Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Anyone Doing Paleo Without Liver, Bones, Skin, and Greens?

by Chris Masterjohn

Matt Stone is doing an interesting series on the damage to the thyroid caused by eating too much muscle meat instead of the gelatinous materials found in the other half of the animal.

Muscle meats and eggs are very rich in methionine, which increases our need for homocysteine-neutralizing nutrients (vitamins B6, B12, folate, betaine, and choline), and also increases our need for the amino acid glycine, found most abundantly in skin and bones.

I most recently made this point in my post on meeting the choline requirement:
Thus, although having a PEMT gene that Uncle Buck would surely envy might lower our choline requirement, consuming lots of methionine won't help us at all.  In fact, extra methionine just gives us more homocysteine and thereby increases our need for choline, betaine, folate, B12, and B6.
I had first made this point, however, in my 2007 article on pregnancy nutrition:
Glycine is depleted in the detoxification of excess methionine, another amino acid. Eggs and meat are the main sources of methionine—it not only constitutes a greater percentage of their total protein but these foods are also higher in total protein than plant foods (see Figure 9).56 It is important, therefore, for the expectant mother to liberally match her eggs and muscle meats with glycine-rich skin and bones and folate-rich liver, legumes and greens.
While the metabolism of methionine uses up glycine, betaine and folate can generate glycine in addition to neutralizing homocysteine, although the effect of betaine is restricted primarily to certain tissues such as the liver and kidney.

But where's all the folate?  Liver and beans.  You can get lots of folate if you eat liver, and you can get lots by eating lentil soup, but if you're eating a bean-free diet and you can't stand the taste of liver, you're going to have to eat the quantities of green vegetables that Joel Fuhrman recommends in order to obtain a comparable amount of folate.

And where's the betaine?  We can make betaine from the choline obtained from egg yolks and liver, but the best source is spinach and the most common source is wheat.  Again, the utility of choline and betaine in neutralizing homocysteine and generating glycine is limited to the liver and kidney, so folate is more important.

Glycine itself is most abundant in skin and bones.

Thus, while many people may improve their digestion and other symptoms by removing wheat and beans, the fact that they may consider these foods "evil" does not automatically deliver them from the need to make up these nutrients from some other source.  Muscle meats will always increase the need for glycine from skin and bones, but this effect could be greatly exaggerated if one eliminates legumes (and fortified bread?) without also increasing one's intake of organ meats and green vegetables.

This gives me a lot to think about, as I've really slacked on making stocks since starting grad school, and I often find myself in the office or lab too often to steam many vegetables.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here


  1. Are you saying that stock is a source of glycine, betaine and folate?

    I dislike most organ meat, but like muscle meat and after one week of cutting out PUFAs and high glycemic foods, I've been losing 1 lb per day. I made plenty of stock to meet my cooking needs and if the answer to the above is yes, I would start using it more in my cooking.

  2. Great post Chris....you need to have M post this at PaleoHacks. Would be an interesting question to see answered.

  3. Stock is a source of glycine, but I doubt it has much folate or betaine to speak of. However, my point is that there is an interaction here, so that glycine becomes more important if you get less folate or betaine, and vice versa, and they all become more important when you eat more meat. So, by eating more stock, you should require a little less of the other nutrients imply by obtaining more glycine.


  4. I've been eating more protein and fewer carbs, but I have 1 cup of homemade beef or chicken stock (with sea salt and a glob of coconut oil) before each meal, and a clump of sauerkraut or lentil sprout-kraut with my meat. I'm still a liverphobe...but I take it raw and frozen in swallowable sizes, washed down with water (like a supplement.) Do you think I'll run into trouble with this type of diet, at least in the short term? Trying to drop weight.
    Thanks for such helpful information!

  5. Sounds good to me, anonymous. But everyone's different. I suppose the best thing to do is measure your homocysteine. I've never even had the doctor do that, even though I have some homocysteine in the freezer at the lab and could probably measure it myself. I should get mine checked!


  6. As I commented on Matt's blog, I've been spontaneously gravitating toward lower amounts of the "typical" meats over the past year and now get very little protein from those sources, which I think is somewhat interesting. I can't say I've noticed any major improvements, but it was a gradual change, and I didn't really have any problems in the first place, so who knows--I feel good in general.

    As my taste for "muscle" meats decreased, my taste for fats increased. I eat only the yolks now, and along with a cup of cream. Also, I add lots of marrow (and some gelatin) to my soups.

  7. i know the whole food is better than supplements, but what about liver tablets? the ones i have are NOW brand and made from beef liver. thoughts on those?

    thanks for the post!

  8. Chris,
    The oxalates in spinach only inhibit absorption of minerals, right?

    Are there any necessary cofactors to properly absorb the betaine?

  9. @David, the oxalates are more common in mature spinach: baby spinach should not be a problem.

    @Chris, The thoughts you raise are good ones and speak to a balancing view of eating, even guiding our focus to reconsider constitutes a whole food on our plates--eat the entire animal, dang it! Most native peoples always prized animal organ meat and viscera superior to muscle, and most wild predators still do today.

    Previously as a professional chef I'd been amazed by how much non-whole foods can be teased into amazing creations that play the tongue like a symphony, but do little for the rest of the body. I'm less interested in such distractions now and much more enjoy plating the simple and natural flavors of unadorned foods. Suffice to say anybody can learn to love liver, bones, and skin in their pure state... or any other food for that matter.

    Most of our taste preferences are inherited relics of cultural conditioning and sense of smell aiding flavor associations to caloric rich targeting. We mostly today face an overworked palate rather than an undernourished one and a body desperately seeking dense nutrition in order to survive.

    Suffice to say almost anyone can easily renew and retrain themselves on what they love to eat whenever one thinks it's worth it to do so. Just pinch your nose and go for it. As to texture, well, that's a different story and you'll just have to get creative.

    Bon appetite however you eat!

  10. Pork rinds baby, woo!!

    What do you think about powdered beef gelatin such as [http://www.iherb.com/Now-Foods-Beef-Gelatin-Unflavored-Natural-Powder-5-lb/21258?at=0]... perhaps added to meals?

    And about the beans... I've been playing with the idea of re-including some beans into my otherwise paleo-type diet, but they just don't seem to agree with me. Does canned vs. dried make a difference and which types are your favorite? Love everything you do!

  11. Hmm.. I have eaten some collagen tablets by neocell daily since I read Peat's article about gelatin. I still don't know if that's very useful but at l least no adverse effects.

  12. Ah, the wonderful Matt Stone.
    Problem is, he actually lives the tittle of his blog : he makes 180degrees turn every few months...
    Did you know he's big on sugar now ?

    Nonetheless, I can relate to this from a paleo perspective : you get hungry because there not much food around. You go hunting. During the hunting, or when you are not successful) you eat some greens and bugs you find here and there, not to much. Then you make the kill. Brains, liver first. Take the rest to the camp and slowly eat the rest. Then it's gone. You don't eat any meat for awhile. Just some greens and nuts and maybee fruit if it's around. After a few days/weeks you go hungry for meat again and the cycle repeats.

    You see the pattern here ? Eat protein, but not always and not always muscle meat.

  13. In Greece, you can get this thing called kokoretsi at any taverna. It's basically cleaned out sheep intestines stuffed with liver, heart, kidney, lungs, spleen and glands (type of organs involved differ from place to place--at home, we use many liver and glands) . It's cooked over a fire. Typically, the liver taste is what you taste the most. I have a feeling I'm getting plenty of what I need when I order it. Bon appetite.

  14. @anya- Promoting fruit and molasses is hardly being "big on sugar". We all make judgment errors and this is all just a big expirement for the most part. Its not like matt went from high carb to low carb so the philosophy of his diet plan still works.

    For those who don't eat liver or beans fresh squeezed orange juice is a pretty good source of folate(and other important stuff), has about half the amount of beans and livers but still a decent amount(about 75% of the DV in 4 cups of OJ)

  15. I definitely eat the skin, gnaw on the bones/suck the marrow,cook my white rice/sweet taters in broth, eat 3-4 oz of liver daily, etc. What do you think about supplementing with l-glycine?

  16. Daniel mentioned pork rinds. But, seriously, what do you think of the fried pork rinds in the bag from the dollar store as a source of collagen? Only ingredients: pork skins and salt. I guess they're fried in their own fat. I wonder whether the fat is damaged from the cooking process, or whether it has too much omega 6.

  17. Well theoretically apart from any concerns about undesirable fillers in the supplements, an L-glycine supplement should supply glycine and same with powdered gelatin and so on. I suspect that true gelatinous materials have a positive effect on digestion that can't be obtained from glycine alone, but I guess you could experiment with these things and see how they affect you. Buying pork rinds from the store brings up the common dilemma, do you go for the right type of food or high quality? It's an individual choice you have to make and see how it affects your health.

    Daniel, lentils are probably the most tolerable, but I think you will do better with beans if you try fermenting them. Check out Stephan Guyenet's Real Food series over on Whole Health Source. His latest post on idlis is a good example.


  18. Hey Chris,

    If you get a crock pot, stock is super easy. Just throw the bones in and turn it on.

    I've found that long-cooked stock gives me gas though. I have no idea why, but I'm starting to wonder if it doesn't agree with me. Too much glutamate maybe?

  19. Oh, the humanity... Gelatin in pills, collagen as powder..?

    Go to your supermarket, pick a pork shoulder (might be called a picnic or something like this) -- it's basically the pig's shoulder joint with a large chunk of skin and it's the cheapest meat in the store. Salt it, add other spices to taste, and roast skin-up till done.

    You'll get your tasty skin, cartilage, etc. etc.

  20. @Cliff
    So writing " I don't think there's anything better for exercise performance and recovery than sugars - something my recent switch from mostly starches to mostly sugars has proven to me in short order. "
    is not big on sugar for you ?

    That's basically why I stay away from Matts writings, if you wait long enough you can find ANY advice in it.

    That's not 180degrees, that's 360degrees, covering any advice you can think of.

  21. kefir for folate

  22. @anya

    couldn't it very well be that as a person progresses through stages if healing and/or changes their exercise intensity that their diet would also have to continue changing in order to be optimal?

  23. Chris,
    No mention of fish and molluscs?
    Canned sardines/pilchards, mackerel and wild salmon are my staples for protein. Also lamb's liver and hearts.
    I also eat mussels 3 or 4 times a week.
    Are these good alternatives that would be on the list?

  24. The Vietnamese have a favorite soup, Phoe?,Pho? something like that, which is made by slow cooking bones for 3-4 hours and then adding spices and whatever ingredients are on the menu.

  25. Are you saying if you don't eat skin and bones you could eat liver and spinach and that'll generate the glycine needed?

    How much liver and how much spinach?

  26. Some of my patients doesn't really cook, asking them to make bone broths is really difficult. What do you think of the idea of getting organic gelatin powder (come in little packets, usually for making jello) and sprinkle in ready-made soups?

  27. I've been following the Primal Blueprint for the last few months after having success with it before (and then abandoning it when I got busy - only to regain the weight) The first time I did it I lost 18 pounds really easily. So I have been working hard to be compliant again with no results in the last two months. I was wondering what was up and the doc said the Thyroid was low again. I've been tired of eggs anyway and favoring greek yogurt, walnuts and blueberries. I'd like to hear your thoughts on seafood. What about switching out some of that muscle meat for crab, sardines or other fish? Also - it's strange but I love lentils and orange juice. I think my body was trying to tell me something. It's not like lentils taste really good! I'm going to make some beef stock this weekend.

  28. @:Darius
    Sure, but then to write about it, confuse the hell out of most people and insult other people in the mean time is something else...

  29. Chris, any thought on the content of B6, B12, folate, or choline in cod liver oil? Is cod liver oil a decent replacement for ruminant liver? Fermented cod liver oil a la Green Pastures?

  30. @anya
    do you really believe that someone else can cause confusion in you without you choosing that state? and then there's the fact that confusion always precedes understanding...

  31. @:Darius
    I said other people, not me, read my words.
    Care to comment on the insult part ?

  32. Chris, does soaking lentils do anything to the folate content? Also what about letting them sit a while after draining so germination begins maybe up to a bit of a root appearing? Also other legumes like garbanzo, my other favorite, or etc.?


  33. Anya: Who did Matt insult? Other than playful teasing, I haven't seen it. Quote please?

  34. I love offal, but I also eat muscle meats almost every day. How often should one eat organs to reap the benefits?

  35. what level of daily meat consumption are we speaking about? 1/2lb, 1lb or what?

  36. Thanks, Chris. Very interesting, as so often.

    The complexity of all this - understanding just what's going on seems a bit like trying to play chess in 3 dimensions.


    "Thus, while many people may improve their digestion and other symptoms by removing wheat and beans, the fact that they may consider these foods 'evil' does not automatically deliver them from the need to make up these nutrients from some other source."

    So from Diet X you may get some improvement but there could be a downside ... or you may have only *convinced yourself* you've gained an improvement. Or perhaps there was an improvement, but you've attributed it to the wrong thing.

    You've dropped foods Y and Z, and maybe that was a good thing ... or maybe just one of them was the problem. Or was it in truth not that the food was "evil" but just that you had been eating too much of it, or you didn't know how to prepare it properly. Or if you had problems with it maybe that was only because your intestinal flora had been disrupted through antibiotic use. Or maybe not ...

    Of course, what people want is something very definite, possibly something quite programmatic, but there's a fair amount of doubt and what people are quite sure they know isn't necessarily true. I'm also reminded of the early Socratic dialogues.

    To the contributor who theorizes about what hunters do, I'd say be more cautious about doing that and look at a few accounts rather than taking a guess. What precisely people do depends quite a lot of what's around in their environment and that varied according to where they wee and what the time of year - and with a heck of a lot of other variables.

    For example "slowly eat the rest" might sound like a likely guess, but in point of fact there are many accounts of hunting parties simply gorging until everything's gone with no thought for the morrow. It's not what agricultural (or post-agricultural) observers would expect, because the idea of making provision for the future is a rooted part of how they see the world. But that doesn't make it true for others. It's also worth remarking that there may be no "rest" in that sense - as if a band were eating the "choice" cuts first and "the rest" later. People living in this way have actually been observed to be *highly* selective in what they take and may simply abandon "the rest". (What they take might vary according to what the animal is.) If game is scarce then they might well be less so - may, indeed, be reduced to eating their clothing. In short, guesses about what people do can be wide of the mark.

    I'm not certain that what hunter-gatherers in the remote past ate is necessarily of more interest than what, say, the Swiss of the Loetschental Valley or 19th-century Hebridean Islanders ate. I'm not aware of *any* evidence at all that prehistoric populations (or, for that matter of that, say, Plains Indians) were any healthier than old-time Swiss Valley or Scots Islander populations - that the lifespan was longer, the skeletal material more robust ... or anything at all. There may be such evidence. If there is any such I'd be intrigued to see it, but until I do ...

    I think some bands of hunter-gatherers in areas where the fauna was not plentiful at least at some times of the year must sometimes have simply died from starvation. One source (Cartier I think) mentions a band of Angonquins looking like "walking skeletons". Cartier's men gave them some food, but could not, nevertheless, persuade them not to eat the rotting carcase of a dead dog that Cartier had put out to attract wolves he wanted to shoot.

  37. @Forget About Diets.

    Sure, just read the comments sections of most blogs just before they banned him.

    Here is an example:



    are you still saying he is not big on sugar.
    (or just molasses as you seem to quote)
    check his latest at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pNSxUhvIPp8

    He is singing the virtues of refined white sugar !

    Or could it be that even you followers are confused by his message ?

  38. this all new to me... thanks for sharing this...

  39. We sneak extra liver (and heart and other organ meats my kids would never dream of consenting to eat) into ground beef meals. We grind up the livers, etc in our food processor and use a muffin tin to freeze pucks of the meat that then gets chucked into mince stews and dishes like cabbage roll casserole (or the rolls themselves if I wasn't so darned lazy to spend the morning processing the cabbage!)

    Luckily we also make bone broth regularly and chomp on cracklely skin. :)

  40. Thanks for your comments everyone. As far as supplements, you just have to try them and see if they help. It could be rewarding to get used to gnawing on the ends of bones or making gelatinous stocks, however, if you find the time.

    David, I don't know much about betaine bioavailability except that these foods seem to work biochemically as a "high-betaine diet" in some studies, but I'll look into it for a future post.

    Daniel, I don't like the "idea" of canned beans but I use them sometimes. I use lentils mostly, but I'm going to diversify. First by taking a stab at Stephan's idli recipe (batter's fermenting!).

    Stephan, yeah I'll have to try the crock pot! I'm not sure why it might result in gas -- but maybe just don't cook them as long? WAPF is doing some biochemical analyses in stock so maybe we'll have a good idea of what the heck is in it soon.

    Bill, small fish are a great way to eat bones.

    Ed, I doubt CLO contains much B vitamins, but I'll post if I find data.

    Bernie, I'm not sure about soaking and folate. If you throw away the water, you probably lose some, but I'm not sure how much.

    As to amounts of these foods, you just have to self-experiment and see what's best.


  41. Great post thanks, I found that one of the best way in which to consume a small amount of bone is by eating sardines and as they are in season at the moment they are readily available and good quality.

  42. interesting, great post! :)

  43. My costco now carries a sprouted and dried bean trio (mung, lentil and adzuki). Comes in a 3 pound bag...I find it needs a longer cooking time than the package recomends, but I've eaten them 2x now and had no gas or other issues.

  44. I appreciate the information, Chris. I have been on a very low carb diet for a couple of years now, but I always eat organs, seafoods, home made stocks and some herbs. Could be why I have been so successful at it.

  45. I've been low-carb/panu/paleo for about 8 months now and was doing fine, but all of sudden started having joint pain and a blood test showed low thyroid. I eat lots of grassfed meats and veggies, and eggs (mostly yolks), some dairy (cream/cheese) but no offal and no beans. Someone directed me here suggesting I may be missing out on some nutrients. Was never on any type of diet before the paleo diet and was pretty healthy. Not much of a fan of offal and not sure I want to go back to my old SAD diet, so am a bit confused as to whether my low-carb diet is causing my problems or if I just need to tweak it a bit.

  46. Avacado contains 30%DV of folate ~ http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1843/2, and Brocolli 14%DV ~ http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2356/2.

    If both of these foods are eaten on a near daily basis, along with folate consumed along with other foods, we'd get pretty close without having to consume liver, no? That said, I'm going to figure out a way to add some liver to my paleo style diet.

  47. I am 9 months pregnant, and recently started eating liver (organic chicken). It definitely has something I need, because I can really feel an energy rush from it! I used to hate the stuff as a kid, and my husband won't even try it- more for me :) Plus, its CHEAP!

  48. What about adding large quantities of greens to the stock making process (Bones, connective tissues, plus copious greens)? Would the long cooking destroy the healthy benefits of the greens?

  49. I'd add them for flavor if you want, but I do think it would be better to cook them less if you want the nutritional benefits. Perhaps you could add them to a soup. Adding them to a soup after the stock is made is the best way to cook them IMO because you don't lose any minerals.


  50. Where does the American Heart Association bash liver? I know it's O/T, but I'm still trying to find that.

  51. Hi Anonymous,

    Here's an example:


    See "What should I limit?"


  52. We don't need any particular food. Every culture eats differently and has no universal food in common. We all have different biochemistry and needs. No one diet fits all. We can not determine the perfect diet with "science in the private interest," or McScience. Real research doesn't give absolute answers, like reveal the perfect diet. We can endlessly debate what primitive tribe enjoyed the best health; to what degree any particular food helped or harmed or did nothing for them; how culture, environment, and lifestyle changed their health and ours, etc.

    Anya, I don't see Matt Stone's blog posts as insulting. He was banned a lot because people push stale dogma and not facts, so they can't stand debate, IMO. For ex: many low-carb gurus claim something like "eating carbs (esp high-glycemic) elevates blood sugar and insulin, which in turn causes insulin resistance and obesity and diabetes." That chain of events does not conform to the reality of various groups who ate lots of high-glycemic carbs (white rice, potatoes, bananas) and never got insulin resistance, obesity or the other diseases of civilization. People selling low-carb and paleo books have no regard for the truth in many cases. They say what they have to say to maintain domination over gullible audiences.

    Matt Stone: "Hypothyroids leading the hypothyroids is the blind leading the blind."

  53. Hey Chris,
    What are the best ways to test your overall health? What lab work do you suggest/companies that can give you a good layout of nutritional deficiencies you may have. Thanks!

  54. Rapini (broccoli raab) is another really good source of folate, not to mention Vit K! http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/7360/2

  55. Anyone know of low-methionine experiments on primates or other higher mammals? The studies I've read of were on rats.

    How strong is the case for eating less methionine versus the case for eating fewer carbs. than the standard UK (or US) diet? It's fairly hard to do both because protein-rich foods low in methionine i.e. legumes are higher in carbs. than other protein-rich foods.

    Good blog, thanks - keep up the good work.

  56. Hi Chris,

    As you know, bone broths are a very rich source of the amino acid glycine. I have just discovered recent, prominent research that seems to indicate glycine in particular as being linked to proliferation of cancer cell lines:


    Would this information trigger a reevaluation of the role of bone broths for cancer patients or more generally for chemo-prevention strategies in your view?

  57. Muscle meats and eggs are very rich in methionine, which increases our need for homocysteine-neutralizing nutrients (vitamins B6, B12, folate, betaine, and choline), and also increases our need for the amino acid glycine, found most abundantly in skin and bones. www.clearskinmaxsolution.org


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