The USDA’s My Plate (formerly known as the Food Pyramid), and a preponderance of other sources commonly direct consumers to consume more fruits and vegetables every day.
It’s true – fruits and vegetables are important, but what is not widely understood is the importance of animal foods and other healthy fats for sources of important nutrients that are largely missing from modern diets.
The nutrients in these foods support our digestive tracts and virtually every aspect of our health. Fats and cholesterol from animal-sourced foods contribute to a larger body of critical nutrients that are essential not only for foundations of health in growing and developing infants and children, but continued health maintenance throughout life.
These nutrients – fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2, essential fatty acids DHA and EPA in the form of Omega 3s, CLA, Vitamin B12, and a wide array of minerals, are found in these foods.
Here’s a list of some of the most nutritious foods you can eat:
Rich source of Vitamins A and D. Many people are deficient in Vitamin D, and chronic health issues are on the rise as a result. Historically speaking, traditional people all over the world have consumed diets that were markedly higher in Vitamin D. From the research of Dr. Weston A. Price in the 1930s, the traditional people he encountered consumed in some cases up to 10 times higher in Vitamin D than people living in the industrialized world.
Cod liver oil also contains Vitamin A. Vitamin A is critical in helping the body avoid many diseases and illnesses. It protects against oxidation in our cells, prevents childhood asthma, prevents kidney stones, helps to regulate the amount of fat tissue in the body, keeps blood sugar level, and protects the liver from becoming fatty and diseased.
Because it is not a synthetically produced substance, it is difficult to quantify the precise number of nutrients in a food like cod liver oil. Natural foods don’t come with nutrition labels as those which have been created by the food industry. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, “High-vitamin fermented cod liver oil is sold as a food so does not contain vitamin levels on the label. However, after numerous tests, the approximate values of A and D have been ascertained at 1900 IU vitamin A per mL and 390 IU vitamin D per mL. Thus 1 teaspoon of high-vitamin fermented cod liver oil contains 9500 IU vitamin A and 1950 IU vitamin D, a ratio of about 5:1.”
Unlike many other cod liver oils on the market, fermented fish liver oils are extracted without using any heat and use a natural fermentation process called lacto-fermentation. This is what makes the fermented variety nutritionally superior to run-of-the-mill cod liver oil. Without a doubt, fermented cod liver oil is a superfood, and one that can deliver real nutrition to the body, even to those with compromised digestion and immune systems.
For more information on the numerous health benefits of this superfood, Chris Masterjohn’s web site, Cholesterol and Health.
2. Coconut oil
This delicious and nutritious oil can be eaten raw or cooked, and is one of the most stable fats available. According to Dr. Mary Enig, PhD, nutritionist and biochemist, “approximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid.” This acid is a medium-chain fatty acid which the body converts to monolaurin during digestion. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozal monoglyceride used by the body to eliminate lipid-coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, influenza, a variety of pathogenic bacteria such as heliobacter pylori and giardia lamblia.
Coconut oil is easily digested and converted into energy in the body. As healthy saturated fats are some of the best sources of energy, coconut oil is a great source of essential saturated fat. Another 7% of coconut oil fat is comprised of capric acid, which stimulates anti-microbial activity in the body.
Because this oil is so stable, it can be used in cooking and heating foods. It is ideal for baking, cooking meats, vegetables, stir frying, popcorn, and many other meals.
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3. Bone broth
Bone broths are easy to make and highly nutritious because foundational elements for health are captured in the nutrient-rich bones from animals and birds in these preparations. It is difficult to calculate the precise amounts and types of minerals in bone broth, but is dependent upon cooking methods used, amount of water used, and the mineral content of the bones. Conventional versus organic and pasture-raised bones would be significant).
Some minerals found in home-made broth include the following: zinc, calcium, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. Home-made broths from bones provide numerous nutrients, are inexpensive to make, are delicious, and versatile. Uses range from being the foundation to soups, gravies, casseroles, sauces, marinades, and are great for cooking with rice, noodles and vegetables.
Broths also contain important amino acids, collagen, and gelatin. These substances provide digestive aid, immune support, encourage the balance of probiotic bacteria in the gut, and provides bone-building and maintenance support.
They are a natural and economical source of protein. Some of the health disorders thought to be improved by consumption of bone broths are chronic and degenerative joint and bone disorders such as osteoporosis and arthritis. It is also important in maintenance of fingernails and hair growth. Because it is a liquid, it is highly digestible as well as being a versatile food.
Here is our recipe for home-made chicken stock.
4. Raw milk
Milk from pastured, healthy cows free of antibiotics and hormones, pesticides, and other chemicals is a life-bringing substance. It is a complete and properly balanced food containing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, all-in-one.
According to Raw Milk Facts, amino acids behave as building blocks for protein. “Depending on who you ask, we need 20-22 of them for this task. Eight of them are considered essential, in that we have to get them from our food. The remaining 12-14 we can make from the first eight via complex metabolic pathways in our cells.
Raw cow’s milk has all 8 essential amino acids in varying amounts, depending on stage of lactation. About 80% of the proteins in milk are caseins- reasonably heat stable and, for most, easy to digest. The remaining 20% or so are classed as whey proteins, many of which have important physiological effects (bioactivity). Also easy to digest, but very heat-sensitive, these include key enzymes (specialized proteins) and enzyme inhibitors, immunoglobulins (antibodies), metal-binding proteins, vitamin binding proteins and several growth factors.”
Raw milk also contains healthy bacteria or probiotics. These important bacteria build the foundations of our intestinal and digestive tract, and also our immune systems. Healthy bacteria found in raw milk can help maintain good immune and digestive system balance.
The role of saturated fats, found in milk, is also essential to health. Saturated fats are critical in constructing cell membranes, hormones, and providing the capacity for energy storage and padding for delicate organs, and they provide a mechanism for digestion of important fat-soluble vitamins (many of which are found in vegetables and other foods). The body cannot recognize nor utilize damaged fats from pasteurized milk, and those substances add to the toxic load, rather than serve as a mechanism for health.
“All fats cause our stomach lining to secrete a hormone (cholecystokinin or CCK) which, aside from boosting production and secretion of digestive enzymes, let’s us know we’ve eaten enough. With that trigger removed, non-fat dairy products and other fat-free foods can potentially help contribute to over-eating (Raw Milk Facts).” Because of this neither skim, 1, nor 2 percent impart benefits for health such as the unadulterated fragile proteins, digestive enzymes, and probiotics found in raw milk.
If you or someone you know is “allergic” to dairy or has lactose intolerance, the reason might be due to consumption of pasteurized milk and milk products. Heating the milk during pasteurization denatures the healthful elements present in raw milk, and renders those substances difficult, if not impossible for the body to digest and assimilate into the bloodstream.
5. Organ meats
Beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, geese, duck, goat, bison and other game meats. All of these foods are excellent sources of high-quality protein and Vitamins A & D as well as a myriad of other significant nutrients. If you are looking to really boost your intake of nutrients in meals, this is one of the most effective ways to do so.
Many people find the idea of organ meats unappealing, but these foods were eaten by traditional people all over the world for thousands and thousands of years. In the historical past, t used to be customary to use most, if not all parts of the animal for nourishment and other purposes – tools and implements, clothing, cosmetics, medicines, and many other uses. Many of our ancestors would have considered it wasteful if not downright disrespectful to discard unused animal parts. The Native Americans regarded the whole body of the animal as a sacred and blessed gift of their everyday lives.
As well as eaten in plain sight fried up with onions and garlic, organ meats can be cleverly disguised in many dishes – casseroles, soups, stir frys, or minced and put in ground beef dishes with delicious sauces and marinades. The possibilities are endless.
Liver contains: folate, zinc, Thiamine, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B3), CoQ10 (important for cardiovascular function), iron, and copper. Contrary to popular belief, the liver organ does not store toxins. Those that the liver filters are actually passed on to the cells. Additionally, any unhealthy side-effects of eating liver are normally attributed to the consumption of factory-farmed, or obese meats – replete with chemicals and toxins you don’t want in your body.
Heart and kidney are also very beneficial organs, from healthy animals on pasture, and contain the following nutrients: folate, selenium, thiamin, zinc, phosphorus, CoQ10 and various B vitamins. Beef heart contains amino acids which are believed to boost metabolism and compounds that improve the production of collagen and elastin in our skin.
Here are some recipes using organ meats from Pinterest.
6. Butter and cheese
Another health food category containing saturated fat, butter and cheese from cows on pasture contains Vitamin K2, also calcium, and the most easily absorbed form of Vitamin A (important for adrenal and thyroid function). It is also a great source of Vitamins D (essential to the absorption of calcium) and E, anti-oxidants, selenium, lecithin, conjugated linoleic acid (potent anti-cancer agent, immune booster, and muscle maintenance), and lauric acid (essential in antifungal prevention). Vitamin K2 is necessary to properly synthesize Vitamins A & D. These nutrients protect against tooth decay, heart disease, and optimal brain functionality.
Butter and cheese contain short and medium-chain fatty acids, and like coconut oil, also include small amounts of lauric acid. Rich in antioxidants from beta carotene (Vitamin A), Vitamin E, and selenium, butter and cheese are truly some of the finest health foods available. Vitamin A is another valuable nutrient found in these prized dairy foods. When cows graze on living grass – rich in vitamins E, A, and beta-carotene – they receive better supplementation than those consuming stored hay or other conventional dairy feed. From the Grass-Fed Traditions site: “The naturally golden color of grass-fed butter is a clear indication of its superior nutritional value.” Just look at the butter you are eating, and if it looks golden in color, there’s a good chance it’s from a cow grazing on green pastures.
As with many other foods from animals on pasture, butter and cheese that comes from cows eating grass are head and shoulders above conventionally-produced dairy products. For many years, medical communities have campaigned against butter and promoted unhealthy artificial polyunsaturated fats like canola oil, vegetable shortening, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil. These are oils produced as by-products of the industrial waste process and are usually rancid on the shelf (even if not technically hydrogenated).
Read the 20 health benefits of real butter from Donna Gates at Body Ecology.
Yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, sour cream, cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, other lacto-fermented vegetables, kombucha, and fermented soy (natto tempeh, miso; fermented is the only way soy should be consumed). People have been consuming diverse bacteria in their diets for thousands of years. It has only been in the past 160 years or so of humanity’s existence that we have developed habits of sterilizing, pasteurizing, irradiating, and otherwise eradicating nutrients and friendly bacteria from natural foods.
The kinds of foods many people eat in modern day are produced under some of the most ghastly conditions which don’t allow good bacteria to survive and simultaneously are breeding grounds for sickness and pathogens (i.e., factory farms and other conventional farming environments). Modern farming and food production methods have caused food safety authorities to create laws requiring the “sanitation” of foods in order for them to be lawful for sale on the public market. A good alternative to this problem is the consumption of lacto-fermented vegetables and dairy foods such as those produced from healthy animals kept humanely on pasture.
What’s so important about fermented foods? According to Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple, “fermentation can render previously inedible or even dangerous foods edible and somewhat nutritious. The lectins, gluten, and phytates in grains, for example, can be greatly reduced by fermentation.” Although consuming grains should be done sparingly since they are inflammatory in nature and most wheat crops are now contaminated by GMOs due to test plots maintained by biotech companies, real, long-fermented sourdough bread is one of the healthiest, most beneficial breads you can eat.
Because populations of good bacteria have been decimated by the creation of the modern food system, the average person has a massive reduction in good bacteria in his or her digestive tract, rendering the body vulnerable to many conditions and diseases.
Benefits of consuming fermented foods include protection from many viruses and bacteria like those that cause flus and colds, diarrhea, and other acute illnesses to chronic problems like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, and cancer. They also aid the digestive tract in absorbing nutrients and enzymes critical to health, as well as help to reduce dental problems and cavities.
Steak, ground beef, chicken, pork, duck, turkey, good sources of fat-soluble Vitamins A & D, Vitamins E & K, betaine, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA which promotes cancer defense), and Omega 3s. Grassfed beef contains up to 4 times more Vitamin E, is the richest known source of CLA and contains 3 to 5 times more than meat from conventionally-raised animals.
Although fat is healthy for us to consume, it is true that grass-fed meats and poultry are lower in fat and calories, and also higher in protein. But the real key here is not the fat content – but rather, the right type of fat. Fats from animals raised on feedlots are unhealthy in many aspects, from the grains/soy/corn fed to the animals (who are meant to consume grass as they are ruminants), to the lack of sunlight and open spaces, to the substances administered to the animals to keep them “healthy” and make them grow faster for slaughter – antibiotics and growth hormones.
The quality of protein and fat is grossly compromised in animals in a feedlot environment, and as a result, nutrients are off balance. The Eat Wild web site shows how Omega 3 content of meats vanish in the feedlot. One example is the disproportionate amount of Omega 6s to Omega 3s found in conventional meat. When cattle and poultry consume grains, it increases the Omega 6s. Too many Omega 6s lead to inflammation in the body and eventually degenerative disease like obesity, cardiovascular problems, digestive disorders like diabetes, and cancer.
Healthy animals and birds on pasture do not need drugs to keep them well. Mindful farmers allow for their natural growth time and slaughter them at the right time. As a result, their meat and meat products are well-balanced foods that bring health and flavor to your table.
9. Eggs from pasture-raised hens
Eggs from chickens, ducks, and other fowl that are raised out in the open, free of hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals are great for your health. Eggs from birds on pasture contain fat-soluble Vitamins A & D, E, and K, and also the important and lacking Omega 3s from the processed and developed diet of most people living in the U.S. and other industrial nations. Eggs also offer other important nutrients: riboflavin, folic acid, and minerals calcium, zinc, and iron. Raw egg yolks from pastured hens (soy-free is recommended) are especially nutritious and contain choline, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), Vitamin A, D, and E. Try adding yours to a smoothie!
For decades, mainstream medical and health rhetoric deemed eggs an unhealthy food to consume. We were successfully convinced that eggs gave us heart disease and high cholesterol. But medical professionals have changed their minds again and are now endorsing eggs as acceptable to eat. We always knew they were wrong to begin with.
According to Eat Wild, eggs and meat from pasture-raised birds and animals has three times the amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) as their conventional counterparts, and 10 times the Omega 3 essential fatty acids. There is a strong connection between the regular consumption of CLA in the diet and reduction of cancer.When birds are housed indoors and lack exposure to sunshine, ability to express natural behaviors, and consumption of insects and plants, they are deficient in nutrients. They can also become sick much easier and farmers find it necessary to administer drugs and antibiotics to keep them well. Still, some of them die anyway due to the conditions in which they live.
These foods are good sources of iodine, calcium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, Vitamins C, D, E, & K, pantothenic acid (B5), niacin (Vitamin B3), and Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Best bets are wild caught Alaskan salmon, tilapia (U.S., farmed) whitefish, tuna, squid, crab, mollusks (oysters, octopus, squid, clams, scallops (farmed), mussels (farmed), crayfish (Northern U.S., farmed), smaller fish like sardines and anchovies, shrimp (Canada and Northern U.S.), lobster, fish roe, and caviar.
Seafood is by and large one of the best sources of the fat-soluble vitamins A & D, omega-3 fatty acids, and other important nutrients. Traditional populations the world over regarded seafood highly over nearly every other type of food. Historically speaking, great efforts were made to obtain seafood for both its health benefits and taste.
It’s no secret that the oceans, streams, and rivers have been over-fished and are polluted. As a result, there are concerns about safe choices in seafood and eating selections that are as free as possible from toxins. However, the healthier your gut flora is, the more protection you are afforded from heavy metals (especially mercury) contained in fish. As answered in this article with questions answered by Sally Fallon Morell in Nourished Magazine, eating foods rich in natural probiotic content (such as lacto-fermented vegetables, fermented dairy, and others) can negate the effects of heavy metals found in seafood.
Check out the Super Green List from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to stay current on the latest information regarding safe-sourced seafood.
What foods would you add to this list?
Photo credit: Matthew Flynnby