Our ancestors valued offal (aka organ meats) over all other parts of an animal. As it turns out, they were seriously on to something.
Although most of us rarely eat organs such as heart, liver, or kidney, offal is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, offering a plethora of important vitamins and minerals that can have a huge impact on our health.
In this guide, we’ll be discussing the health benefits of different organ meats, the importance of food-based nutrition, and how to incorporate this nutritional powerhouse into your diet.
What Is Offal?
Also called variety meats, offal consists of animal organs and other tissues, such as bone marrow, liver, tripe, brain, tongue, heart, and kidneys. Despite being a centerpiece of many international cuisines, offal is not commonly consumed in the Western world. In many cases, we toss out offal when preparing chicken, beef, lamb, or pork, or give the organs to our pets.
This is a pity, as organ meats are far higher in nutrients than the muscle meats we’re used to eating and are a prime source of healthy fats, which drive an optimal ancestral lifestyle such as Keto or Paleo. Not to mention, many consider eating offal to be more ethical, as it uses every bit of the animal possible without letting any go to waste. A great nose-to-tail tradition.
If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around eating organ meats, fear not. Offal can taste delicious when prepared correctly. Or, if eating organ meats just isn’t your thing, you can easily consume them in capsule form. We’ll talk about how to incorporate this superfood into your diet later, but for now, let’s dig into the benefits.
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.
If you can’t quite get past the flavor, an easy solution is to take organ meat supplements, such as Hunter & Gather Raw Icelandic Lamb Liver, which offers high-quality, freeze-dried liver from grass-fed and finished lamb. Free of gluten, sugar, and GMOs, this supplement offers the benefits of liver in an easy-to-digest gelatin capsule. As they are made from a real food source (freeze-dried liver, kidney, or liver & heart), you also still receive the synergistic benefits as if you were eating the organ meat itself but without the taste, cooking time, or sourcing of fresh ingredients.
To Get More Micronutrients, Eat More Offal
While often considered “lesser” meats or throwaways in the Western world, offal is prized in other cultures for its versatility, low cost, and nutrient density. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more nutritionally-dense food than liver. In terms of micronutrient requirements, just a few ounces of beef liver can cover you for a few days, or even a week!
These micronutrients are vital for growth, immune function, brain development, and many other important functions that keep you strong and healthy. Plus, since they come from a whole food source, they’re vastly preferable to taking individual nutrients in pill form.
It’s time to take a cue from our ancestors and add this superfood to your diet. Whether you use organ meats in recipes or take a raw, freeze-dried offal supplement, you’re sure to quickly understand why this food group has stood the test of time.
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It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
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