Are Organ Meats Good For You?
The simple answer to that question is ‘Yes’. Despite the fact that eating offal has fallen from favor in many parts of the world, organ meat is extremely nutritious and can provide you with a very wide variety of vitamins, minerals and plenty of health benefits.
Put simply, organ meats are a wonderful addition to a person’s diet. They are packed with healthy nutrients like folate and vitamin B12 and are a great source of protein and minerals like iron, selenium and zinc.
I am sure that you know many people to whom the thought of eating an animal organ is disgusting. I know plenty of people who blanch at the thought of eating a delicious liver or roast heart so the idea of eating pig’s brains or sheep testicles may be a bit much. This is a shame because these once cherished parts of the animal are packed with nutrition and can benefit your health in many different ways.
What is Organ Meat?
Organ meats or offal are basically any animal organs that are prepared by humans as food. Organ meats include heart, liver, kidneys, brain tongue and sweetbreads. Most of the organ meats consumed around the world today come from pigs, cows, goats, lambs, ducks and chickens
These days, the standard western diet includes mostly meat derived from animal muscles. Most animals these days are born and then raised to harvest their muscle tissues. This means that organ meat is typically overlooked especially in the West. I happen to live in a part of Asia where offal is still eaten a great deal. It represents a cheap and tasty alternative to more expensive cuts of meat and remains popular. However, even here, dietary habits are changing fast and you would be hard pushed to find a young child that would think of eating any type of offal.
Nutritional Value of Organ Meats
The exact nutritional profile varies a little depending on the type of organ ands the animal from which it was taken. Having said that, the majority of organs are highly nutritious and most are more densely packed with nutrients than your typical muscle meats.
Organ meat is high in protein and especially rich in the B family of vitamins including niacin, folate and vitamin B-12. Organ meats are also very rich in essential minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium as well as vitamins A, E, D and K. The protein you get from animal meat and organs provides you with the nine amino acids your body requires to function at its best.
Rather than detailing the precise nutrition of each type of offal, we will use liver as an example.
A 100 gram serving of beef liver will provide you with the following:
- 175 calories
- 27 grams of protein
- Vitamin B12 – 1380% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)
- Riboflavin (200% of RDI)
- Niacin (87%)
- Vitamin B6 (51%)
- Copper (730%)
- Vitamin A (520%)
- Selenium (47%)
- Zinc (35%)
- Iron (34%)
Health Benefits of Eating Organ Meat
1) A Wide Array of B Vitamins
As you can see from the nutritional information above, organ meats like liver can provide you with an incredibly high dose of B-complex vitamins. This family of vitamins includes niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. All of the B vitamin group have been linked to heart benefits and the prevention of heart disease.
These vitamins lower the body’s levels of homocysteine, which is an amino acid linked to cardiovascular disease. (1) The B vitamins also work to protect the heart by maintaining a healthy blood pressure level and decreasing cholesterol which are both factors in heart disease.
Eating organ meats high in the B-complex of vitamins may also help maintain your brain’s health. They are associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease while they can also improve focus, memory and learning. And that is not all, they may even help boost your overall mood and protect against common emotional conditions like anxiety and depression.
2) Antioxidant Benefits – Vitamin A
Vitamin A is among the most potent antioxidants we know of and organ meats contain it in huge quantities.
Vitamin A confers a wide variety of health benefits especially when you receive it from food sources rather than by synthetic means. You may have heard about the dangers of overdosing on vitamin A but your body absorbs dietary vitamin A in a different way to synthetic versions of the vitamin. When you get your nutrition from dietary sources, the body will expel any unnecessary excess.
There are actually two kinds of vitamin A found in food. Beta-carotene and retinol. Retinol or active vitamin A is found in large quantities in organ meats and does not need to be converted by the body before it is used.
Vitamin A has very powerful antioxidant actions which help to combat damage from free radicals known as oxidative stress. Its antioxidant activities help keep the body free of a wide variety of illnesses including some of the most serious like heart disease, cancer and dementia.
Vitamin A is also known to maintain eye health. When you consume adequate amounts of the vitamin, it can protect against macular degeneration which is a common condition associated with aging.
Antioxidants can also help improve your skin’s health and appearance. Making sure that you get plenty of antioxidants into your system can reduce many of the signs of aging including tired skin and wrinkles.
3) Immune Support
The vitamin A found in organ meats can also offer immune system support. Making sure you get plenty of dietary vitamin A can help the body deal with a range of illnesses from the common cold and flu to more serious autoimmune conditions like rheumatism and lupus. (2)
Another major benefit associated with eating vitamin A is its effect on inflammation. Inflammation is at the root of a wide variety of health conditions from rheumatism and arthritis to cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Getting plenty of vitamin A into your diet can help combat inflammation and protect against a very long list of complaints.
5) Prevents Anemia
Anemia is a fairly common condition involving a variety of nasty symptoms including fatigue and weakness. It is usually associated with an iron deficiency and organ meats are a great way to get more iron into your system.
As well as iron, the B vitamins found in organ meats also help keep anemia at bay. B12 helps the body to produce blood cells and a deficiency can lead to anemia. B6 is also important as it helps transport oxygen and produce hemoglobin.
6) Fertility and Pregnancy
Organ meats contain several nutrients that can help women during pregnancy and also may help men with fertility issues.
Offal contains high levels of folate or vitamin B9. Folate is known to be essential during pregnancy and the vast majority of prenatal supplements contain it. Low levels of folate are linked to various issues including birth defects like heart conditions and spina bifida.
Niacin found in large amounts in offal has also been linked to a reduced risk of erectile dysfunction while B6 can reduce menstrual pain and eliminate morning sickness.
Potential Drawbacks from Eating Organ Meat
There are plenty of benefits from eating offal but are there any potential dangers? The simple answer is that incorporating liver or kidney into your diet will not cause many problems for the majority of people.
That being said, there maybe some special precautions for some people especially those with gout and pregnant women.
Gout and Organ Meats
Gout is a very painful condition and a form of arthritis and is caused by a build up of uric acid causing the joints to become sore and inflamed. The main culprits are compounds called prurines and organ meats are very high in these. If you suffer from gout, you should limit your consumption of offal.
Pregnant Women and Organ Meat
Although organ meats provide many nutrients that are good for a healthy pregnancy, overdoing the amount you eat can have a detrimental effect. Vitamin A is important for pregnancy and fetal development but excessive intakes of vitamin A can have been linked to birth abnormalities. (2) (3)
One study stated that pregnant women who consumed over 10,000 IU each day of vitamin were at an 80% greater risk of giving birth to a child with a defect. (4)
Pregnant women should therefore watch their consumption of vitamin A but it is far more of an issue with supplements than it is with dietary intake of the nutrient.
The Bottom Line
If you rarely eat organ meats, you are missing out on a great deal of nutrition which can provide you with a range of excellent health benefits. There are plenty of different types to choose from so if you do not like the taste of liver, why not try some roasted heart or tongue?
It can take some people a while to overcome their reluctance to eat organ meats and some are definitely an acquired taste. Try following some online recipes and adding organ meats to your diet and your body will be grateful.