Your ancestors ate nose-to-tail. This means they ate the entire animal, including organs, fat, cartilage and bone. Often, eating organs, brings up thoughts of gray, smelly, overcooked liver and onions served in a diner. This is far from the delicious aromas that get the salivary juices flowing. Organ meats (or offal) can be both an unappetizing idea and intimidating as they carry a unique flavor profile that might take some time to perfect and for your taste buds to appreciate.
Cultures across the world use organ meats in traditional cuisine. Many groups reserve offal for the highest echelons of society. It varies by location but pregnant women, heads of family, elders, and hunters are often the ones granted the privilege of eating organs.
Western cultures prefer muscle meat (steaks, thighs, ribs, loins) of animals. Yet, your hunter-gatherer ancestors recognized the wealth of nutrients obtained from the brains, liver, kidney, heart, blood, lungs, and all other visceral organs. From their fatty acid profiles, and high micronutrient (vitamins and mineral) contents, adding organ meats into your Paleo diet is worth exploring!
Types of Organ Meats
Popular choices for organ meats might include:
Liver is a nutritional powerhouse! Liver contains large amounts of Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, Iron, Folate, Biotin, and Selenium per serving.
A meagre 2 oz serving of liver provides:
- 356% of your RDA of Vitamin A
- 112% of Vitamin B2
- 36% of Folate
- 658% of Vitamin B12
- 20% of Iron
- 400% of Copper
- 28% of Selenium
- 20% of Zinc
- 238mg of Choline
Compared to the nutrition profile of other nutrient dense whole foods like grass-fed ground beef, egg yolks, or leafy greens, the nutrition in liver is challenging to beat.
While it may not contain as many nutrients as liver, the heart (and especially cow heart) provides the most CoQ10 of any of the offal meats.
A serving of heart also contains over 100% daily value of the vitamin B12 you need, 50% of riboflavin and significant amounts of niacin, iron, phosphorus, copper and selenium.
Cow kidney also contains 228% of the RDA of selenium, 500% of Vitamin B12 and almost 200% of Riboflavin.
Kidney has a meaty texture, a tender flavor, and is best slow cooked at a low temperature.
Sweetbreads are the organ meat found in the thymus and the pancreas.
Whilst not as nutrient dense as some other organ meats, sweetbreads are the richest in vitamin C
Tongue is a popular but slightly less nutritious option than other organ meats but is still rich in vitamin B12, along with other micronutrients like niacin, riboflavin and zinc.
Tripe is another common organ meat, which is made from the lining of the stomach of various animals. Tripe is less nutrient dense than other organ meats but still provides a protein-rich option.
Gizzards are an organ found in the digestive system of some animals like chickens, and are used to grind up food.
Ranking above tripe for a few nutrients and carrying 85% of your RDA for selenium and 44 grams of protein per serving, gizzard is a worthwhile offal meat to add to your list.
Organ meats provide an impressive concentration of vitamins, minerals, dietary fats, and amino acids. Adding organs into your Paleo diet can have some amazing benefits:
Rich in Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant which is found in great quantities in most organ meats.
Two types of vitamin A exist in food: active vitamin A (retinol) and beta-carotene. Retinol is the vitamin A found in meats and is easily bioavailable.
Vitamin A provides protection against several diseases associated with oxidative stress and inflammation and supports immunity. Consuming foods rich in vitamin A also helps maintain skin health and is partly responsible for skin elasticity, suppleness and smoothness.
Furthermore, vitamin A is also an important component in maintaining optimal eye health. When consumed on a regular basis, it is associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration, which is an age-related disorder that can cause blindness.
Source of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is vital to cell functioning. B12 plays a crucial role in the body's formation of red blood cells and neurological functioning. Its role in the brain is so important that research suggests vitamin B12 might be an important factor in preventing dementia
Organ meats contain the bioavailable methylcobalamin as opposed to cyanocobalamin, the synthetic version that is contained in many supplements. Only about ½ of the American population can actually metabolize & use this synthetic form
Not only is there methylcobalamin in abundance in organ meat, there’s even more in organ meats than compared to other cuts of red meat.
Another important nutrient found in many organ meats is coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10.
While not considered a vitamin because the body can produce it in small quantities, CoQ10 functions as an antioxidant and has been used for some time as a natural method to prevent and treat certain diseases.
Present in its highest concentration in the heart of all the organ meats, CoQ10 has some benefits similar to that of the B-complex vitamins.
CoQ10 may help support heart health, optimize brain function, slow down the natural aging process and boost energy levels.
Protect Against Anemia
Many of the nutrients found in organ meats work together to fight anemia. This condition occurs when your body is unable to create and deliver enough oxygen-rich, hemoglobin-filled blood cells.
Hemoglobin is what makes your blood red, and is full of iron. Many of the treatments for anemia involve increasing iron intake by consuming more iron-rich foods like organ meats.
B-complex vitamins, found in abundance in organ meats, also help fight anemia. Vitamin B12 is required for the formation of more blood cells, and a deficit in this important vitamin can lead to megaloblastic anemia.
Other B vitamins like riboflavin are also necessary for the production of healthy blood cells, which is why filling up on nutrient-rich organ meats can be incredibly beneficial.
Supports Healthy Pregnancy
The vitamins found in offal are crucial for promoting a healthy pregnancy.
Vitamin B6 decreases pain responses to menstrual cramps and may also help eliminate some nausea usually experienced in the “morning sickness” phase of pregnancy.
Folate is also crucial to fetal growth and development. Low folate levels during pregnancy are associated with neural tube defects like spina bifida, anencephalus and heart complications. Folate is bioavailable whilst folic acid, often found in prenatal supplements is not.
Note: Organ meats are also very high in vitamin A, which can also cause birth defects when consumed in excess. Therefore, it’s best to moderate your intake, especially if you are taking other supplements that also contain vitamin A.
Organ meats are a great source of protein and thus amino acids which are essential for tissue growth and repair. Consuming sufficient protein is especially important when it comes to building and preserving muscle mass. Studies show that higher protein intake, from animal sources in particular, was linked to increased preservation of muscle.
While any meat you eat is going to have amino acids & protein in it, organ meat in particular has a higher amino acid concentration than regular skeletal muscle.
Support Cognitive Health
Some of the most critical nutrients for your brain are only found in organ meats.
Vitamin B12 and riboflavin are also important in maintaining cognitive health and vitality.
Organ meats are also rich in the most bioavailable form of iron — heme iron — which is very supportive of brain function.
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Including Organ Meats
Many organ meats boast much more colorful nutritional profiles than the same weight in their muscle meat counterparts.
Until recently, organ meats had fallen out of favor and, in Western culture are viewed as unacceptable or lower-quality meats than traditional muscle meats. There is, however, a slow shift in perspective as more types of offal have made their way onto the menus of local restaurants.
An obvious reason offal is less popular than traditional meals often has to do with the unappealing ways much of it is packaged and delivered. It can be challenging to eat the entire face of animal or overlook the fact that you eating marrow out of an actual bone of a creature that once lived. Understanding the Paleo principles of eating the entire animal, as ancient man did may support at least adding organ meats occasionally into your meal rotation.
Overcome the initial fear and apprehension and start experimenting. For those foods that have that initial “ick” factor, hide them in something else. As you become more adventurous and accustomed to the different texture and flavors of the organ meats, there is no limit to the number of delicious and nutrient dense recipes that you can attempt to make with them, as you diversify your diet from just eating common cuts of meat.
Organ meats provide important micronutrients and proteins that are tough to obtain elsewhere making them an essential part of a your well-formulated Paleo diet.