Why Everyone Should Be Eating Organ Meat

April 7, 2012 in Categories: , , by

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You’ve probably heard a lot about how important it is to eat organ meat:  things like liver, kidney, tripe, heart, and even brain.  What do these meats have that the muscle meat that we’re used to eating doesn’t have?  The answer is A LOT!  Organ meats are the most concentrated source of just about every nutrient, including important vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and essential amino acids.  In the olden days (yes, I use that term purposely vaguely because it’s different for different cultures), organ meat was revered and saved for those at the highest echelons of society (exactly who depended on the culture, sometimes it was saved for pregnant women, sometimes the head of the family or tribe, sometimes the oldest members of the society, sometimes the hunters, etc.).  I remember my mom cooking liver once a week when I was a kid (I also remember hating it, which is strange because I look forward to it now).  But most of us don’t eat any organ meat anymore.  So, what changed?  How have we, as a society, migrated so far from organ meats in just a couple of generations?  I think the answer to that question could be a dissertation in itself, but there is one BIG benefit for us:  organ meat, even from grass-fed animals, can be very cheap compared to muscle meat (and organ meats from grass-fed animals are even higher in nutrients than organs from grain-fed animals).  So, not only do you get to eat the healthiest meat from the animal, but you get to save money doing it!  If you’re living on a tight budget, this might be a great way to work in some grass-fed meat!

I urge you to be adventurous with organ meats. I love ordering more unusual organ meats and things like feet and knuckles in ethnic restaurants, especially French and Chinese (although you do need to be careful of gluten ingredients when you do this).  But when it comes to cooking at home, certain organ meats are easier to find than others.  I suggest starting with the three organ staples:  liver, kidney and heart.  All three are available from US Wellness Meats (both beef and lamb, but also look at their variety of organ meat sausages) and liver is available from GrassFed Traditions  (bison, beef and lamb).

Compared to the muscle meat we are used to eating, organ meats are more densely packed with just about every nutrient, including heavy doses of B vitamins such as: B1, B2, B6, folic acid and the very important vitamin B12.  Organ meats are also loaded with minerals like phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, iodine, calcium, potassium, sodium, selenium, zinc and manganese and provide the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.  Organ meats are known to have some of the highest concentrations of naturally occurring vitamin D of any food source.  Organ meats also contain high amounts of essential fatty acids, including arachidonic acid and the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA.

Liver is known to be one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin A of any foods.  In addition to containing dozens of important vitamins and minerals, it is an outstanding source of Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 (and other B-Vitamins), copper, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, and iron, which is in a form that is particularly easily absorbed and used by the body.  Kidney is particularly high in Vitamin B12, selenium, iron, copper, phosphorus and zinc. Even though heart is technically a muscle, it also is also a superfood.  Heart is a very concentrated source of the supernutrient, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10, important for cardiovascular health and also rich in kidney and liver), contains an abundance of Vitamin A, Vitamin B12; folic acid, iron, selenium, phosphorus and zinc, and is the number one food source of copper.  Heart also contains twice as much collagen and elastin than regular meat (which means it is rich in the amino acids glycine and proline), which are essential for connective tissue health, join health and digestive health (see The Health Benefits of Bone Broth).

I recommend incorporating organ meat into your diet at least twice per week.  In fact, the more organ meat in your diet, the better, especially if it’s grass-fed.  Because the flavor can be challenging for some and because cooking organ meat can be daunting, I am devoting all of my recipe posts for next week to delicious organ meat recipes! (Update: you can view all my organ meat recipes here)

Comments

Fantastic post. I am new to the paleo concept and have often discussed with co-workers the benefits of organ meat. Of course, being nurse’s, they are shocked by the idea of eating the “filter” of the body. That is why I love this post because it helps me to explain it a little better to them. I must say, I have not ventured down the organ road before and look forward to seeing your recipes next week. Have a Happy Easter!

I completely understand! (I am biting my tongue on a medical professional rant right now). I find myself explaining “the liver filters toxins, but it doesn’t STORE them!”. Plus, grass-fed animals don’t have to filter many toxins, so it’s win-win! Hope you had a great Easter!

Chicken liver is also very healthy, especially if it comes from free-range chickens. Typically, the darker the liver, the more nutrient dense it is, so I’m not sure it’s quite as good as beef/lamb/pork. But, if that’s what you like, I say go for it!

Because of you, I purchased grass-fed cow heart, liver and kidneys today from our market. I’m intimidated, but excited for your recipes!

I have a history of being anemic and I’ve read that chicken livers have higher iron content than beef livers – is this true or what’s your take on this? I do prefer chicken livers as beef livers seem to always have those tough strands in them that I can’t chew! Calf liver I find has them too… I was on high-strength iron pills which I still have but I’ve read that iron pills can cause Candida to grow even faster as it thrives on it – so I stopped taking them for now as my ferritin is much better, I take one or two at a ‘certain time of the month’ but other than that I try to rely on meats for my iron now – but my ferritin levels should still go up on paleo right? Last blood work they had inched up a bit.

Yes, chicken liver has more iron than beef liver, but they are both excellent sources of iron and the cofactors to absorb and use iron (which is why it’s not as much as a problem to eat liver compared to taking supplements). Pastured chicken liver and grass-fed beef liver are even better. I recommend getting free range/pastured chicken liver if possible because the fat profile in conventional chickens is terrible (way high in omega-6). Conventional calves liver is a good option because they are at least fed some grass. If you buy liver from a good butcher those strings should be removed. When I cook liver, I usually have to remove the odd vessel here and there with a sharp knife before cooking. As your gut heals and you absorb more of the nutrients in your food, your iron levels should even out. One of the tricks you can do is to never eat nuts or chocolate with your meals (so no pistachio crusted oysters or squares of dark chocolate for dessert) because the phytic acid in these foods will hinder absorption of several minerals, including iron.

I have not seen a list nor have I compiled one (but that would be handy!). My favorite online resource for nutritional data is nutritiondata.self.com Not sure if they have all of the organs listed, but they do have the more readily found ones.

You suggest eating organ meat at least twice a week, the more the better. Do you think there is a risk of vitamin A overdose, as put forward by the government (especially for pregnant women)?

Is chicken livers the “stuff” that comes inside the whole chicken? I just bought an organic chicken. I usually throw that out but then I read your post about organ meat and I didn’t. And if so what do you recommend to do with it?
Thanks. I’m excited to give a try!

My parents served me liver once a week also and i hated it, and dont think i can handle it even as an adult. I do like chopped liver, is that ok?

I love organ meats and were always enjoying them but nowadays I try to avoid it and eat rarely. Yes, organs have lots of valuable elements but unfortunately they store heavy metals too, as well all the hormones and supplements that commercially grown animals are fed with in these days.

What about a frozen beef liver pill? How much should one consume a day? And is raw beef liver from a grass feed cow safe to take? Thanks!

Added some beef heart to my meatloaf mixture tonight. I would never have thought of doing such a thing (or had the courage to try it) before reading your blog. Thanks!

Hi Sarah,
May I put you / this article’s information as reference for an educational book I am writing?
Thank you and keep up the good work on all your wonderful information ;-)

Hi Sarah,
Thank you so much for your quick response and collaboration.
I hope to have it done by the end of the year and will keep you posted ;)
All the best,
Monica

Hi Sarah-
I have vitiligo and I am thoroughly enjoying reading all of the info you have here on your site. It is SO tremendously helpful, I cannot even tell you. Thank you so much. Can’t wait for your book, I’ve already pre-ordered it!

Here’s my problem:
I’m totally, completely, and utterly disgusted with the thought of organ meats. Just the smell of liver sends me gagging and running out of the room. I am not a picky eater by any means, I LOVE veggies. I don’t like red meat, but I am willing to eat it if it helps me get better. I am looking into an animal organs and glands supplement by Dr. Ron at http://www.drrons.com. Would this be okay? and do you know anything about it?

Also, as I mentioned, I have vitiligo. Do you have any experience with this or know anyone who has gotten results from the Paleo AIP? The reason I ask is that the depigmented skin is the only symptom I have. There are no other symptoms to use as a gauge as to whether the diet is helping or not. And repigmentation can take months.

Thanks again for such a helpful site.

I’m not familiar with that supplement. What some people do is cut up liver and freeze in pill size chunks and then just swallow the frozen liver like a pill. Maybe you could get someone to chop it up for you? Freeze it on a cookie sheet so they don’t all freeze together.

I know of many people with vitiligo who have asked me questions, I can’t think of anyone who has checked back in with a status update though.

Hi Sarah,

I have read about this technique on other blogs! They usually say to do it with raw liver and then store it in the freezer for two weeks to kill the pathogens. Is it really safe without cooking it?

Thanks!

According to the USDA, this kills parasites (routine treatment for sushi fish for example)…. not sure about bacteria but bacteria should be low if the liver was chilled properly and frozen quickly.

Hey Tawny,
What about a nice liver pate’??
You may be able to find it organic online or Wholefoods and don’t have to deal with smells… ;)

I cringe thinking about eating organ meats :( I have a hard time touching raw meat; I’m not so sure I could touch, cut, cook, or eat organs.

Hi Sarah, Thanks for a fantastic article! I have a question, though as a doctor I should probably know the answer. What are your thoughts on organ meat, especially liver for pregnant women? I am pregnant (after a miscarriage so a very precious pregnancy) and am concerned about the Vit A content which I read about everywhere. I have come across one Paleo website that explains that the selenium counteracts the äctive’part of the Vitamin A, so it can still be eaten in moderation, I would love to have your experienced and scientific thoughts though..Thanks and best wishes

Congratulations! Generally, if you are eating a food that contains both vitamin A and D, you don’t need to worry about toxicity. If the animals spend time outside (even if the animals diets are supplemented) the liver contains vitamin D. Liver has the added benefit of containing vitamin K2 (the need for K2 increases with increased A&D, besides organ meat, grass-fed dairy, lacto-fermented foods and green leafy veg [because your gut bacteria convert K1 into K2] are your other food sources of k2). So, I would recommend focusing on pasture-raised liver if possible. If you can’t source pasture-raised liver, then I would definitely recommend eating it the same day as seafood (and spending time outside!). As long as your vitamin D levels are in the normal range, there’s really no reason to worry about eating lots of liver.

organ meats are the tastiest most revitalizing and invigorating delicacies on the face of the planet. eating tripe of goats and heart or gizzard of chicken along with liver (it gives you a new life and i mean literally) is the way to go. combine these with leafy green fibrous veggies and colorful citrus fruit not to mention nuts and seeds and exercise in fresh air and sunshine and you my friend have got a good thing going. and don’t forget tons of water for the skin and hydration.

Am surprised that nobody before this has asked about Mad Cow — are you confident that organs can be harvested in a way that doesn’t contaminate with marrow and brain? Because I think I’m not willing to risk mad cow disease to get the added nutrients…

Hi – great post! I wanted to ask though – is it OK to give heart to my 13 month old son? We eat a lot of grass fed meat, and he loves liver and kidney. Have yet to try him on heart.

The first thing I want to say is: Thanks for continuing your great work! I know it means a lot to many people. Secondly: I have decided to go “paleo pescatarian” due to the fact that I want to avoid eating food cultivated in the modern industrial system as much as possible (mostly for health reasons, but it would also be nice to avoid such cruel and unsanitary practices if possible) and also due to the concerns the WAPF and others have raised in regards to pork consumption, the animal I have the greatest access to. In addition, where I live (an East Asian country) there is simply no access to pastured animals. There is, however, abundant accesss to affordable wild-caught seafood of all types. I also have access to grass fed butter and ghee imported from New Zealand. My question is: What if I don’t have access to beef or chicken liver, only conventionally raised pork liver (which I am very concerned about continuing to eat, due to the reasons I stated above)? Do you think there is a viable way to get all the nutrients I need without beef/pork/chicken liver? I would be willing to eat liver once every two weeks or whatever as a compromise for my health, I simply have concerns about factory-raised pork that is inhibiting me from continuing to do so.

I think concerns over factory-raised pork are valid, especially looking as some of the studies I’ve seen out of East Asia. All of the nutrients in liver are also densely found in shellfish and fish where you’re eating the bones and organs, like sardines or herring. So, I think you can do very well on a pescatarian diet eating lots of fish and shellfish, as much variety as you can source.

I believe my liver may be less than perfect from too much partying……However I do plenty of livers and kidney ever since I was very young. Think it may have helped more than I know????

I’d been eating a little regular lamb liver and a little more regular lamb kidney everyday for a while and they were probably cooked to an inner temperature above 160 fahrenheit generally because I tested it with my steamer to make them above 145 fahrenheit as close to it as possible and the best result came with 10 minutes which made them close to 160 fahrenheit if I remember correctly. A few times they weren’t cooked as usual probably because the cover wasn’t properly placed and after eating the liver which was more obviously less cooked than other times than the kidney, I had some joint pain. Then some day I couldn’t find any lamb kidneys and didn’t eat kidneys for a while and then I bought and steamed some lamb kidneys the same way again and when I ate them I had some joint pain again though they were cooked the same way without giving me problems before. But I kept eating the kidneys without having a problem again. Are there any possibly helpful interpretations for my experiences ? Organic/grass fed organ meats aren’t available where I live and I’ll probably switch to regular chicken livers instead of regular lamb livers for more methylated folate. Thanks in advance.

If you kept eating the kidneys without having a problem again, I’m guessing there was something else causing that joint pain (stress, a bad night sleep, some other food…). If it was the lamb kindey, that would probably be a food intolerance. The best plan in that case is to rotate your proteins (basically, give lamb a break).

I love this because I just made veal heart AND chicken liver last night. My body was craving organ meat. Which is strange. I must be malnourished. I have ulcerative colitis and have been experiencing flare-like complications for about 2 weeks. I guess this was my body’s way of saying “fuel me well!”.
It’s hard to find grass-fed organ meat near me. I buy regular, but is this hurtful to my body in any way? Do you suggest eating less of it per week if it’s not grass fed?

I think it’s better to eat conventional organ meat than to eat no organ meat. Studies show it’s very safe, although the fat profile won’t be as good as grass-fed (but you can balance that with seafood and you’d have the same issue if you replaced it with conventional muscle meats). All this to say, no, it’s fine to keep eating them.

Hi – great post. One question though, are high levels of arachidonic acid a good thing? From what I’ve read previously, it can increase inflammation? I have psoriasis, so had previously cut out a lot of red meat etc. (grass fed or otherwise).. thanks

Well, it’s an essential fatty acid component of all cell membranes and you definitely need it, but no, you don’t want high levels. That being said, as long as you’re eating seafood, there should be no problem with eating red meat, especially grass-fed.

[…] I am so fascinated with our reactions to old school nourishing, wholesome food these days. Especially when it comes to eating nose to tail. It blows my mind that in such a short time people have forgotten what real food is. And that, for example, the boneless, skinless chicken breast you enjoy so much from a nice, clean package was once a part of a live chicken, who just so happens to have two very delicious feet! (let’s also not forget the incredibly nutrient dense liver too) […]

You said that organ meat is not bad for gout sufferers. My Doctor that is treating my gout, was very specific that I should avoid it along with sardines, herring, anchovies, etc. I would like to know the rationale behind both opinions, science based if possible. I LOVE organ meats, always have, and have good access to grass fed meats. Just not willing to go through the pain of another attack. I am on medication to lower purines, but my Dr. still thinks I should avoid those specific foods. TIA

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