On Whole Foods

“Whole foods” is a major buzz phrase among the health-conscious, so much so that a chain of health food stores has taken it as its name. We’re urged to eat whole foods — especially those “healthful whole grains.” Yet many of the same people who would tell you they advocate whole foods eat blatantly un-whole foods without a thought.

I startled a friend the other day by telling her I rarely bought boneless, skinless chicken because it is not a whole food. She asked me to explain. I told her that I have 30-odd chickens in my back yard, and every single one of them has skin and bones. Boneless, skinless chicken is lacking in gelatin, changing its amino acid profile.

Similarly, an egg white omelet is not a whole food. The only yolkless eggs are a few “starter” eggs a young pullet may put out as she first starts laying. After that, every egg has a yolk — and the really choice ones have two. Those yolks are where the fat and cholesterol are, foods I consider valuable. They are also where virtually all the vitamins and antioxidants in an egg will be found.

The “whole foods” set also tend to favor low-fat or fat-free dairy products. This is not how dairy products come out of the cow; skim milk is a refined food. Of course, that means both butter and heavy cream are, as well, but few people drink a cup of heavy cream or eat a stick of butter, using them, rather, to add flavor, texture, and healthful fats to foods. Too, fat is needed to absorb many of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in foods — including the calcium in milk. The antioxidants in vegetables eaten with no fat are largely unabsorbed. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/2/396.full

And don’t even get me started on juice. Why people think it’s a good idea to throw away fruit’s fiber and concentrate the sugar is beyond me.

A whole foods low carb diet includes bones (in the form of bone broth) and skin — chicken skin and pork rinds are excellent foods — and connective tissue from tough cuts of meat cooked properly, making that connective tissue silky, succulent, and flavorful. It also includes the fat that comes with your meat.

Ideally, it also includes organ meats — which is where a lot of people get squicked out. As a cook and a collector of cookbooks, I find this interesting. It was no more than 50-60 years ago that virtually every cookbook included recipes for organ meats. My junior high cafeteria served liver and onions at least a couple of times a month. (I do not recommend industrial kitchen/steam table liver.) Tongue was a deli standard right alongside the ham, turkey, and roast beef. Expensive restaurants offered liver and sweetbreads, and you may be sure diners offered them, or they wouldn’t have been on the menu. Menu 1900, Menu 1920s I’m unsure what happened to change America’s perception of organ meats from “delicacy” to “eeeeeeww!!”

I love chicken livers. I also eat a little liverwurst nearly every evening — it is our dogs’ bedtime treat, and I get my share. But if you find organ meats a Food Too Far, let me recommend this:

Find a good specialty butcher shop, and order 12 pounds of beef chuck ground with 1 pound each of beef liver, heart, and tongue. It takes my butcher shop a day or two to do this. When you get your big ol’ batch of ground meat home, divide it into 5 batches. Using clean hands, work a rounded tablespoon each of plain gelatin and bone meal through the meat. You can now make it into patties, or simply package it in quantities you find useful — a pound or a pound and a half each, perhaps.

I call this Nose-to-Tail Burger. It is a little softer than regular ground beef and has a little stronger flavor. The family might notice if you simply cook it in patties. But in chili or a well-seasoned meatloaf, they’ll never guess. And you’ll never notice.

But the place to start is with skin, bones, connective tissue, and fat. Lean, boneless, tender muscle meats are not whole foods.

Now I’m hungry for chicken wings. Real wings, with bones and skin and lots of gelatin.