We probably all grew up with bread and milk rather than tripe and heart.
But although organ meats do not arouse hunger in most people, organs are the most nutritious parts of animals.
Not only our ancestors but also indigenous people today pounce on organ meat instead of the nutrient-poor steak.
Also, they honor and respect the sacrificed animal by eating nose to tail.
Moreover, by not wasting these large and nutrient-dense parts of the animal, we reduce the carbon footprint. In this sense, we can act sustainably in many ways.
When an animal is broken down, usually less than half of it is sold as boneless cuts, you might know from the grocery store. Most of the rest is bone, skin, and organs.
But from a nutritional point of view, organ meat is far superior to the popular muscle meat, as this scientific guide to the healths benefits of organ meat will explain.
What Is Organ Meat?
Organ meat, also referred to as offal, is the organs of animals that humans prepare and consume.
The most commonly eaten organs come from cows, pigs, lambs, goats, chickens, and ducks.
However, today’s agriculture focuses on the rapid growth of muscle meat. As a result, organ meat is often overlooked, with most meat typically coming to the table as steaks, fillets, or minced meat.
In contrast, humans once ate more than just muscle meat as hunters and gatherers. Our ancestors demonstrably also ate the organs, such as the heart, brain, or even testicles. And they even preferred these parts of the animal (O’Dea 19911).
Correspondingly organ meats are first-class nutrient suppliers and a natural supplement complementing any diet.
Accordingly, organ meat is packed with nutrients such as especially B and A, D, E vitamins, copper, zinc, iron, magnesium, folic acid, selenium.
Furthermore, animal protein provides all nine essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively.
Is Organ Meat Bad for You?
There is hardly a reason organ meats could be unhealthy.
Although many people still believe that cholesterol in offal clogs arteries and causes heart disease, research has proven otherwise.
Even though cholesterol accumulates in clogged arteries, dietary cholesterol cannot cause them.
With this in mind, the cholesterol in your blood is produced by your liver, which regulates cholesterol production according to dietary cholesterol intake (Jones et al. 20152).
Therefore, the liver produces less cholesterol when you eat high cholesterol foods. As a result, food has little effect on the total cholesterol level in the blood (P2Namara 19973).
LDL cholesterol (usually an estimated value on blood tests) is also not meaningful, as it can only become harmful through high blood sugar levels. Instead, high HDL and low triglyceride levels are crucial for good heart health.
Accordingly, scientists have repeatedly proven that cholesterol from food has little or no effect on heart disease (Fernandez 20124).
Nevertheless, in two cases, there can be dangers of eating liver in excess:
- If you suffer from gout or
- Eat extraordinary amounts of copper
People with gout, a common form of arthritis, might consider moderating their offal intake.
An exceptionally high uric acid level in the blood can cause gout, making joints swollen and sensitive (Choi et al. 20045).
And purines, compounds contained in offal, can be converted into uric acid in the body.
Also, beef liver has a very high copper content. And in some people, excess copper can cause liver problems (Gaetke et al. 20146).
However, it’s the other minerals in the beef liver that usually help handle the copper content.
If copper is a problem for you, you should go for chicken or pork liver instead. Both are low in copper, but still rich in nutrients.
Why Does Organ Meat Offer Health Benefits?
If you still aren’t convinced, we have to take a look at the numbers. Among organ meats are the most nutritious foods in the world, such as beef liver.
With this in mind, only 100 grams of beef liver is incredibly nutrient-dense and can lead to numerous health benefits (in % of the recommended daily dose*):
- Vitamin A: 522%
- Vitamin B6: 51%
- Vitamin B12: 1386%
- Niacin: 87%
- Riboflavin: 201%
- Selenium: 47%
- Iron: 34%
- Copper: 730%
- Zinc: 35%
Types of Organ Meat for Health Benefits
As the example of beef liver has shown, organ meat delivers more health benefits than muscle meat.
Furthermore, the following list of healthy organ meats may outshine most vegetables due to their nutrient density.
When it comes to organ meats, beef liver is the reigning champion. Although beef liver does not taste good if not appropriately prepared, there is hardly a more nutritious food.
Although pork and chicken livers are excellent options, beef organ meat is the best source of vitamins and minerals.
Above all, the liver can provide precisely those nutrients that are difficult to find elsewhere:
- Choline is healthy for the brain and cell membranes
- Copper is essential for the absorption of iron in the intestine
- Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells
- Zinc is healthy for hormone production and the immune system
- Folate is essential for energy production, methylation, DNA repair
- Vitamin A1 (retinol) is healthy for the eyes and the immune system
- Vitamin B12 is essential for cellular energy production and methylation (O’Leary et al. 20107)
Since copper deficiency can cause blood deficiency (anemia), beef liver is one of the rare natural sources of copper that can help (Myint et al. 20188).
If you don’t like conventional beef liver, my tip is to try calf’s liver, since it’s easier to prepare and tastes sweeter.
The heart is rich in a powerful antioxidant called Coenzyme Q10 or Ubiquinone-10.
And this CoQ10 can stop the oxidation of LDL cholesterol – the process that makes it dangerous in the blood – and thus demonstrably prevents cardiovascular disease (Langsjoen et al. 19999).
In terms of its antioxidant effect, CoQ10 is ten times more potent than, for example, vitamin E, making CoQ10 one of the most potent antioxidants lowering inflammation (Hernandez-Camacho et al. 201810).
Additionally, CoQ10 improves the production of ATP, the cellular energy carrier, and thus can contribute to cancer prevention (Abdulhasan et al. 201711).
Although it is full of minerals, the heart muscle tastes more like muscle than organ meat.
My tip is the chicken heart, as it’s easy to grill and make a delicious appetizer on a skewer, such as many South American countries traditionally serve it.
Because I grew up in the southeast of Austria, tongue is muscle meat that has shaped my childhood, since smoked tongue is a traditional Easter dish there.
The micronutrient profile of the tongue is very similar to other types of meat. While it contains many minerals, it is also quite rich in fat.
Because it is incredibly tender due to its high fat content, I love eating tongue. Moreover, it’s an excellent choice for a diet rich in healthy fats, such as the keto diet.
Although the brain is not as rich in nutrients as some liver, it is tender, does not taste intense, and has a high fat content.
And if it comes from a grass-fed animal, it is a prime source of bioavailable omega-3 fatty acids.
Brains are also a good source of choline and contain small amounts of some antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium.
Nevertheless, caution is advised with cattle brains, as mad cow disease can affect the brain and spinal cord of cattle.
Consuming tissue from the brain or nervous system of an infected cattle can cause a human variant called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
However, due to the global mad cow disease measures, the risk of contracting vCJD from beef organ meats is now very low (Brown et al. 200112).
In case of doubt, you should avoid the spinal cord and brain of cattle.
The kidneys have a similar nutrient profile to the liver. Accordingly, they also contain very high selenium.
This antioxidant mineral has a particularly anti-inflammatory effect and reduces cell stress (Rayman 201213).
Hence, it’s probably no coincidence that the selenium in kidneys brings health benefits for your kidneys (Iglesias et al. 201214).
Although stomach is not as nutritious as liver, it still contains a lot of selenium. Moreover, this digestive organ, like most intestines, is rich in collagen, which is healthy for skin, hair, joints, and bones.
Also, collagen improves glucose metabolism and can counteract insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (Zhu et al. 201715).
Therefore, collagen is a significant reason why our ancestors loved offal and avoided steak.
Chances are you’ve heard of tripe but have no idea what it is. Similarly, I used to think of dog food when I heard the word tripe.
But not so fast – tripe is exceptionally nutritious.
Accordingly, tripe contains protein, selenium, iron, B vitamins, and choline, but unlike liver it does not have vitamin A (*).
Tripe is the inner lining of an animal’s stomach.
Therefore you can find them in the stomachs of ruminants such as cows, sheep, and deer. However, in 90% of the cases, you will get cow tripe.
Since tripe represents the stomach lining, it is tough and needs to be cooked quite a while to become tender. Accordingly, you can find tripe in a variety of stews around the world.
For gizzards, we need a short anatomy or rather biology lesson.
These stomachs come from the digestive tract of poultry and birds (or even reptiles and fish). They are a cheap source of vitamins, minerals, and proteins
One hundred grams of gizzard contains 30 grams of protein, 60% of the recommended daily selenium intake, and about 15% of the daily requirement of vitamin B12, zinc, phosphorus, niacin, and riboflavin (*).
Although the gizzard is a digestive organ, it is also a muscle. Therefore, you should cook the somewhat chewy gizzards like tripe for a more extended period to become tender.
Although oxtails or pork tails are not organs, they are still considered organ meat or offal.
As these gelatinous cuts are rich in revitalizing collagen, they are perfect for stews, soups, and broth.
Sweetbread is a term from the 16th century and refers to the thymus gland (esophagus) of an animal.
Therefore, sweetbread is the esophagus of a calf, a cow, a lamb, or a pig.
Sweetbread differs from other organ meats in its high content of vitamin C, which is why it has antioxidant and immune function-promoting properties.
A hundred grams of sweetbread already covers over 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and 35%, 26%, and 20% of vitamin B12, selenium, and riboflavin.
Since sweetbread is a rich delicacy, it is usually served with spices or acidic foods to neutralize the taste.
Organ Meat Health Benefits
Well, now we know that our ancestors were probably right in preferring organ meat over steak.
Due to the health benefits of organ meat, they can serve as a more absorbable multivitamin supplement, ranging from disease prevention to weight loss and detox.
1. Offal Promotes Healthy Weight Loss
Many studies have shown that high-protein diets can reduce appetite and increase the feeling of satiety.
For example, they do this by significantly slowing down the emptying of the stomach.
But few know that they can also increase the metabolic rate (Johnston et al. 200216).
Furthermore, many B vitamins in organ meat help build healthy muscle mass and burn body fat for energy.
2. Organ Meats Build Muscle
First, offal is a source of high-quality protein, which is vital for building and maintaining muscle mass.
For example, healthy organ meat can be effective against age-related muscle loss (Lord et al. 200717).
Second, they provide leucine. As this is the most anabolic essential amino acid, it stimulates muscle growth on a cellular basis.
However, we now know that excessive growth and leucine can also harm health (Bremer et al. 201218).
Therefore, offal is a better choice than fillet cuts, as it has a far better balance of healthy fats and amino acids.
3. Organ Meat Has Cognitive Health Benefits
Organ meat is one of the world’s best sources of choline, an essential nutrient for the brain, muscles, and liver, of which you can hardly get enough.
According to the study, choline improves cognitive performance, anxiety, and mood disorders (Poly et al. 201119).
Furthermore, offal contains easily absorbable heme iron, which can support brain function (Beck et al. 201420).
And the brain itself also supplies omega-3 fatty acids, which in turn are even more organ meat health benefits for your brain.
4. Offal Detoxifies the Body
Anyone who eats liver and heart can confidently put detox juices into the sink since they are loaded with insulin resistance-promoting fructose.
As explained above, heart is full of Coenzyme Q10, which is one of the most potent natural antioxidants of all (Hernandez-Camacho et al. 201821).
Moreover, even a small piece of beef liver can cover the entire daily requirement of another essential coenzyme: Molybdenum
Since molybdenum, which is responsible for converting sulfites into sulfates, helps the body break down alcohol and other toxins, it improves the metabolism of drugs and alcohol.
And high levels of sulfites can have harmful effects on health (Mendel et al. 200622).
5. Offal Provides Lots of Energy
CoQ10 is not only a potent compound regarding detoxification but also when it comes to energy production.
After CoQ10 helps mitochondria to produce ATP, the cellular energy carrier, more efficiently, studies show that an increased intake of CoQ10, i.e., from beef heart, can improve energy levels (Abdulhasan et al. 201723).
Additionally, the numerous B vitamins in organ meat support the burning of fat as an energy source, making them ideal for a ketogenic diet.
6. Organ Meat Has Benefits for Skin Health
Edible beef offal is one of the rare natural sources of vitamin A1 (retinol).
This antioxidant protects skin cells from oxidative stress, such as ultra-violet light. Accordingly, it can slow down the aging process, promote skin renewal, smooth out wrinkles, and counteract acne (Park 201524).
Moreover, most organ meat is an excellent source of collagen, which not only brings health benefits for the skin but also the hair.
7. Organ Meats Reduce Homocysteine
Offal contains high levels of B vitamins, such as folate, vitamin B6, and B12.
According to the study, it is precisely these B vitamins in organ meat that can lower the homocysteine level in the blood (Esse et al. 201925).
Homocysteine is an amino acid that can damage arterial mucosa – the endothelium – and promote cardiovascular disease, migraine, or even Alzheimer’s disease.
How Much Organ Meat Should I Eat for Health Benefits?
Now that we know what healthy micronutrients offal brings to our diet, it is evident that organ meat contributes to the flawless functioning of the body.
Even one portion of beef liver can cover the weekly requirement of a variety of vitamins and minerals. Correspondingly beef liver offers the most health benefits.
However, the liver is the kind of organ meat from cattle that many people do not like eating.
Nevertheless, you have several options for eating extremely nutritious organ meat:
- You can eat about 100 grams of beef liver once a week
- You can eat smaller portions of about one ounce every odd day
- Instead, you can prepare the more tasty calf’s liver
- Or you can eat other organ meats in larger quantities
Either way, you don’t have to eat beef liver all the time, even if it is the most nutrient-dense food since your body stores nutrients.
Moreover, in my experience, calf’s liver tastes sensationally good. Although this is not necessary, as it is almost as nutritious as beef liver, I could quickly eat one pound at ounce, if prepared well (*).
With other healthy offal such as chicken or pork liver, kidney, heart, or stomach, you can go wild as you like, as they do not have such an extreme nutrient density as beef liver.
Organ Meat Health Benefits Outperform Supplements
Giblets such as liver, heart, and kidneys are natural superfoods that not only yield health benefits but also help in the absorption of nutrients.
When you take vitamins or minerals in isolation, such as a pill, the body cannot absorb them properly.
Natural foods, exceptionally organ meats, help to absorb nutrients better. For example, vitamins A, D, and K are called fat-soluble vitamins because you need to consume them with fat for optimal bioavailability (Albahrani et al. 201626).
Offal already provides this total package of healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins. Moreover, they offer a much broader spectrum than a single supplement.
Furthermore, by eating nose to tail, we contribute to sustainability, avoid food waste, and honor the sacrificed animal.
Organ Meat Health Benefits FAQ
What is the most nutritious organ meat?
Beef liver is probably the most nutritious food. It’s packed with A, B, D, E vitamins, copper, zinc, iron, riboflavin, niacin, and selenium. If you don’t like the intensive taste, reach for the more pleasant calf’s liver.
How often can you eat organ meats?
How often you eat offal depends on your preferences. Already four ounces of nutrient-dense beef liver per week can yield the health benefits of eating organ meats. But if you feel like you can go wild on other organ meats too.
Do organ meats contain collagen?
Most organ meats contain collagen. If you want to get a lot of collagen without intense taste, tail and stomach are great choices.
How do you eat more organ meats?
You can bring more organ meats to your diet by knowing the various types of organ meats and their health benefits in this article.
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