Organ meats are sometimes referred to as "offal." The word offal derives from the term "off fall," referring to any part of an animal that falls away when it is butchered, such as the tail, feet, and testicles.

In the United States, organ meats include all things that are distinguished as offal. On the other hand, most meats Americans are used to eating are muscle meats, while organ meats are not considered a staple of the Western diet.

Organ meats carry some risks, however, as well as benefits, when they are consumed, despite their nutritional value.

Fast facts on organ meats:

  • Organ meats are very high in some vitamins and nutrients.
  • There are issues with harmful bacteria in intestines if not cleaned properly. Also, brain meat has been known to transmit rare diseases, such as Mad Cow Disease.
  • Despite the vitamin content, culturally in the U.S., organ meats are not considered as important a part of a dietary plan, as traditional muscle meats.

Liver is a type of organ meat or offal.Share on Pinterest
Chicken liver is a type of organ meat or offal.

There are several different types of organ meats, some of which are better known than others including:

  • liver
  • heart
  • kidneys
  • sweetbreads
  • brain
  • tongue
  • tripe

Organ meats are sometimes referred to as "super foods" because they are dense sources of vitamins and nutrients, including:

Across the world, many different cultures like to use an animal in its entirety for food, including making use of the blood, bones, and organs.

In the natural world, predatory animals are known to value the organs of their prey and, for example, to eat the liver first because it is so densely packed with nutrients.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most common organ meats and their benefits:

Liver

Liver is high in vitamin A, folic acid, iron, and zinc.Share on Pinterest
Liver is high in vitamin A, folic acid, iron, and zinc.

Liver is the most nutrient dense organ meat, and it is a powerful source of vitamin A. Vitamin A is beneficial for eye health and for reducing diseases that cause inflammation, including everything from Alzheimer's disease to arthritis.

Liver also contains folic acid, iron, chromium, copper, and zinc and is known to be particularly good for the heart and for increasing hemoglobin level in the blood.

Kidney

Rich in nutrients and proteins, kidney meat contains omega 3 fatty acids. It is also known to contain anti-inflammatory properties and to be good for the heart.

Brain

Brain meat contains omega 3 fatty acids and nutrients. The latter include phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine, which are good for the nervous system.

The antioxidants obtained by eating brain meat are also helpful in protecting the human brain and spinal cord from damage.

Heart

The heart is rich in folate, iron, zinc, and selenium. It is also a great source of vitamins B2, B6, and B12, all three of which are in a group known as B-complex vitamins.

B vitamins found in organ meats have a cardioprotective effect, meaning they protect against heart disease.

B vitamins are also associated with maintaining healthy blood pressure, reducing high cholesterol, and forming healthy blood vessels. They are beneficial to the brain and have been found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.

Heart meat is also a great source of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This is an antioxidant and can help treat and prevent certain diseases, particularly heart disease.

CoQ10 has been shown to slow down the aging process and to improve energy levels.

Tongue

Tongue meat is rich in calories and fatty acids, as well as zinc, iron, choline, and vitamin B12. This meat is considered especially beneficial for those recovering from illness or for women who are pregnant.

Folate is the vitamin in organ meats considered beneficial for fertility and for helping avoid fetal defects in a baby, such as spina bifida and heart problems. In addition, vitamin B6 can help during the morning sickness phase of pregnancy.

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Organ meats are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and purine. This makes the consumption of organ meats potentially risky for those with heart conditions or gout.

Organ meats are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol and saturated fat are now thought to be important for a balanced diet, but they must be consumed in moderation.

The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) dietary guidelines state that saturated fats should be limited to 10 percent or less of an individual's calories.

However, for adults who need to lower their cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends that saturated fat should not make up more than 5-6 percent of daily intake of calories.

It is also widely believed that people who have gout should avoid eating organ meats, as they contain purine, a molecule associated with gout flare-ups.

Furthermore, there can be a concern that animals that have been exposed to toxins and pesticides will have toxicity in their organs. It is important to remember, however, that while organs, such as the liver and kidneys, act as filters for toxins that enter the body, they excrete those toxins and do not store them.

Organ meat quality

It is vital to know how the animals whose organs are being eaten were raised before slaughter.

Aside from the moral implications, organ meats obtained from stressed and mistreated animals can cause all sorts of problems.

For example, fatty deposits can often build up, particularly around the heart and kidneys. Essentially, if the animal has led an unhealthy life, their internal organs will not be healthy either.

It is recommended that organ meats should be sourced from a farm that uses organic practices and puts its animals out for pasture.

Many organ meats have a high nutritional value and can be very beneficial to the human body in many ways.

That said, there are risks to eating too much organ meats, and anyone considering making significant dietary changes should consult their doctor first, and ensure they have thoroughly researched the pros and cons.

In general, though, as long as eaten in moderation, organ meats can be a healthful and regular part of a balanced diet.