It seems as though we equate body muscle with health. The more muscularly toned an individual is, the healthier they must be, right? But have we placed too much emphasis on muscle, while the framework and glue that holds our bodies together goes unnoticed?
more than muscle
While abdominals and biceps may get all the attention at the beach, they would be far less impressive without the connective tissues that hold them, and the rest of your toned bod, together. Collagen, the main structural protein that makes up our skin, ligaments, cartilage, gut, blood vessels, and other fibrous tissues is the most abundant protein found in a mammal body.
To the delight of my patriotic husband, the word collagen is derived from the Greek word for glue, which is pretty much how it functions in our bodies.
It’s also pretty much how it functions in jello as well. Gelatin, the food product that gives jello its wiggly disposition, is derived from the collagen of animals, usually beef or pork. (Sorry to disappoint any jello loving vegetarians) Unless you’re loading up your plate with jello from the cafeteria line, you’re probably eating a lot less of it than your ancestors did. Historically, our diets would have contained much higher levels of gelatin since the entire animal was utilized, rather than just the muscle meat. Did our ancestors know about the health benefits of gelatin?
Gelatin certainly can be applauded for making wiggly desserts and gummy candies possible, but its benefits go far beyond the dessert aisle. Since it is derived from collagen, it provides the building blocks for collagen production in our own bodies. As we get older our bodies produce less collagen, which can affect our physical health with joint pain and arthritis, as well as our vanity, in the form of wrinkles and loose skin.
Consumption of gelatin aids in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as strengthening bones, joints, and fingernails and improving the quality of skin and hair. (source)
In the same way that gelatin powder attracts water to form desserts, it attracts digestive juices and aids in digestion, having been used effectively to treat illnesses such as colitis and chron’s disease. Since the lining of our gut is made up in large part of collagen, consuming gelatin helps a damaged digestive tract heal, alleviating food allergies and other symptoms associated with leaky gut.
Avoiding animal products for health reasons?
Some studies have alluded to the fact that when meat consumption is restricted, the lifespan of some animals increases. This particular study was able to increase the lifespan of mice by reducing the methionine in their diets. Methionine is an amino acid that is found in eggs, muscle meat, and some nuts and seeds.
does less meat mean a longer life?
This finding would lead one to believe that restricting meat and animal products in general would increase the amount of time we get on this earth. But the interesting thing is that supplementing with glycine has been proven to have the same effect (study)
Why is that important?
Because glycine is an amino acid that is found in the skin, ligaments, collagen, and connective tissue of animals. (It is found in unusually high levels in gelatin)
Eating animals: we’re doing it wrong.
So in essence, it is not the meat consumption itself which is shortening lifespan, but the heavy consumption of muscle meat without the “tid bits” that hold that animal’s muscles together. By allotting all of our attention (and appetites) to muscle meat, and disregarding the remainder of the animal, we are disrupting the natural balance of methionine and glycine that our ancestors would have naturally consumed.
Ultimately, we should work to better utilize the majority of an animal rather than one or two favored cuts. But while you are working to include more of these “odds and ends” into your diet, supplementing with gelatin can be beneficial to your health, as it is the best food source of glycine. Other great sources are bone broth, and the skin of animals, pork in particular. I drink a cup of hot water mixed with a couple teaspoons of this gelatinbefore bed each night. In addition to its health benefits, glycine can help ease you into sleep.
Have you researched your paleo diet?
While I embrace many aspects of the paleo diet, I feel that sometimes people might be missing the ultimate goal of it. It’s not about eating a ribeye at every meal, and if you think that is the way that our cave dwelling ancestors dined, you may be a little off the mark.
Animal products have been prized throughout human history, partly because they were rare to come across. When an animal was consumed, it was treated as a whole entity, not just its equal parts. By consuming in this way, our bodies can use the nourishment synergistically, as nature intended.
Do your homework!
Before doing a total overhaul on the way you eat, I suggest doing a bit of research to make sure you are choosing the right foods for you and your family. A few of my most trusted resources are Chris Kresser, Katie the Wellness Mama, and Sean Croxton.
Don't let me do all the talking! Let me know what you think in the comments.