eaten. This isn’t the case! While the liver does complete these processes, toxins are excreted and not stored in the liver of animals we may eat.
The truth is that liver from well-raised animals (pastured, grass-fed when appropriate, etc.) are extremely rich sources of B vitamins, vitamin A, and iron – all energizing nutrients that are essential to our health!
Hungry for more?
Check out my easy recipe for chicken liver paté here.
The Food Lovers have a great meatball recipe that you can use to hide your liver here – or their straight-up chicken liver and onions recipe here.
3. Beef – from grass-fed cows, rich in omega 3 fatty acids and CLA – the fat-burning fat!
Did you know that red meat from animals that have grazed on grass pasture for the entirety of their lives is a rich source of bioavailable (easily digested and absorbed by your body) protein, vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)?
What’s more is that 100% grass-fed beef is actually leaner than it’s grain-fed counterpart, so while the fat it contains is healthy fat, the amount of fat in it tends to be much lower than that of grain-fed beef.
Farmers use grains, corn, and soy to fatten up the cattle in a speedy timeframe so that it’s less expensive to produce them. 100% grass-fed beef delivers a powerful nutrition punch with fewer calories than grain-fed – better for the cow, and better for you!
Hungry for more?
I drafted this post two weeks ago and a couple of days later Chris Kresser shared more great info with us on why red meat is healthy. Check out Chris's post, “Red Meat: It Does a Body Good!” where he expands on some of the points I've made above.
4. Lard – rich in vitamin D and heat-stable, this traditional fat is a top-pick of mine for cooking and nutrients!
According to Mary Enig, author of “Know Your Fats”, lard (fat rendered from pork) is comprised of about 50 percent monounsaturated fatty acids – the same type of fat we look for in olive oil!
What’s more, lard is also one of our richest dietary sources of vitamin D, a nutrient that’s so tough to get from food – and from climates that lack sunshine year-round – that many doctors and nutritionists today now recommend that people take it as a supplement.
The solid-at-room-temperature of lard shows us visually what the chemistry indicates: that it is also rich in saturated fats.
Once believed to have negative impacts on our health, saturated fats from natural sources – like well-raised animals and some tropical plants like coconut and palm fruit – have been exonerated time and time again and shown to in fact be much healthier for us than refined, highly processed seed-oils.
Unlike naturally occurring saturated fats, man-made seed oils are rich in polyunsaturated fats that are highly susceptible to damage – from exposure to heat, light, and air. Cooking with fats that are more saturated – more stable and less easily damaged – is always a better bet!
My top picks for cooking fats (PDF) are: lard, tallow, coconut oil, and butter or ghee from a grass-fed animal.
Check out the great new book due out in July 2013 from Stacy Toth & Matthew McCarry (The Paleo Parents) called Beyond Bacon – it covers the many ways to cook with pork, including lots of recipes that use lard as the main cooking fat.
The bottom line here is this: as the media spews more and more information that aligns with the conventional wisdom of what is healthy to eat (low-fat foods, whole grains, lean meats and avoiding saturated fat, etc.), the importance of speaking the truths about the amazing health benefits of these traditional, real, whole foods remains critical.
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