Are There Health Benefits of Adding Organ Meats to Your Diet?
Offal – it's not the nicest sounding word and definitely doesn't sound like something you'd want to eat. But, since the dawn of time, offal has been part of the cuisine of almost every known civilization in one way or another. The reason is quite simple – despite the gross-sounding name, offal (or rather the organ meats that make up a significant portion) contain numerous health benefits and significant nutrition.
What is Offal?
Offal is described as the "waste or by-product of a process, such as trimmings and viscera" by Websters-Mirriam Dictionary. Still doesn't sound very appealing, though, does it? Rather than discuss it as offal or viscera, it's much more common to refer to the individual organs the same as we describe different cuts of muscle meat. Common organ meats you'll find include heart, liver, tongue, stomach and intestine linings, kidneys, and the gizzard of poultry.
What are the Healthiest Organ Meats?
Organ meats are a fantastic source of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, and are often a great source of high-quality protein. Consuming organ meats might seem strange, but it is more common than you might think. Not only are these organs a great source of nutrition, but they are also often low-cost food items since they are frequently considered to be food waste and of little economic value by butchers.
Beef Heart Nutrition
Beef heart is one of the more popular organ meats. Being a hard-working, tough muscle, beef heart is often slow-cooked or sliced into steaks and fried. Beef heart is packed with the essential nutrient iron along with more than enough vitamin B12, while also having about the same amount of fat as chicken breast. You'll also get all nine essential amino acids. It's a rich source of vital nutrients and is actually pretty tasty when cooked right.
Some of the nutrition facts about eating only three ounces of beef heart include:
- 140 calories
- 24 grams protein
- 4 grams of fat – 1.2 g saturated fat, 0.8 g polyunsaturated fats, 0.9 g monounsaturated fat
- 180 mg cholesterol
- 50 mg sodium
- 186 mg potassium
- 0.1 g carbohydrates
- Iron 30% daily value
Beef Liver Nutrition
Beef liver is one of the most common organ meats consumed in the U.S. and it is also one of the more divisive food items you can plate. It seems that people either love liver or hate it, there aren't a lot of folks in the middle. Like beef heart, beef liver is a great source of essential minerals and nutrients while also being relatively low in fat.
A three-ounce serving of beef liver contains the following nutrition:
- 162 calories
- 25 grams protein
- 4.5 grams of fat – 2.5 g saturated fats, 0.9 g polyunsaturated fats, 1 g monounsaturated fat
- 337 mg cholesterol
- 67 mg sodium
- 299 mg potassium
- 4.4 g carbohydrates
- Vitamin A 2.7%
- Vitamin C 0.4%
- Calcium 31%
- Iron 31% daily value
Is Eating Liver and Kidneys Good for You?
Liver and kidney meat are excellent sources of protein and essential nutrients. With that said, many organ meats contain high levels of certain vitamins that make them more appropriate for occasional meals rather than everyday food items. Among the vitamins and minerals in the liver and kidneys, you'll find several that are excellent for fighting inflammation and developing a stronger immune system. This makes organ meats a good choice for people who suffer from conditions like arthritis to gout. The anti-inflammatory properties of consuming Vitamin E, Omega 3 fatty acids, and zinc are well-documented. Organ meats tend to be an excellent source of these essential nutrients.
When Should I Take Beef Liver Supplements?
If the idea of sitting down to a plate of sizzling liver and onions simply turns your stomach, you can reap the benefits of eating organ meats without ever eating them by adding organ meat supplements.
Most organ meats are available in an over-the-counter pill made from dried and powdered organs. You'll get the benefit of some of the most nutrient-dense foods in an easy-to-swallow supplement. Supplements offer many health benefits and provide a lower risk of heart disease than consuming most organs.
Benefits of Eating Animal Organs
Whether you are adding a supplement to your diet or preparing yourself to feast on liver or heart, you'll find some surprising benefits. Nutrition from organs can help build and retain muscle mass, prevent iron deficiency anemia, improve immune health, and help you feel fuller. Incorporating organ meats can stimulate energy and provide stamina to promote a healthy workout.
Risks of Eating Organ Meat
Organs are just like muscle meat in that they need to be properly handled and stored to be safe to consume. Consuming too much beef liver can be dangerous in certain situations. For example, too much vitamin A can lead to bone loss while too much vitamin b12 can cause vomiting or headaches.
Some people may have inflammation issues from eating too much organ meat. There is also a risk of complicating heart conditions due to the higher saturated fats, purine, and cholesterol. Pregnant women, people with a history of heart conditions, and folks who are sensitive to high levels of some nutrients should eat organ meats sparingly.
Similar Concerns with Red Meat
Many of the same concerns for eating organ meat are also present when eating large amounts of red meat. The manner in which you prepare and the amount you eat also play a role in whether you have an increased risk of exposure to harmful conditions. Eating undercooked organs can increase your risk of foodborne illnesses. It is believed that humans can even get a form of mad cow disease from eating beef brain meat of infected cattle.
Alternatives to Eating Organ Meat
There are other ways to get the fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients along with rare amino acid proteins without eating organ meats. One of the ingredients you can add to many recipes is homemade bone broth. The bone marrow contains many nutrients you also find in organ meat and is a delicious addition to soups or as a beverage post-workout.
It's important to keep in mind that not all supplements are created equally. Some will boast the same nutrients as the most popular organ meats, but some will have added ingredients, fillers, or preservatives that you might decide to avoid.
The healthy fats, B Vitamins, and other benefits of organ meat are also found in your favorite cuts of beef, chicken, pork, and fish. Nuts, beans, dairy, and eggs are also good sources of high-quality proteins and amino acids.
Incorporating Organ Meats
In many cultures, it is a privilege to eat organ meat often reserved for guests of honor or someone who contributed to the meal. In the U.S., the nose-to-tail concept of using animals slaughtered for meat is leading to a resurgence in the popularity of some common organs, especially liver, which is growing as an important weight-loss and muscle-building food item.
In our experience, organs like heart and liver can be delicious when cooked correctly. We've also found that many people who don't like organ meat also haven't eaten it properly cooked. Still, for some people, chowing down on beef kidney or beef tongue will always be a turn-off, no matter how good it tastes or how healthy it is for you.
When cooking most organ meats, tools like a slow cooker are going to be your friend. Slow cooking allows the tough meats to become tender and allows the unique flavors to properly mellow. Many organ meats become tough and chewy when overcooked. You should also plan on using a marinade to help make organs tender.
Adding some of the most common organ meats to your diet may seem strange at first. Stick with it and you may find that fixing fresh liver from grain-fed beef is just as tasty and satisfying as eating muscle meats.