Are There Health Benefits to Eating Organ Meat?

Organ meats, also known as “offal,” are the consumable organs of animals. Organ meats include livers, hearts, brains, and intestines, to name a few. There are many health benefits to eating organ meats, but there are also some downsides. 

Today in the U.S., livestock is generally harvested for its muscle meat. However, in many countries, certain animal organs are consumed as popular dishes, including duck liver in France, beef tongue in Latin America, and pork liver in Germany. Asian cuisine often includes many parts of an animal’s body, including kidneys, stomachs, and intestines.

Interestingly, during WWII, American consumption of organ meat greatly increased. This was due to a concerted effort by the government to sway people to eat organ meat, as much of the country’s muscle meat was going to the troops. 

According to Jake Young of the journal Gastronomica, meat organs are again experiencing a resurgence, this time in the world of fine dining.

Nutrition Information

Four ounces of raw beef liver contains: 

  • Calories: 153
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Carbs: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams

Four ounces of raw beef heart contains: 

  • Calories: 127 calories
  • Protein: 20 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Carbs: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams

Organ meats are full of nutrients, and are often pound-for-pound more nutritious than muscle meats. With the notable exceptions of tripe (intestines) and brains, most organ meats are good sources of numerous vitamins and minerals, including many of the B-Vitamins, iron, and zinc.

Potential Health Benefits of Organ Meat

Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Thiamin, also known as Vitamin B1, is present in liver. Studies have shown that thiamin can help prevent risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, including memory loss and plaque formation.

Increased Energy

Animal organs, especially the liver and kidneys, contain iron. Many people suffer from iron deficiency; the condition affects approximately 10 million people in the U.S. One of the main symptoms of iron deficiency is fatigue and lack of energy. Eating organ meat will increase your blood’s iron count. People with iron deficiencies can eat organ meats (especially liver) to increase their energy levels.

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Reduced Risk of Cancer

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, is an important member of the B-Vitamin family that appears to protect the body against certain types of cancer. Riboflavin is found in organ meats, particularly the kidneys and livers. Studies have shown that riboflavin helps reduce the risk of lung and colorectal cancer. A riboflavin deficiency has been shown to be a risk factor for cancer of the esophagus.

Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

All meat organs (except intestines) contain high amounts of Vitamin B12. In combination with folate (also present in meat organs), Vitamin B12 helps moderate homocysteine levels in the blood. High levels of homocysteine are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Stronger Immune System

Many organ meats are high in zinc, including the liver, kidneys, and heart. Zinc is essential for your immune system to work properly. People with a zinc deficiency are more susceptible to infection.

Potential Risks of Organ Meat

Cholesterol Levels

While organ meats are highly nutritious foods, they also contain a lot of cholesterol (especially the liver and heart). High cholesterol levels raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Therefore, it’s recommended that organ meats be eaten in moderation.

Gout Concerns

People with gout should avoid organ meats, as they contain high levels of purine. Foods rich in purine can contribute to the progression of joint damage for those with gout.

Hemochromatosis 

People diagnosed with hemochromatosis, also known as an iron overload disease, have too much iron in their blood and should therefore limit their intake of iron-rich organ meats.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 25, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine: “Iron Deficiency Anemia: A Common and Curable Disease.”

Cummings Veterinary Medical Center: “Don’t Be Bothered by By-Products.”

EHSA Research Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Beef Heart, raw.”

EHSA Research Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Beef Liver, raw.”

Gastronomica: “The Offal Truth.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Thiamin – Vitamin B1.”

International Journal of Molecular Science: “Riboflavin: The Health Benefits of a Forgotten Natural Vitamin.”

Mayo Clinic: Gout Diet: What’s Allowed, What’s Not.”

Nutrition and Dietetics: “Nutritional Composition of Red Meat.”

Oregon State University: “Vitamin B12.”

Oregon State University: “Zinc.”

Penn State News: “Fat and Cholesterol Content of Wild Game.”

The National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine: “Sustainability and Healthy Dietary Changes Through Policy and Program Action.”

The Well by Northwell: “From A to K: the Ultimate Vitamin Cheat Sheet.”

UCSF Department of Surgery: “Hemochromatosis.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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