Call 1300 462 887 Apply Course Enquiry

View all blogs

Eating like our ancestors: Nose to tail eating for a glowing complexion

Written by Lexie McPhee | Wednesday, 5 July 2023

Gut health naturopathy nutrition

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get as an acne naturopath is simply “what should I eat for clear skin?”

My answer? Eat the most nutrient dense foods that you can get your hands on. Human skin has a very high demand for nutrients. And, in case you missed the memo, the skin is the largest organ in the human body. It’s also located the furthest from our vital organs like the heart, lungs, and liver. Although our skin is incredibly important to us from an aesthetic perspective, a glowing complexion isn’t exactly pivotal to our survival! Skin is the last tissue to receive a supply of fresh oxygenated blood and is likely the last priority in terms of nutrient delivery too.

Because of this high nutrient demand and energetic output required to maintain healthy skin, the health and appearance of our skin is an excellent marker of internal health. If there is visible redness, inflammation, swelling, and irritation in the skin, you can bet that there is a level of inflammation and irritation occurring internally as well.

Although the structure of the skin differs by layer, a few crucial elements remain the same in regards to nourishing it. The plasma membrane which protects the epidermis (the most superficial tissue layers of skin) has an inner and an outer layer. The inner layer is lined with proline rich cross-links. The outer lipid layer of the plasma membrane is made up of – you guessed it – lipids! This hydrophobic, lipid and protein dense barrier protects skin tissue from UV damage, mechanical injury, water loss and infection.

In order to maintain healthy structure, function and renewal, the epidermal skin cells clearly require amino acids (including proline) cholesterol, fatty acids, ceramides and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, vitamin E to function effectively.

So how can we provide the skin with the nutrients that it needs?

We can eat smarter by filling our plates with the foods which are most nutritionally abundant. We can look to the way that our ancestors ate for clues. Sometimes the healthiest and simplest way to eat is simply to replicate what your great grandparents would have been dining on. After all, the DNA that became you was replicated in their bodies, and was dictated by their own nutritional status, generations ago.

What was different just a few generations ago?

Less than 100 years ago, most food was produced locally without the heavy use of pesticides. It certainly wasn’t put through a complete reinvention in a factory with additives, stabilisers, emulsifiers, preservatives, and colours. Another major difference? Animal foods were a staple, and all parts were valued. Eating nose to tail was the norm. Organs and connective tissues were common place in the diet, providing an abundance of vitamin A, copper, B vitamins, collagen, proline, glycine and essential minerals – all required for the structure and function of skin!

Notably, these nutrients are not found in substantial amounts in plant foods. Our physiology requires an omnivorous diet to function at its best.

So, what does eating ‘nose to tail’ mean? It is fairly self-explanatory. All parts of the animal are consumed for their unique nutritional quality. The connective tissue (bones, joints, skin, and cartilage) contain a unique amino acid profile which provides different properties to muscle meat.

Unique nutrition available in animal connective tissue:

Gelatine, in particular, is unique to these connective tissues. Gelatine is protein that is rich in collagen, in addition to anti-inflammatory amino acids such as glycine and proline (remember the importance of proline cross linking in skin tissue formation?) These amino acids are not found as abundantly in muscle meat such as steak. Skin aside, glycine is a precursor ingredient for the production of relaxing neurotransmitters, making it a potent remedy for anxiety, insomnia and restorative beauty sleep.

Collagen has been all the rage in the natural beauty world for some time. It can be used to promote the integrity of the gut barrier as well as the skin barrier. Collagen links together to form the foundation structure upon which our skin tissue grows. Lack of collagen can increase risk of deep scarring from acne as well as a loss of elasticity and wrinkles.

Eating this way is cheap! While grass fed and organic muscle meats sell for top dollar, butchers are practically throwing away the most skin-loving parts of the animal. Liver, bones, and chicken feet can all be used as supplemental foods to promote the health of your hormones and skin.


Grass fed calf liver or chicken liver both make for sensational liver pate that delivers an injection of retinol (vitamin A) and copper into your diet. You can also cook liver with onions, or buy de-fatted, freeze-dried grass-fed liver in capsule form if you just can’t get around the flavour.

Chicken feet

Gently simmer chicken feet in filtered water for at least one hour and add the broth to your soups and stews – you’ll see the jelly like liquid gold solidify at room temperature! This is one of the best sources of collagen for supporting your gut lining and skin.

Bone broth

Beef bones can be used (it’s great to get the joints and knuckles in there too) to make a gelatine-rich bone broth. Roast the bones and then submerge in a slow cooker with filtered water and some apple cider vinegar. Slow cook on low for 24 hours to make an unflavoured savoury broth. I add the cooled jelly to smoothies rather than sipping it hot, which can be a little much on the palate!

Stew up the gelatinous cuts of meat

Oxtail stew, osso bucco, slow cooked beef cheeks, braised lamb… they are the most satisfying comfort foods for a reason! Mineral dense, easier to digest and of course swimming in glycine rich gelatin. Don’t mind the saturated fat – your skin barrier needs cholesterol and natural fats to maintain hydrated and juicy skin cell function.

These are some of the simplest and most accessible ways to begin eating nose to tail. You will be reducing waste, saving money, and providing your skin with metabolically aligned nutrients.

I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t cow farts poisoning the planet and contributing to climate change? Meat and animal products in general are being demonised, with the market for wheat based, genetically modified soy, processed meat substitutes and seed oils replacing extremely nutrient dense foods.

Why does it matter? Well apart from the obvious issues with industrial agriculture, plants just do not contain the same abundance of crucial nutrients that animal foods do.

Take vitamin A for example. Deficiency is incredibly common in those with a skin condition such as acne (which affects 10% of the global population). Vitamin A in the form of retinol is a fat-soluble vitamin that is only found in animal products. Plants contain beta-carotene, which must be converted into vitamin A in the human liver and occurs at a ratio of about 12:1. It isn’t a 1:1 substitution of carrots for calf liver in this situation. You would need to eat almost a kilogram of cooked carrots to get the retinol equivalent of 85g of liver. And nobody is eating a kilo of cooked carrots.

Vitamin A is essential for normal keratin and sebum production, skin cell turnover, thyroid and hormone function, immunity against infection and healthy mucous membranes in the skin and gut. The pathophysiology of acne includes dysfunction in all the processes just mentioned.

In fact, vitamin A is so useful in the prevention and treatment of acne, that isotretinoin (the active ingredient in Roaccutane) is derived from synthetic vitamin A. Roaccutane is a strong pharmaceutical with well-known, extreme risks and side effects that should be very carefully considered before using to treat acne.

But what would happen if we simply prioritised our intake of vitamin A from high quality sources of animal products? Liver is the most vitamin A rich food on the planet. It is dirt cheap and prized in almost every traditional culture, yet has been almost eliminated from the Western diet in favour of muscle meat if not heavily processed meat substitutes.

To highlight the nutritional potency of liver, skin disorders such as acne are practically non-existent in societies that have maintained a traditional diet that centres the consumption of organ meats. With the introduction of refined grains, sugar, industrial seed oils and processed dairy, acne has become prevalent not only in Western populations but in populations with no prior incidence.

In the pursuit of a clear complexion and healthy glowing skin, you really are what you eat, so make it count!

Interested in Naturopathy or Nutrition?

Empower yourself with knowledge. Find out more about our Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) and Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine)

Lexie McPhee

Lexie is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and online Naturopath. Her 100% online clinic and e-courses have enabled her to relocate to sunny Portugal whilst still serving her clients worldwide. She focuses on supporting women with acne and mentoring new Naturopaths in the treatment of skin conditions. Her current research obsession is metabolic nutrition and bio-energetic health.

Read more by Lexie McPhee