Broadening Your Diet Horizon: The Health Benefits (and Risks) of Organ MeatDate: 10/18/2023
If you’ve been questioning whether to add organ meats to your diet, then this article will help you decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks (hint…they do!)
For those of us who choose to consume – and were raised on – the usual smorgasbord of north american muscle meats, going outside of our routine and enjoying something like foie gras (French-style duck liver), tacos de lengua (beef tongue tacos), or Schwineleberwurst (German-style pork liver) may only happen once in a life-time. In fact, most people in the US might consider these foods as ‘fancy’, in the sense that you’ll see these dishes and other organ meat recipes served at top-tier restaurants more often than not.
And while it is a great privilege of mine to have been able to try different recipes featuring animal organ meats at incredible restaurants all across the world, what I’ve learned from the experience is that the average person in places like Europe, Asia, and Central and Latin America cooks with organ meats on a regular basis.
Which got me thinking: it’s long been a tradition around the world to use every part of the animal as a sustainability practice, but what other benefits are there to incorporating organ meats into our diets? Are organ meats any more or less nutritious than the muscle meats we eat already? And most importantly for those of us who are health conscious, are there any great risks associated with a diet that includes organ meat?
As always then, I set about my research to understand a little bit more on the subject, and figured I would stay open to the idea of adding organ meats to my diet. So if you’re on the same wave-length, then I invite you to join me as I share these explorations as a part of my research process. My first question on the list?
What is organ meat, anyway?
What is Organ Meat?
You might be interested to know that the word for organ meat (offal), while a little unsightly, in fact refers to the parts of an animal that ‘fall off’ during the butchering process–hence, ‘off-al’. As we continue to relish cuts of so-called ‘muscle meat’, which is made up fibrous, connected tissue, and are usually attached to the bone, it makes sense that what is ‘left behind’ would be slightly unfamiliar territory for people who didn’t grow up eating organ meat.
Strictly speaking then, and as you can probably guess, organ meats are the cuts of an animal that include it’s major organs, such as:
- Tripe (stomach lining)
…and though some of the following would still make me slightly squeamish, this list also includes an animal’s:
- Pancreas and Thymus (also known as Sweetbreads)
Now, you might be thinking you’ve never tried any of the meats on the list above, but you might want to think again! At least in the U.S., it’s likely that you’ve enjoyed at least one hot-dog or sausage (many of which use intestines as casings), a tasty cup of bone broth, or some crispy pork rinds from the chip aisle (cured pig skin). That means expanding our palates to include organ meats might not be as far out of reach as we think!
If we are going to start adding new food sources to our diets however, there should be some benefit–which brings us to my second question: are organ meats any more nutritious than the meats we would usually consume
The nutritional value of organ meats
Now, all organ meats are going to differ a little bit in terms of their nutritional value, but the consensus seems to be that, yes, organ meats have more nutrients than muscle meat!
As a whole then, most of the meats listed above are high in super sought-after vitamins and minerals, such as iron, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, B12, D, E, and K. They’re also a great source of protein and amino acids, which means they’re great for helping your body function at its highest level. For example, a 3.5 oz portion of beef liver (cooked, of course) will on its own provide about 29 grams of protein, and 36% of your daily value for iron intake!
Knowing that these meats have a higher nutritional value than other meats out there, we can largely assume the benefits to human health that will come as a result of adding this meat source to one’s diet. Thankfully, we don’t have to do any guesswork, since there are tons of studies which explore (and confirm) the benefits of eating organ meats. Let’s take a look.
Human Health Benefits of Eating Organ Meat
When you look into whether eating organ meat benefits human health, a lot of the natural advantages are directly related to the high nutritional content of these foods. For instance, the high B-12 content of most organ meats helps reduce the risk of lung and colorectal cancer, as well as moderates the production of a hormone called homocysteine in the blood to help lessen the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
Importantly for those with immune conditions (myself included) organ meats are also known to be high in zinc, particularly the liver, kidneys, and heart of chickens and cows. As zinc is one of the core essentials regulating your immune system, it’s likely that a diet including these organ meats would help reduce a person’s susceptibility to infection thanks to zinc uptake. In much the same way, high vitamin B1 levels present in the liver can offset some of the larger risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, while high iron levels can give those with iron deficiency a big boost of natural energy.
Something else that caught my eye in the research was that organ meats (and particularly beef, liver, and heart) are high in a super important substance called alpha-lipoic acid–which we naturally produce less of as we age. This acid is known to have restorative effects on our nervous system, and particularly on nerve damage as a result of diabetes. This could be great news for those at risk of the disease, or who have chronic nerve damage; however more research is definitely needed in this area to be sure.
Again, given the high nutritional content of most organ meats, the advantages of consuming this food source seem almost endless. For the time of being, then, know that many studies are correlating diets that are high in the vitamins and minerals we’ve discussed with:
- Improved nerve and muscle function
- Bone development
- Thyroid function
- Reproductive health
- Wound healing
- Improved vision
- Heart performance
- Reduced cell damage
- Improved blood flow
With all of this amazing potential, it’s a wonder that this incredible food source has hidden under the radar for so long! At the same time though, it’s important to remain critical of jumping into new diet choices. We must not only consider the potential risks, but also to check in with ourselves (and our healthcare professionals) about what the right options are for us.
As with any new health choice I advocate for then (even the consumption of something as simple as green tea), let’s briefly explore any risks that have been associated with organ meat consumption. That way, you have all the knowledge you need to choose for yourself what options suit your lifestyle best.
Are there any risks to eating organ meat?
There are certain risks to consuming too much of any one thing in our diet, so there are of course a few studied risks associated with organ meat consumption.
First on the list is cholesterol! That’s right, most organ meats are fairly high in cholesterol, so for those with concerns about their levels, it might be best to moderate your organ meat intake according to your daily value of nutrients…and when I say moderate, I mean moderate! Kidneys and liver alone have 716 and 381 mg of cholesterol per 100 grams, while cooked beef brain has about 2000 mg of cholesterol, so you definitely want to be careful.
Otherwise, a lot of the risks that are associated with eating organ meat are mainly related to those with existing conditions. For instance, people with gout should take care with organ meats as they contain high levels of purine, which can contribute to joint damage progression in this population. People with excess iron in their blood should also definitely moderate their intake of organ meats, as too much iron can cause unwanted diseases such as hemochromatosis.
As with many of the foods or food supplements I talk about, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it might be in your best interest to skip organ meats for a time, since too much vitamin A in the diet can cause birth defects, and because small children cannot metabolize as many vitamins, minerals, and proteins as adults. Not to mention, if you’re at risk for fatty liver disease or have type 2 diabetes, you might want to avoid organ meats entirely.
Most of the studies I came across that showed some potential risk factors to human health also admitted that more research is needed. On the other hand, the nutritional value of these meats has been well-documented across a variety of studies. With that in mind, I would say that the risk of eating organ meats is small when compared to the overall benefits one may receive by adding this nutrient-rich food source to their diet!
The only question that remains is, how?
Organ Meat Recipes to Try (and other cooking suggestions)
Okay, so we have determined that organ meats are largely safe to consume, and are good for you. But for those of us who aren’t so familiar at cooking with these ingredients, what is the best way to start incorporating them into different meals?
The top advice I’ve found (and followed) is to start with organ meats that have a mild flavor, like tongue and heart. You can also try grinding up the organ meat of your choice, and combining the product with ground beef or pork to reduce any strong flavor profiles. These kinds of combinations are great for pasta sauces like bolognese!
Then again, you might want to try adding a bits to other meat-friendly dishes like pies, burgers, meatloafs, and stews, which give you the opportunity to slow-cook the other flavors of the dish into your organ meat additions for a fuller-bodied end result. I found a whole host of incredible recipes for organ meat dishes online, and though I won’t include them all here, I suggest checking out this list of culinary organ meat recipes, as well as this list of recipes that are a bit more easy to prepare in the comfort of your home.
Still, it’s possible that you’re not one for the taste of organ meats. It may even be that your body doesn’t digest meat products very well. Thankfully, there is an answer for that on the market–you just have to search encapsulated organ meat capsules! I was surprised at first to find this product out there, but really, we have all kinds of ways to distill the nutrients found in other sources into an easy-to-swallow capsule…why not organ meat?
It’s Okay to Eat Organ Meats!
In fact, it’s more than okay!
And if you want a great and simple way to get more of those pesky nutrients into your diet, then organ meats are down-right recommended. I don’t know about you, but that’s super exciting news for my own health and diet regimen, which could definitely use some extra sources of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals.
So I’ll ask my final question: how do you feel about organ meats now that you’ve gotten to know a little bit more about them? Are you excited to add organ meats to different dishes to see the result? And if you are one of those people who is already on the organ meat train, then feel free to send along your favorite recipes anytime–I want to hear all about how you cook organ meats, and how you’re incorporating these nutrient-packed items into your daily diet. Can’t wait to learn more!
Until next time then,
All my love,
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