Hey Team! This article is meant to meet you wherever you’re at right now. Maybe you’re eating run of the mill takeaway from the cafeteria at work every day, or maybe you’ve just surgically removed gluten from your diet. Maybe you’ve been doing ‘paleo’ for a while now, eating lots of veggies, clean protein, nuts and seeds, and a little fruit.
Whatever you’re up to, perhaps you’ve heard of the term ‘nutrient density’. I think I heard about this early on in my ancestral nutrition journey but it just sort of breezed through my ears. It sounded sort of appealing but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant.
Nutrient dense foods are the next step for health and healing
At some point I started seeking more in-depth healing, like helping my leaky gut, curing joint pain and reversing tooth cavities. This is where nutrient-dense foods really come into play.
If you’ve been playing around with a clean diet but aren’t quite seeing results, or you’re ready to up your game, here are 5 foods you’ll want to incorporate into your weekly regimen to really up the nutrient density. Once you work in these nutritional heavy-hitters, you’ll start to see lasting health, slowed aging and a truly resilient immune system.
These are foods which are often kind of on the fringe of our modern diets, if not completely forgotten. They were commonly consumed in every traditional ancestral diet but have been pushed aside by large-scale agricultural food. However it’s important for us to reincorporate these foods, since they offer up a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and probiotics which you might be missing in a basic ‘paleo’ or real-food regime.
If you’re not familiar I would highly recommend checking out the invaluable work of the Weston A. Price Foundation and the book Nourishing Traditions. This is basically the go-to goldmine on nutrient dense ancestral foods and how to make & consume them.
5 Foods to Increase the Nutrient Density of Your Diet
Consume the liver, heart, kidneys, thymus gland (sweetbreads), brain of any pasture-raised or wild-caught unmedicated animals. My go-tos are:
- grass-fed beef liver – hidden in grass-fed burgers or spicy stew, or use capsules like these
- pastured organic chicken liver – try this family-friendly recipe for tasty nuggets crumbed in a gluten-free flour
- cod liver oil – easy to take in capsules like these
Organ meats were a go-to for our ancestors and even up until recently when our dads still ate liver & onions. The nutrient and fat-dense organ meats were prized and muscle meats were generally left for the dogs.
Some nutritional highlights:
- In general, organ meats are between 10 and 100 times higher in nutrients than corresponding muscle meats. (source)
- Liver contains many important nutrients (vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron) and is higher in all of these nutrients than produce such as carrots and apples (source)
- Upon analysis and comparison of the nutrient value of foods eaten by traditional versus modern cultures, studies show that a traditional diet provides at least four times the water-soluble vitamins, calcium and other minerals, and at least 10 times the fat-soluble vitamins, such as A and D. These fat-soluble vitamins are present only in animal fats—butter, lard, egg yolks, fish oils, and foods with fat-rich cellular membranes such as liver and other organ meats. (source)
You may have heard bone broth mentioned in various paleo literature. This is called just ‘stock’ or ‘broth’ by normal people. To my knowledge these are exactly the same thing.
Collect any bones that come with the healthy meats that you purchase. We keep them in ice cream containers in the freezer. All too often I’ll be looking for some of our homemade raw milk ice cream and come upon a frozen chicken carcass instead…yuk!
…but the point is don’t throw out those bones!
THE EASIEST WAY TO MAKE BONE BROTH & ALWAYS HAVE SOME ON HAND:
Keep each type separate (or mix red meat ones if you like) and when a container gets full dump the bones into your crock pot, add a splash of apple cider vinegar, top up with water so the bones are just covered, and simmer for 24 hours. It’s that easy! Then you can keep the broth in smaller containers in the freezer to be popped into your soups or stir fries or whatever you’re cooking up. You can also just put a cup or two in a mason jar, add some water and pink salt, and heat it up anytime for a nourishing hot drink/snack.
Find out where to grab properly-raised meat in your area with farmmatch.com or eatwild.com. I know there’s also US Wellness Meats in the states, but haven’t found a good online supplier in Canada. Let me know if you know of one! Also, you’ll be needing a crock pot! (aka slow cooker). Do yourself a favour and get this pretty one, which won’t be such an unsightly beast in your kitchen ;)
Why you should eat broth:
- Bone broth is a source of minerals, like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, in forms that your body can easily absorb. It’s also rich in glycine and proline, amino acids not found in significant amounts in muscle meat (the vast majority of the meat we consume). It also contains chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, the compounds sold as supplements to reduce inflammation, arthritis, and joint pain. Finally, “soup bones” include collagen, a protein found in connective tissue of vertebrate animals, which is abundant in bone, marrow, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. The breakdown of collagen in bone broths is what produces gelatin. (source)
- bone broth assists in tissue and bone healing, keeping the skin elastic, nourishing hair and nails, keeping joints working smoothly, healing the gut lining, improving detoxification and providing vital minerals for body processes (read more here)
Fermentation is really easy to do at home with a simple book and some kefir culture or kombucha culture. All you need is milk for kefir and tea & sugar for kombucha. You can even make sauerkraut in a few days with just cabbage and salt (see instructions HERE).
The benefits of fermented foods:
- fermentation increases vitamin, mineral, enzyme and probiotic content of food. For example, Kombucha provides beneficial detoxifying B-vitamins, Kefir packs a heavy probiotic punch, and Sauerkraut contains 10x more vitamin C than the original cabbage. (source)
- the probiotics in fermented foods can assist in curing many conditions such as allergies, food intolerances and digestive disorders (source)
I wrote an extensive post on raw dairy HERE. This will help you find a local source for unpasteurized whole intact organic grass-fed milk. We buy raw milk, kefir, cheese, sour cream and butter weekly. It really doesn’t compare to what you get in the store!! It’s beyond delicious, filling and nourishing.
If you’re looking for a source for grass-fed butter, which is highly prized and recommended in the paleo community, check out my recommendations here for connecting with a local source.
Why would you want to consume raw dairy?
- The fats are intact. Homogenization of commercial dairy means the milk is pushed through tiny holes which corrupts and/or removes the fat and makes the milk less filling & more difficult to digest.
- The nutrients are present and bioavailable. Pasteurization (high-temperature sterilization) of commercial milk means that many of the vitamins, proteins and nutrients are denatured and destroyed.
- It is easier to digest. Natural milk contains enzymes such as lactase which actually negate all or most of the difficulties people have with digesting dairy. This leaves a highly digestible nutritious whole food. Bonus digestive points if you consume cultured dairy such as kefir, which is bursting with probiotics and has hardly any lactose remaining. (source)
- Raw dairy has been shown to heal conditions such as allergies, chronic fatigue and tooth decay (source)
Seafood is one of the most dense sources of healthy anti-inflammatory fats and body-healing minerals.
Vital Choice is an excellent place to buy high quality wild-caught seafood online (USA) or Daily Catch (Canada). If you’re located elsewhere or are curious about what seafood is the healthiest, check out this primal guide to grocery store seafood.
Some great nutrient-dense seafood choices:
- wild salmon roe – nourishes the brain and provides a rare food source of vitamin D (more here)
- wild-caught sardines – a great source of omega 3s, protein and calcium too – if you eat the soft bones (source)
- oysters – farmed or wild are both fine.
Just four medium sized Pacific oysters supply a smattering of B-vitamins (including over 1000% of daily B12), 1200 IU of vitamin A, a third of daily folate, almost 7 mg of vitamin E, 3 mg copper, 280% of daily selenium, and 33 mg zinc. That comes with 18 g protein, 4 g fat, 1.5 g omega-3, 0.1 g omega-6, and 9 grams of carbohydrates. (source)
Are you inspired to up your nutrient density?
Hopefully this quick guide has given you some juicy tips on how to really fire up your nutrition for long-term health and healing. What are some of your go-to foods, or maybe you have a great source to recommend? Please share with everyone below in the comments, or on the Thrive Primal Facebook page!