I cook with bones often. Very often. Whenever I do I can’t help but imagine them as part of their system in the mature animal. Especially the big ones (at least the porous ones): they’re like skyscrapers with a million little offices (osteocytes) and a billion little workers (chemical paracrine signalers) going to and from building and breaking down. I have other imaginative thoughts about tendons and cartilage, but I will spare you. Maybe my other free-association with bones you’ll enjoy better: one of my favorite Nada Surf songs has some pretty awesome lyrics which include the use of “ossify”, one of my favorite verbs.
Bones (physiologically and nutritionally) fall into the category of organs (like liver, heart, kidney) — the densest, most vital part of the animal (vital to the animal and to you). Before you close this window for the gross factor swearing you’d never lay your tongue on such things even if they could give you a sub-3 Fran time, understand that (and I’m speaking objectively) they are:
- A guarantee (when combined with a paleo diet) for improving if not hole-in-one-solving a long list of health issues, particularly those related to gastrointestinal and immune function, especially when combined with probiotic foods
- (After perhaps brain) the densest source of high-quality fat that is also essentially a broad-spectrum nutrient-dense, readily-usable multivitamin
- The secret to cooking insanely delicious, break your brain, spoons fall on the floor, everyone bows at your feet roasts, soups and stews
That isn’t all…
When I say bones, I’m also lumping in tendons and other bony/bone-related animal parts (feet, neck, collagen, gelatin), and especially marrow bones. Stock made from bones and bone marrow are a dense source of the following things and which you may not necessarily get much of eating a newb paleo diet of just muscle meats, veggies, and even quality fats like tallow or coconut oil.
- High levels of specific amino acids which play important roles in free-radical damage reversal and repair such as glycine and glutamine.
- Compounds and minerals vital to joint and bone health including those that likely promote joint health such as magnesum, chondroitin sulfate, calcium, and potassium.
There are some but’s…
Just like if you don’t eat what you evolved to and if you fail to use your body in intelligent exercise, if the animal you’re eating didn’t eat like it evolved to and didn’t move like it’s supposed to (factory farmed animals), the quality of your marrow, bones (and meat) is going to be much lower, and contain a host of creepy, potentially dangerous stuff: hormone, pesticide, high levels of pathogenic bacteria and in the meat, high levels of omega-6 fats which we want to reduce.
Just like prehab with soft tissue care (massage, foam rolling, addressing weaknesses and tightness), your insides (bones, joints, organs, systems) have requirements. Not meeting those accrue to deficits which result in injury, malfunction, and long-term, premature disease. Good nutrition isn’t optional.
Good nutrition can also be time consuming and cost-prohibitive if you aren’t efficient. Nature is efficient and gave you all the tools to be very healthy. But we’ve strayed far from our natural state and it’s difficult to get back there to achieve our full potential what with Facebook and late night and alarm clocks and bills and desk jobs distracting us from procuring bones, high quality meat and vegetables from reliable farmers with which to make bone broth and other efficient, delicious, nutritious foods.
Bones and marrow are generally the cheapest part of a pasture-raised or wild animal because they aren’t as easy-to-eat as the cuts of meat. Score. Plus, for any recipe containing bone broth or marrow literally no herb or spice is necessary to bring out the flavors in any meat or vegetable you cook with the broth or marrow (you can still use herbs/spices and it will still taste good). Double score.
Here’s an excellent bone-broth-based chicken soup recipe and a good post from Mark’s Daily Apple that will get you started.
Best Beef Broth Bar-none
Crock pot on low for 8-24 hours (bigger the animal/bones, the longer the time you can go)
- 1/2 c apple cider vinegar (alternatively: coconut cider vinegar or coffee or lemon juice)
- 3 knuckle bones (roast them at 350 for an hour or so for even more flavor – optional)
- 1 pk marrow bone
- Cover remaining w/water
Turn it into a chicken soup that’s to die for and requires little prep:
Chicken Soup For The CrossFitter’s Soul
- Chop and saute in 2T tallow or raw butter:
- 2 lg yellow onion (or red or equivalent leeks or chives)
- 1 lg celery root (and/or equivalent celery or fennel)
- 1 sm sweet potato peeled (or equivalent carrots/parsnips)
- Brown for 20-30 sec on all surface areas 3lbs pastured poultry parts (variety of cuts if you can, duck, turkey parts are good too)
- (Totally optional, not necessary, saute in 1tsp salt + pepper, 1/2 T each: sage, thyme and rosemary)
Remove bones from crock pot (save them if you didn’t cook them for very long for added flavor in another dish if you like). Add the saute and chicken and simmer on low for 4-8 hours (longer if it’s breast-y cuts of leaner meat).
Questions? Post them to comments! If you attended my paleo cooking 101 class and want to vouch for my standards in tastiness, holler. Bones are tasty, no lie!