When we check off this list for each meal, it’s not really until we get down to #4 that we can usually answer the question of “What’s for dinner?”

Because what usually fulfills the requirement for “Protein” also ends up being a large bulk of the meal, the filler, what comes along to carry the fat (and sometimes probiotics and broth) and make it palatable.  ‘Cuz fat, by itself, is actually not at all yummy.  But meat or other proteins with lots of fat –> lots of yummy.

And “Protein” for us is actually not at all an emphasis on one particular macronutrient, the way that “protein” usually functions in nutritionism prescriptions.  In fact, I find that unlike any of the other priorities categories, I have to be extra cautious about consuming too much of really protein-rich foods — steak, oysters, shrimp — any sort of isolated or intense amount of muscle meat.  (And this is probably partly why.As much as I love steak, the last time I ate as much of it as I wanted, I felt like I had a brick in my belly!

So it’s very important for me that proteins, of whatever sort, be balanced with generous amounts of all the four other priorities on this list.  At this point, despite taking supplemental digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, my system is not producing enough “digestive fire” to handle large amounts of isolated protein.

The types of protein that I prioritize, therefore, are complex, and sometimes unconventional.  They are full not just of protein, per se, but also healthy fats, gelatin, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.  Some of our favorite protein “fillers” include:

  • Cheap cuts of fat- and collagen-filled meat, particularly beef and lamb.  I’m a big fan of short ribs, shin bones, and shanks.  Well, and gristle, but you already knew that.  Also pork belly, oh yeah … maybe not so cheap, but oh so magnificently delicious.
  • Wild Alaskan Salmon.  Especially undercooked or raw cuts.  Factory-farmed salmon (which is what you’re getting if you’re buying “salmon” without adjectival qualifiers) is not a healthy option.  And I can feel that it’s unhealthy after I eat it.  I used to buy the tubs of smoked salmon off-cuts from Whole Foods’ sushi-making operations, but I just felt gross after I ate them.  Wild Alaskan Salmon has much better fat ratios and much fewer toxins, and I’ve got a freezer full of it so I’d better get busy eating it!
  • Pastured eggs.  Especially the yolks(!), which are full not only of lots of fat-soluble vitamins, but also loads of healthy cholesterol which is great (and necessary!) for your brain and for balancing hormone production.  Good cholesterol consumption = good mental health.
  • Raw cultured dairy.  I have always thought of milk products as a protein — probably a holdover from being a vegetarian, when dairy was one of the few sources I had of whole proteins (almost all vegetable protein is incomplete and must be synthesized between amino acids from various different plant sources).  But dairy is, essentially, a very complete food;  it’s not by coincidence that babies spend at least their first six months solely consuming it.  There are plenty of healthy fats and carbohydrates, in addition to proteins, in rich grass-fed dairy, if we’re speaking of macronutrients, to say nothing of the ample micronutrients and microbacteria present in abundance as well.
  • Animal skin.  Chicken skin from oven-roasted wings that J would make every now and again was one of the gateway meats that lured me out of vegetarianism.  I would stand in the kitchen peeling the skin off the baking sheet.  Just a taste.  Or two.  Or then the pan would be practically clean when I was done with it.  Maybe I mentioned that I LOVE chicken skin?  And pork rinds are seriously eye-twitchingly amazing with guacamole, almost better than corn tortilla chips, which have always been my cryptonite.
  • Offal.  Tongues, livers, hearts, kidneys, oh my.  (Actually, I haven’t done the kidneys yet.  But it’s in the freezer! thawing in the fridge!)  Oh, and don’t forget the marrow, for heaven’s sake!  (Jenny from Nourished Kitchen commented on one of my earlier posts of this series that she tries to prioritize organ meats as much as possible — I definitely need to do more of this!)  The “fifth quarter” of the animal — the parts that normally get thrown out (=turned into animal feed or agricultural amendments — yes you read that correctly) in the standard American butchering process as all the muscle meat goes into plastic-wrapped styrofoam trays — is by far the most nutrient-dense part of the animal.  It makes sense that the organs that are vitally necessary to sustain basic living functions would have the most nutrients in them, in far superior levels to muscle tissue, which is, after all, dispensable in comparison.  Now if I could only get my hands on some grass-fed sweetbreads … or non-soy-fed brains …
  • Ground meats and sausages.  These are go-to staples for many of our meals.  They’re quick and easy to prepare, and versatile.  Our farm co-op regularly buys bulk quantities of ground beef, so we’re able to get a good price ($3.50/lb) and stock up our freezer whenever we’re out.  It’s nourishing, full of plenty of healthy fat, and at least while we were at the beginning of our GAPS intro stages, had remarkable powers for curbing my processed carb cravings.  Also, we’re lucky that we’re able to buy freshly-made sausages from a guy who seriously knows his stuff (check out the “A Farm Visit” section on this recent post by Mrs Wheelbarrow).  I talked about this a little in my broth post, but a few sausages braised in a pan makes for a really simple and totally delicious dinner that can be on the table in under a half hour.

I’ve read only a little about metabolic typing and I’m not so sure I’m into all that, but it does make sense to me that our bodies might be geared towards the consumption of more of certain foods over others, based on inherited traits and tendencies.  And I’m pretty sure my Scandinavian and English and Slovakian ancestors must have eaten a lot of yummy animal parts–because they definitely suit my metabolism!

Our Meal Priorities Part 1

Our Meal Priorities Part 2

Our Meal Priorities Part 3

Our Meal Priorities Part 5

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6 Responses to Our top 5 meal priorities: part 4, protein

  1. [...] Our top 5 meal priorities: part 4, protein « Yolks, kefir, and gristle – April 17, 2011 [...] large bulk of the meal, the filler, what comes along to carry the fat (and sometimes probiotics and broth) and make it palatable.  ‘Cuz fat, by itself, is actually not at all yummy.  But meat or [...] [...]

  2. Reading your blog is a breath of fresh air! I always ate this way for the first 24 years of my life, until going vegan. Well, 3 years of veganism made me sick, so after trying and failing to fix my health woes with supplements/medicines/etc, I returned to my previous way of eating and almost immediately was healed. Now I just read what you say and nod and smile, you are so right. These are the foods that make me happy and healthy!

    I can’t get enough of protein packed, fatty foods. I actually love the fat the most, with just a sprinkle of salt. I’ve always been that way since I was a kid, it’s nice to enjoy it again. Thank you for all this info and tips!

    • Megh says:

      Likewise on your blog!
      Unfortunately, I didn’t eat nearly close enough to this way for the first 19 years of my life, there were some good things (meat, for one! but not meat from healthy animals) and also a ton of nutrient-depleting and hormone-damaging “foods”. And then I spent about a decade as a vegetarian, close to vegan for about 3-4 months only tho. Healing stories like yours have definitely given me hope that I can eventually recover from at least some of the damage I’ve done to my body. It’s definitely taking a lot of time and even more patience tho! I know it is possible, tho, because I can see improvements, even tho they’re sometimes subtle. I sometimes wish I could have seen the dramatic effects that you hear about — people going on 30-day paleo plans, waking up to the best health they’ve had in their life. But it hasn’t been that easy for me — I think my body has just been really, really sick for a really long time, and it’s taking quite an effort for it to get accustomed to actually getting what it needs. And it makes me really grateful that I wasn’t sick with many worse ailments in the first place!

  3. [...] because even better than proteins, veggies are super-powered fat-soaker-uppers.  Like I said in my last post on the priorities, fat by itself, not a lip-smacking culinary venture.  But savory veggies [...]

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