Organ meats, also known as “offal,” are the consumable organs and other parts of animals. Organ meats are rich in many essential nutrients and for this reason they are considered superfoods. There are many health benefits of consuming organ meats regularly, and many delicious ways to prepare organ meats and turn them into tasty nutritious meals for all the family. Keep reading to learn more.
Why organ meats?
For the purpose of this post, we’ll refer to organ meats as all the consumable parts of the animals different from muscle meat, including all the organs, tissues, and bones. Organ meats are somehow a lost tradition, but consuming organ meats and eating “nose to tail” is actually fundamental for optimal health and nutrition.
Generally speaking, organ meats offer many benefits, including:
- Are more affordable than most cuts of muscle meat
- Are higher in nutrients (numerous essential vitamins and minerals) that sustain optimal health and growth
- Are a good source of collagen and glycine (an essential amino acid), and contribute to balancing out the methionine contained in muscle meat and eggs (read more about the importance of glycine and consuming collagen-rich foods here)
- Are higher in omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent inflammation
- Are a real delicacy and make delicious meals
Because of their unique nutritional value, consuming organ meats regularly contributes to optimal health and well-being, improving energy levels, metabolic health, muscle mass and function, and supporting healthy bones and teeth, and even cognitive and mental health.
Eating organ meats regularly is also a great (and much better) alternative to synthetic multivitamins and supplements, even (and especially) prenatal vitamins!
Organ meats are even more important for individuals with the need for extra nutrition such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, growing children, and those recovering from illness because they provide nutrients that are essential for proper growth, development, and tissue repair.
But let’s explore more in detail the specific benefits of all the different types of organ meats!
List of the Different Types of Organ Meats and Health Benefits
Liver is the king of organ meats and is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. As our ancestors well knew, liver is full of powerful nutrition that helps keep us strong, both physically and mentally.
Liver is an excellent source of high-quality proteins, the most concentrated natural source of vitamin A, one of the best sources of folate, vitamins B12, B6, B2, D, K2, and iron, and a good source of copper, zinc, selenium, and choline.
This exceptional combination of nutrients is beneficial for everyone’s health and can really help fight anemia and fatigue, and sustain a healthy immune system, bone and teeth health and development, and proper vision. For these reasons, eating liver is extremely important during pregnancy and growth. In particular, vitamin A is important to ensure fertility and proper fetus development (such as heart formation during the first few weeks of an embryo’s life), therefore liver is a great food to consume in preparation for conception.
Notes on liver consumption
While consuming liver is extremely beneficial, more is not always better and you can actually eat too much liver.
The main risk is related to the extremely high vitamin A content in liver. Just two ounces (~50 grams) of liver contains 356% of your daily recommended value of Vit A! Consuming too much vitamin A leads to a condition called hypervitaminosis A, whose symptoms vary from headache, nausea and vomiting (acute toxicity) to changes in skin, hair, and nails, abnormal liver test results, and birth defects (chronic toxicity).
So as a rule of thumb, you should eat no more than a quarter pound (approximately 100 grams) of liver once or twice a week. This dose guarantees all the precious nutrients in liver without any risk of toxicity. However, be extra careful if you’re taking Vit A supplements (which I do not recommend taking anyway) so that you don’t overdose on Vit A! Chicken liver is lower in Vit A than beef liver, and can be a suitable alternative in this case.
Kidneys and suet
Only second to liver in terms of nutrient density, kidneys are a great source of iron, selenium, copper, zinc, vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12, and omega-3 and other anti-inflammatory fatty acids, which all support overall health and growth, and are particularly important during pregnancy, growth, and recovery.
Kidneys also contain a rare amino acid, Ergothioneine, which promotes kidney health, fertility, and healthy aging.
The fat surrounding the kidneys, called suet, is also rich in nutrients such as saturated fats but also omega-3 fatty acids, and stearic acid, grass-fed suet promotes healthy metabolism and mitochondrial function and reduces inflammation.
Heart meat is rich in folate, iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamins B (especially B12), which support heart health, metabolism, immune system, cell growth and function.
Heart meat is also a source of two unique compounds: coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), two powerful antioxidants that prevent cellular damage, slow down the aging process, improve energy levels, and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Tongue meat is high in healthy fats (both saturated, polyunsaturated, and cholesterol), collagen, folate, as well as zinc, copper, selenium, iron, choline, and vitamin B12. These nutrients are important to support a healthy immune system and metabolism, and support proper cell growth and development, making tongue meat great for pregnant women, children, and those recovering from illness.
Bone marrow and bones
Bone marrow is the soft, fatty tissue inside the bone cavity of large bones where blood cells are produced. Yellow marrow is found in leg bones such as the femur and humerus of animals, whereas red marrow is found in flat bones such as hip bones, ribs, and vertebrae.
Marrow is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol, collagen, glycine, and glucosamine, as well as minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, and phosphorous. For these reasons, consuming bone marrow is important for a healthy immune system, healthy bones, joints, and skin, and for maintaining hormonal balance and supporting brain function and gut health.
Bones also contain a whole lot of nutrients. Bones are mostly made of calcium, but they also contain other minerals such as magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus, as well as collagen. When these nutrients are extracted from the bones and made available to us (such as by making bone broth), they help sustain the health of our bones and connective tissues, and they can prevent osteoporosis.
Spleen is very rich in iron, and a good source of vitamins C and B5. Spleen is considered a potent immunity-booster and spleen extract is even used to help people with low white blood cell count or cancer. Consuming spleen can also help fight anemia and fatigue.
Pancreas and thymus (sweetbreads)
Pancreas and thymus (sweetbreads) are rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin C, selenium, and contain several immune-signaling peptides, all contributing to support a strong immune system.
Brain is considered a delicacy in many cultures and is high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as DHA), cholesterol, and choline, which can all contribute to supporting brain development and function, and overall health.
Unfortunately, beef or sheep brain might be hard to source in many countries. One reason is simply related to the way animals are butchered, but cautionary measures against the mad cow disease (extremely rare nowadays) also contributed to making brain disappear from the butcher shelves.
Tripe and intestines
Tripe is the lining of an animal’s stomach, and is rich in collagen, choline, cholesterol, selenium, zinc, and vitamin B12. These nutrients can help promote joint, skin, and gut health, and maintain hormonal balance and a healthy immune system.
Last but not least, the skin or hide is the largest organ of any animal’s body and is extremely rich in collagen and choline, as well as both saturated and unsaturated fats and cholesterol. Large animals’ skin can be added to bone broth to increase its gelatin content even more.
How to Eat More Organ Meats
Sourcing organ meats
If you have been following along, you know that I’m a huge advocate of buying local meats from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals that are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Always make sure that the meats you buy are fresh, and come from healthy animals raised in the best conditions.
When buying organ meats, especially liver, sourcing the best quality is even more important! You can source quality meats at your local farmer’s markets, local grocery stores, or contact local farmers directly by visiting their farms or finding them online. When you’re buying your meat in bulk, don’t forget to specify that you want the organs too, and ask for extra if you wish!
Consuming organ meats from grass-eating ruminants such as beef, sheep, and venison is preferable to consuming organs from monogastric animals such as pork and poultry (chicken and turkey), unless you find a trusted source of pasture-raised, preferably corn- and soy-free pork and poultry.
How to turn organ meat into delicious meals and eat more of it
Once you get to know it, organ meats are not hard to prepare and they make delicious, nutrient-dense, and economic meals. You can cook a meal with just organ meat, or substitute a portion of your muscle meat with organ meat when cooking stews or making your own ground meat or sausages.
The easiest organs to consume are the muscle-like organs such as heart and tongue. They can pretty much be cooked as regular meat and made into roasts, stews (check out this delicious tongue stew and this nourishing heart stew), or simply sliced and fried in the pan or grilled as steaks.
Liver has a stronger flavor and a different texture and it might need a bit of “covering up” if you’re not used to it. So use plenty of herbs and spices and find tricks such as cooking liver with milk to make the taste milder, or using plenty of onions and other vegetables (such as in this tasty beef liver recipe with sweet potatoes and onions).
Another way to benefit from the nutritional value of liver if you really cannot stand its taste is by taking it as a supplement. A simple and affordable way is to cut the liver into small (pill-size) cubes, freeze it, and consume a few cubes daily swallowing them with water just like pills.
Kidneys have actually quite a mild flavor when cooked properly and can be simply fried in butter, or cooked as a stew. You can also try this delicious gluten-free and nourishing steak and kidney pie!
Marrow bones and oxtails can be roasted, slow-cooked or added to soups to enjoy all the benefits (and deliciousness) of the marrow contained inside the bones. Bone marrow can also be used to make savory or sweet custard, a real delicatessen! Marrow bones and other animal bones, as well as skin and cartilage pieces, can be used to make bone broth (learn how to make bone broth in the Instant Pot here), which makes a delicious base for soups, and can be added to any recipe that calls for liquid as a source of extra nutrition.
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