Offal, or organ meats, may not be the most popular food choice, but it is certainly one of the most nutritionally dense.
Offal is packed with vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids that your body needs to function properly. Here are just some of the benefits of consuming offal in terms of nutritional value.
First and foremost, offal is a great source of protein. Protein is an essential building block for muscle growth, and offal contains more protein than other meats like beef or chicken.
It's also an easily digestible form of protein, which makes it a great option for those with digestive issues. Offal is also loaded with important vitamins and minerals. Liver, for example, is a great source of vitamin A, which is essential for healthy eyesight. It’s also high in B vitamins, which are important for energy production and brain function.
Additionally, offal is a good source of iron, which is essential for red blood cell production and oxygen transport throughout the body. Another benefit of consuming offal is that it is high in essential fatty acids. These fatty acids are important for a healthy cardiovascular system, and they may help reduce inflammation.
Offal is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health.
The Health Benefits of Offal
While our ancestors couldn’t analyse the nutrient density of offal, they knew from experience that eating organ meats led to improved health. Through modern science, we can now confirm that their observations were spot on.
Offal—especially liver, kidneys, and heart—are jam-packed with nutrients that support health and well-being. Let’s take a look at the most common offal and the nutrition they offer.
The concentration of nutrients in liver has earned it the nickname “nature’s multivitamin.” While pork and chicken liver are highly nutritious, beef liver is king in terms of providing vitamins and minerals.
Liver is brimming with:
Preformed vitamin A: Also known as retinol, this vitamin is essential for eye and immune health. A mere 4 ounces of beef liver contains about 5,600 mcg of vitamin A—that’s about 400% of the RDA for vitamin A.[*]
Zinc: This mineral is a key player in immune health and hormone production.
Choline: This essential nutrient supports cognitive health and cellular membrane support.
Vitamin B12: This vitamin plays a crucial role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and methylation.[*]
Folate: Also known as vitamin B9, folate is required for energy production, methylation, and DNA repair.
Iron: This mineral plays an important role in red blood cell production.
Copper: Beef liver is a rare dietary source of copper, which increases iron absorption in the gut.[*]
Heart is an excellent source of CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant that helps your cells function. It’s been shown to be cardioprotective in patients with (or at risk for) certain cardiac diseases, including heart failure, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease.[*] As with other meats, heart is also rich in selenium, iron, and zinc.
The heart is a muscle and, as such, it tastes more like the muscle meat we’re accustomed to eating. Chicken heart in particular is a mild-tasting type of offal.
A basic tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that consuming organ meats from animals will support the same organ in your own body. Ancestrally, this is known as the “eating like to support like” wisdom. This certainly holds true for kidney, which is chock full of selenium— an antioxidant mineral that plays an important role in kidney health.[*] Selenium is also essential for immune health and sex hormone production.[*]
If you’re seeking a nutrient-dense fat bomb, look no further than tongue. This type of offal has a similar micronutrient profile as other meats (high in iron, zinc, etc.) and offers a whopping 18 grams of fat per 4 ounces (for beef tongue).[*] This makes it an ideal food for those following a high-fat ketogenic diet.
#5 Stomach and Intestines
While stomach and intestines aren’t as nutrient-rich as the above options, they’re a great source of collagen, which offers rare amino acids (glycine and proline) that support wound healing, stable blood sugar, and the health of skin and hair.[*] The most commonly served form of this offal is tripe—the inner lining of an animal’s stomach.
The Importance of Food-Based Nutrition
Consuming whole foods offers more benefits when compared to taking isolated nutrients in pill form. This is because whole foods contain a complex combination of enzymes, compounds, vitamins, minerals, and cofactors that your body needs.
When consumed through whole foods, the combination of nutrients in organ meats provide a synergistic effect—a concept called “food synergy.”[*] In other words, nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin D, and zinc don’t operate alone, but rather in combination with each other. When you take isolated nutrients in a synthetically produced pill, this synergistic effect isn’t achieved.
How to Incorporate Offal into Your Diet
While some people enjoy the taste of organ meats, others don’t or are hesitant to try them due to fear of the taste. If you fall in the latter groups, you have two options when it comes to adding offal to your diet: make it taste good or take it in supplement form.
To mask the natural taste of offal, try whipping up a recipe that uses other flavorful ingredients, such as our Spicy Keto & Paleo Chicken Liver Meatball Recipe with Chipotle Ketchup or our Zuppa Toscana Soup with Added Organ Meat. Or have your butcher grind a small amount (20% or so) of liver into your mince and use to make your favourite dishes.
If you can’t quite get past the flavor, an easy solution is to take organ meat supplements which are becoming more available. Check out www.thehealthyoption.com.au for some of these supplements.
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