Once prized as the best parts of the animal, organ meats have more recently fallen out of favour in western society. Organ meats are now seen as waste that don’t need to be eaten; some doctors even advise patients to avoid eating organ meats for certain conditions! However, organ meats were valued (and still are in many cultures) due to their incredible health benefits. Read on to learn more about organ meats and why they are an important to include in your diet.
Organ meats are the most nutrient dense parts of the animal. Most organ meats have higher amounts of nutrients per serving compared to muscle meat (the usual type of meat people eat). They are especially high in vitamin B12, and minerals including iron, copper, zinc, and selenium. Heart is high in both collagen and coenzyme Q10 which is important for heart health. One ounce (28g) of liver contains almost 9000 international units (IU) of vitamin A (retinol). Liver also contains significant amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin K, vitamin B2, folate, panthothenic acid (B5), and copper (source). The nutritional value of liver is unrivaled by any other source, even other organ meats, which is why it is considered a superfood.
Organ meats also contain a different amino acid profile than muscle meat. Muscle meat contains more of the amino acid methionine which increases our bodies levels of homocysteine. Having too much homocysteine in the body can contribute to a whole host of health problems including neurological disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar, Alzeheimer’s, cerebral vascular disease (source), as well as coronary heart disease and thyroid disorders. To reduce homocysteine levels, our body requires B vitamins, choline, and glycine; all found in organ meats (source). Glycine is an amino acid that is more abundant in organ meats, especially skin and bones. In other words, our consumption of muscle meat must be balanced with consumption of organ meat to keep our methylation cycle in balance. This makes sense when you consider the fact that a certain percentage of every animal is organs. This cycle gets a bit complicated, but if you would like to see a visual representation, click here.
Glycine is a major component of bone broth which helps heal leaky gut and improve digestion (source). It is also critical to joint and skin health. Although glycine is not considered an essential amino acid, it cannot be synthesized by the body if the body is lacking certain vitamin and mineral cofactors which makes it “conditionally essential” (source). As nutritional deficiencies are extremely common, this means that most of us cannot produce it ourselves and need to consume it from food sources such as bone broth and gelatin.
Organ Meat for Strong Teeth and Bones
If you suffer from frequent dental cavities no matter how much you brush and floss your teeth, organ meats may be an unexpected solution. It might not surprise you that nutritional deficiencies are the major cause of tooth decay (source). Specifically, it is a deficiency of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, and K) that makes teeth more susceptible to decay. These fat soluble vitamins are required to facilitate minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus that help teeth remineralize and remain strong. This is not just important for teeth, but also bone repair and formation. Liver and cod liver oil are the best sources as they are the highest in vitamin A, D, and K2. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend the book Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel.
Organ Meat for Pregnancy
During pregnancy women require higher amounts of protein, iron, folate, vitamin A, and many other essential nutrients. Conveniently, organ meats are the most dense sources of many of these nutrients. Liver contains sufficient amounts of vitamin A which is exceptionally important to proper fetal development. Medical doctors often advise women to avoid liver when pregnant due to its high vitamin A levels but this is based on bad science. The study done in 1995 that showed that ‘vitamin A causes birth defects’ was done using synthetic vitamin A supplements and had a number of other serious flaws. Although there have been multiple studies that proved this study wrong, the myth still lingers (source). In our culture today, vitamin A deficiency is much more likely to cause birth defects. Vitamin A rich foods such as liver, cod liver oil, eggs, and other organ meats have been used traditionally for nourishment during pregnancy for most of human history.
Bone broth is also important during pregnancy as it provides extra minerals and glycine to help build fetal bones, skin, hair, and nails. It also helps protect the mothers’ joints that become more strained during the weight gain of pregnancy. Liver and kidney are both high in folate which prevents fetal neural tube defects and other congenital malformations.
What Counts as Organ Meat?
Any part of the animal that’s an organ. Here are some of the most common:
- Bone marrow (bone broth counts too)
- Tripe (stomach lining)
- Sweetbread (thymus and pancreas)
For more information on different types of organ meat, check out this guide.
How Often Should You eat Organ Meat?
As organs are a part of every animal, they should be included in your diet regularly. Some people worry about getting too much fat soluble vitamins, but this is a lot harder than medical professionals make it seem. The recommended daily intake values for vitamin A and D are both much lower than the actual amounts our bodies require. The RDA for vitamin A for an adult male is 900IU, and 600IU for vitamin D (source). However, spending 20-30 minutes in the afternoon sun will produce around 10,000IU of vitamin D without any effects of toxicity (source). As for vitamin A, you would have to consume a single dose of 100,000IU to actually obtain vitamin A toxicity (source).
Isn’t the Liver a Filter?
People often argue that the liver and other organs are ‘filters of the body’ and are therefore full of toxins and should not be consumed. This is false. There have been studies testing toxin levels in organ meat compared to other cuts of meat which found that the liver doesn’t really store any more toxins than muscle does. The conclusion is that if you are worried about eating organ meat because of the toxins, you should also be worried about eating any other part of that animal as well (source).
To avoid toxins, make sure your organ meats come from healthy animals that were fed their natural diet, pastured, and not given hormones or antibiotics. Organic meat covers most of these bases but the animals can still be fed an organic, unnatural diet; so be careful. Getting to know a local farmer is your best bet!
Should You Eat Organ Meat if You Have Gout?
Some doctors advise against organ meat consumption for people with gout due to their high purine levels that could potentially ‘trigger’ an attack. However, high purines alone is not enough to actually trigger an attack (source). Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis and is an autoimmune condition. This can be managed with an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in omega 3s and low in processed foods, sugar, and omega 6. Organ meats definitely have a place in this diet as they are highly nutrient dense and a unique source of vitamins and minerals. In other words, organ meat can actually help prevent future attacks by properly nourishing the body and reducing inflammation (source).
What if You Don’t Like Organ Meat?
Liver can be hidden in recipes to make it more appealing, such as in my superfood meatloaf and liver bolognese recipes. You could also try meatballs, or any other recipe that uses ground beef. With both liver and kidney; make sure you soak them before cooking them to remove any bitter flavours; both recipes above include soaking instructions. The only way I have tried kidney so far is in steak and kidney pie, and it was pretty decent.
Supplementation is not a replacement for organ meat, but there are some supplements that you can take before you are ready to include organ meats in your diet regularly. In particular, supplementing cod liver oil which can help with tooth decay and nutritional needs during pregnancy. Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate is a powder that can be added to smoothies and food for an extra source of glycine. However, this is not the same as bone broth as it does not include the minerals.
What about vitamin A and Iron from Plant Sources?
Can I Take Those Instead?
Carotenoids from plant sources are not recommended as a replacement for vitamin A (retinol). This is because the body only converts a small amount of carotenoids (a precursor to vitamin A) into usable retinol. The bodies conversion is extremely inefficient, and many health conditions can make this conversion even worse (source). While nutrition labels are allowed to tell you that you are getting 500% of your daily vitamin A needs from a can of mashed pumpkin, you are only getting a small percentage of this. I tend to look at carotenoids as what they actually are; antioxidants, rather than vitamin A.
Similarly, the iron that is present in some vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli is in a different form that is harder for the body to absorb and use. This is knows as non-heme iron, while iron from animal sources contains both heme and non-heme iron. If you have an iron deficiency you should be including sources of heme iron in your diet, which can only be obtained from meat (especially organ meats!) (source).
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What is your favorite organ meat and/or recipe?