Most people's stomachs turn upside down and their faces may twitch with doubt or anxiety when someone says, "Let us eat organ meat." In contemporary diets, organ meats — also referred to as offal — have long been disregarded and misinterpreted. However, what precisely is organ meat, and should we consume it? Let’s explore.
Organ meats have a high nutritional value, offering a wide range of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Incorporating organ meats into your diet might boost energy levels, support immune health, enhance brain health, and promote overall well-being.
While organ meats are nutrient-dense, they should be consumed in moderation.
Organ meats are underappreciated products in the food industry because they are a great source of various nutrients and can be incorporated into a well-rounded diet. They are nutrient-rich and may have many positive health effects.
The nutritional benefits of organ meats
Compared to popular muscle meats, organ meats are incredibly nutrient-dense and frequently contain higher levels of essential nutrients. Because organ meats may contain more essential nutrients per unit of weight or calorie than other foods, you will receive more value for your money when consuming them. Therefore, by including organ meats in your diet, you can get a higher concentration of these vital nutrients and may reap health benefits.
Continue reading to discover what benefits registered nurse Rhianna Jones discussed in an interview with Healthnews.
"Organ meats offer a wealth of nutritional benefits, often containing high levels of essential nutrients such as vitamins (especially B vitamins like B12, folate, and riboflavin), minerals (iron, zinc, and selenium), and amino acids. They are particularly rich in heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body."Rhianna Jones
B vitamins are crucial for energy production, DNA synthesis, and the proper functioning of the nervous system. Adding these B vitamins is essential for everyone, but since they are primarily found in animal-based foods, they are especially important for individuals who choose to not eat meat. Researchers have reported that vegetarians and other groups with low intakes of animal foods or those with restrictive dietary patterns are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Supplementation with B vitamins, hence, may be an ideal option for them.
According to the National Institute of Health, beef liver is one of the best sources of vitamin B12.
Apart from B vitamins, organ meats are also noteworthy for their iron content, since iron is necessary for the body to produce red blood cells and carry oxygen throughout. Jones said that “athletes can benefit from organ meats because of their iron content and energy-boosting nutrients.”
Zinc is also essential for protein synthesis, wound healing, and immune system function. Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that supports immune health and thyroid function.
According to a study published in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, selenium deficiency has been recognized to negatively impact immune cells due to increased oxidative stress.
For instance, a meta-analysis found that supplementing with selenium improved thyroid function in individuals suffering from Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Compared to muscle meats, organ meats frequently contain higher concentrations of zinc and selenium.
While all organ meats offer nutritional benefits, some are particularly rich in specific nutrients. Here are a few examples:
Jones said that “liver, especially from animals like beef or chicken, is considered one of the most nutrient-dense organ meats.” It is a powerhouse of vitamins, including vitamin A, which is essential for maintaining healthy skin, eyes, and immune function. Liver is also an excellent source of B vitamins, iron, copper, choline, and zinc.
The heart is “packed with nutrients like coenzyme Q10, essential for heart health,” Jones noted. CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against oxidative stress and promotes energy production within the cells. While your body makes CoQ10 on its own to mitigate oxidative stress, it does decline with age and a number of health conditions. Eating heart may be an efficient way to help replenish those CoQ10 stores. The heart is also rich in B vitamins, iron, zinc, and selenium.
According to one study examining the inherent qualities and chemical makeup of calf offal, veal calves' hearts "contained the highest contents of magnesium and manganese." It also had the best fatty acid profile, with the highest proportion of polyunsaturated fats and the lowest percentage of saturated fats.
Consistency-wise, the heart is more frequently used in a variety of international cuisines because it is a muscle. It is an easier organ meat to get into for people who are not familiar with this type of food because of its soft texture and unique flavor.
Kidneys are a good source of protein and provide some omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, they have high concentrations of selenium, which supports immune function and has antioxidant qualities as previously mentioned.
Even though brain meat is not as nutrient-dense as liver, it is still a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially if the animal that produced it was fed grass. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for brain health and have been linked to improved cognitive function.
According to one systemic review, which examined studies on the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on brain health from 2010 to 2022, omega-3 fatty acids have been demonstrated to enhance mental function. Further findings indicate that "the use of omega-3 leads to higher concentrations of total hemoglobin and hemoglobin oxygen saturation, suggesting an improvement in blood circulation in the brain."
Brain meat also contains small amounts of antioxidant nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium.
Other organ meats
Other organ meats, such as tongue, tripe, sweetbread, and gizzard, also offer valuable nutritional benefits. These meats are rich in collagen, which may be beneficial for skin, hair, joints, and bones. They are packed with different vitamins, minerals, and proteins that are good for your whole body.
Comparing whole organ meats to supplements
Organ meats are now being sold as supplements by many vitamin companies, which presents an option for people who might find eating organ meats less appetizing.
"While organ meat supplements can provide specific nutrients found in organ meats, they often lack the synergistic effects and additional beneficial compounds present in whole foods."Rhianna Jones
More research is needed to determine whether supplements containing multiple beef organs are as nutritious as eating the actual food.
Health risks and considerations
Despite their nutrient density and health benefits, it’s recommended to consume organ meats in moderation. They may present risks to some people due to their high cholesterol and purine content. Additionally, due to their high vitamin A content, women are advised to avoid liver and liver products during pregnancy.
According to an analysis on gout, researchers suggest limiting the consumption of purine-rich organ meats like liver for people with conditions like gout, which is brought on by an excess of uric acid. Additionally, individuals with specific medical conditions, such as copper overload disorder, may need to be cautious about consuming organ meats with high copper content.
One study conducted on Chinese adults has revealed that consuming organ meat may raise the chances of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, albeit to a small extent. However, in order to validate this finding, researchers have advised conducting further studies.
Organ meats are high in cholesterol, but this should not usually be a problem. Jones explained that one common myth is that organ meats are unhealthy due to their high cholesterol content. "While it's true that organ meats can be higher in cholesterol compared to muscle meats, dietary cholesterol has a minimal impact on blood cholesterol levels for most individuals," she said, noting that the overall nutritional value of organ meats can be a healthy addition to a balanced diet.
Although dietary intake of cholesterol-containing foods will only have minimal effect on blood cholesterol levels, for people with hypercholesterolemia or other similar conditions, consuming high-cholesterol foods may not be advised.
Incorporating organ meats into your diet
Incorporating organ meats into your regular meals can be a simple and delicious way to reap their nutritional benefits. Here are some best practices to getting started:
- Start with small portions. If you have never eaten organ meat before, start with tiny servings and increase them as you get used to the flavor and texture. To make sure you are consuming the appropriate amount for you, make sure to speak with a dietitian or healthcare professional.
- Experiment with different cooking methods. You can prepare organ meats in various ways, such as by searing, slow-cooking, or marinating. Experiment with different cooking methods to find what suits your taste preferences.
- Combine organ meats with other ingredients. Incorporate organ meats into dishes like stews, soups, or stir-fries, where their flavors can blend well with other ingredients.
- Use organ meats as a supplement. If you're not keen on consuming organ meats as part of your regular meals, consider using organ meat supplements. Organ meats contain concentrated doses of vital nutrients, which can be obtained through these supplements. However, their efficacy against whole foods requires more research.
How to prepare organ meats
At first, incorporating organ meats might seem complicated. On the other hand, dishes like stir-fried onions and chicken liver take less than 30 minutes. Here are a few examples of recipes that include organ meats:
- Liver pate. Liver pate is a classic dish that combines the richness of liver with savory flavors. Enjoy it as a spread on crackers or on a sandwich. You can find liver pate in many stores, but remember to check the list of ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain unhealthy additives.
- Beef heart tacos. Grill or sauté beef heart, slice it, and use it as a flavorful filling for tacos. Pair it with fresh vegetables and your favorite seasonings for a nutritious and satisfying meal.
- Chicken liver stir-fry. Sauté chicken liver with onion and other vegetables and serve it over rice, potatoes, or noodles for a complete meal. When preparing, add garlic and pepper; when serving, add salt. It is important to salt the liver only right before serving. Salting the liver while it is cooking will cause it to overcook rather than produce more tender meat.
- Organ meat stews. Incorporate organ meats like kidney, heart, and tongue into hearty stews. Slow-cooking these meats allows them to become tender and flavorful.
By exploring different recipes and cooking methods, you can find enjoyable ways to incorporate organ meats into your diet while reaping their nutritional benefits.
Organ meats are highly nutritious and rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that support overall health and well-being. By incorporating organ meats into your meals, you can explore their unique flavors and reap the numerous health benefits they may provide. Remember to consume organ meats in moderation and consult with a healthcare provider if you have specific dietary concerns or medical conditions.
- Vitamin B12 in Health and Disease. Nutrients.
- Thyroid. Selenium Supplementation in the Treatment of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: A Systematic Review and a Meta-analysis.
- Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. The Role of Selenium in Inflammation and Immunity: From Molecular Mechanisms to Therapeutic Opportunities.
- Meat Science. Chemical composition and inherent properties of offal from calves maintained under two production systems.
- Cureus. Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review.
Show all references
- British Journal of Nutrition. Organ meat consumption and risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: the Tianjin Chronic Low-grade Systemic Inflammation and Health cohort study.
- National Institutes of Health. Vitamin B12.
- StatPearls. Gout.