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When it comes to discussing nutrition and food, organ meat certainly isn’t the most glamorous subject. For some, the very topic evokes a sense of panic and horror!
Perhaps it brings to mind a memory of being served dense, glossy liver and onions. Maybe it reminds you of walking past a city butcher shop with obscure animal parts displayed behind the windows.
Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the culinary term for organ meats—offal—is literally pronounced “awful!”
But hang on… don’t give up on organ meats just yet!
The History of Organ Meats
There’s an interesting history behind why you might feel squeamish or unsure when it comes to organ meats. Understanding this may help to put the issue into context. It starts with the fact that many of us have become completely removed from the sources of our food.
In recent years, food has become increasingly industrialized, standardized, and commercialized.
- Grains of all kinds are highly processed, coated with sugar and put into boxes.
- Heirloom vegetables and unique fruits have been phased out and replaced with generic varieties that are easier to grow, transport, and display.
- Dairy is skimmed, pasteurized, and fortified with synthetic nutrients.
- Every store offers the same cuts of meat—chicken breasts, tenderloins, steaks—all neatly wrapped in plastic and displayed in rows in the refrigerated section.
The Way Food Used to Be…
Our food supply certainly wasn’t always this way. People didn’t just consume muscle meat. Traditional diets from around the world were rich in dishes containing organ meats and other high protein options. From liver to kidney and sweetbreads to tripe, organ meats were often part of everyday meals.
Many of the world’s healthiest indigienous people, as studied by Dr. Weston A. Price, ate organ meats frequently. In hunting cultures, organs like the heart and brain were consumed first. It was believed that they would pass on the strength and intelligence of the animal.
Even after the introduction of modern farming, organ meats were savored as delicacies. Because offal is less plentiful than muscle meat, it was considered a rare and special treat, often reserved for the wealthy.
Organ Meat: Falling Out of Favor
It wasn’t until around the end of the 18th century when industrialized farming began to take hold that there was a significant shift in the consumption of organ meats. With the spread of commercial techniques and a rising number of slaughterhouses, the availability of meat increased dramatically while the price declined.
Offal, being delicate and difficult to store, eventually became too expensive and time consuming for companies to prepare on this mass scale. It was either discarded or ground and sold off for use in pet food.
The Big Problem of Factory Farming
Factory farming has allowed for the production of large quantities of meat at a good price, but there are consequences to this method that can’t be ignored. It has contributed to:
- Substantial pollution
- Decreased biodiversity
- Declining nutrient levels in soils
- Inhumane treatment of livestock
In all of this, we’ve also lost the deep reverence that comes along with understanding where our food comes from and the respect that is shown by using all parts of the animal.
Big Grocery Stores Changed Food, Too
Another issue that has contributed to the disappearance of organ meats in the Standard American Diet is the growth of chain grocery stores. Offal is not easily transported and doesn’t keep well for long periods of time, making it a poor fit for large stores. Supermarkets, which first appeared in America in the early 1900s, have also completely changed how people shop for and learn about meat.
Previously there were specialty butcher shops, which provided carefully selected fresh meat along with advice for cooking it. When large stores were built with convenient in-house delis, many local butchers went out of business.
With the closing of these shops came a loss of knowledge on how to prepare and eat unique cuts like organ meats. As a result, only meat varieties that are quick and easy to cook have stayed popular in the American diet.
Losing Out on Nutrients
This scenario is so unfortunate! From a nutritional perspective, we are missing out on a range of superfood health benefits from organ meats. Offal has concentrated, bioavailable forms of vital nutrients including:
It also has specialty nutrients that are difficult to obtain from other foods:
- Heart, for example, is a great food source of copper, an important mineral that is needed in healthy balance with zinc. Just 4 ounces of beef heart also contains more than 500% daily value of vitamin B12 and every essential amino acid.
- Kidney contains an incredible amount of lean protein, selenium, B2 (riboflavin), and B12.
- Liver provides more nutrients gram for gram than any other food, and is particularly rich in vitamins B12, folate, and vitamin A.
Traditional cultures intuitively recognized these health benefits, which advances in nutritional science have confirmed.
Are Organ Meats Healthy?
I have family members who don’t consume organ meats at all because they consider them filters that remove toxins. They assume that, for this reason, they store the toxins and are unhealthy.
Even those who don’t have a problem with the idea of eating organs often have somewhat of an aversion to the taste.
What many people don’t realize is that organ meats (especially liver) are nature’s multivitamins. Liver is an excellent source of many nutrients. Chris Kresser has a great post on the topic where he explains:
“Liver is an important source of retinol, which is pre-formed vitamin A. Just three ounces of beef liver contains 26,973 IU of vitamin A, while pork liver and chicken liver contain 15,306 IU and 11,335 IU, respectively. If you aren’t supplementing with cod liver oil, you’ll probably want to eat liver a couple times a week to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin A, especially if you have skin problems.
Although all meats contain some amount of vitamin B12, liver (especially beef liver) blows everything else out of the water, with almost three times as much B12 as kidney, seven times as much as heart, and about 17 times as much as tongue or ground beef.
Organ meats are powerhouses, also high in folate, choline, zinc, and many other essential nutrients.
Food for the Genes
Organ meats are also one of the four foods recommended in Deep Nutrition for optimal gene function. (I highly recommend Deep Nutrition if you haven’t already read it!)
Dr. Shanahan compares liver to other foods for nutrient content:
Do Organ Meats Store Toxins?
This is the most common objection (besides the taste) to consuming organ meats, especially liver. Organs like heart and brain obviously don’t store toxins, but many people are afraid to eat liver or kidney because these organs filter toxins in the body.
While organ meats do function as filters in the body, they don’t store the toxins. The job of organs like the liver is to remove toxins from the body. To get this job done, the liver stores many fat soluble vitamins and nutrients which is why it’s such a nutrient-dense food. Toxins removed by the function of the liver reside in fatty tissues, not the liver itself.
The Weston A. Price Foundation uses the analogy of the liver being a chemical processing plant. It handles receiving shipments and addressing them, but it does not simply engage with the chemicals as a manner of storage. As they say, “The liver is part of the body! If your liver contains large amounts of toxins, so do you!”
The Weston A. Price Foundation provides expert guidance when it comes to organ meat consumption. They suggest that for ultimate nutritional value, organ meat should come from healthy pasture-raised animals that have been raised on a diet of grass and natural grazing. Organic non-pastured options are second-best, followed by non-organic calf liver if that is your only option.
Too Much Vitamin A?
Another concern often heard with eating liver especially is taking in too much vitamin A. It is possible to get too much preformed vitamin A, especially if you eat a lot of liver. As with all health foods, variety is the best way to promote a balanced intake of nutrients.
Ultimately, eating too much preformed vitamin A can have some negative health consequences. Many studies look at synthetic vitamin A and find that it can lead to toxicity and birth defects, particularly in the first 60 days after conception. But natural vitamin A, like the kind found in liver, can cause problems too if you get too much.
While preformed vitamin A, like the kind found in liver and organ meats, is not synthetic, it can harm your bone health. An article from 2006 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that preformed vitamin A intakes of only double the recommended daily amount resulted in osteoporosis and hip fractures.
In the U.S., vitamin A in its retinol form is rarely deficient. A 2019 review from Nutrients found that regular intake of liver where deficiencies in vitamin A are not common often lead to toxicity.
Liver is a superfood, rich in vitamins, but it still needs to be eaten in balance with other nutrients. You can get too much preformed vitamin A, so be sure to balance your liver with other nutrient-dense foods.
Bringing Back Traditional Food
It’s important to recognize that if you are iffy on organ meats, you are not alone—it is a perspective that has been shaped by culture and history. There is a shift happening. People are beginning to push back on the commercial food system. They are fighting to reclaim traditional foods, opting for supporting local farmers, protecting the environment, and eating consciously.
As a Wellness Mama reader, I know you’re a part of this real food movement too, otherwise you wouldn’t have braved reading this unique and potentially controversial post.
If you are interested in reviving the tradition of cooking with organ meats, there are several books available on the topic. Two recent favorites are Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal and The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, both of which approach the subject with a spirit of curiosity and culinary adventure.
When sourcing organ meats, try to find a local farmer that uses sound farming practices who you can purchase from directly. There are also trusted online sources that ship grass-fed beef and other animal organ meats.
Choosing a Healthy Source of Organ Meats
One fact that is well established is that the health of an animal largely affects the health of its organs. For this reason, just as with any other meat, it is very important to choose healthy sources.
Personally, I strive to eat organ meats, especially liver, once a week or more, especially when pregnant or nursing. I normally purchase organ meats online here when I can’t find a good source locally.
I also try to find quality meats and organ meats from local farmers. Ask if the animal was grass-fed, raised on pasture, and (if possible) not given grains or antibiotics.
Another Option (For Those Who Don’t Love the Taste)
If the idea of eating organ meats still just isn’t appealing, there are other options to turn to.
There are supplements available such as Desiccated Liver and Desiccated Heart, which provide grass-fed, freeze-dried organ meats in capsule or powder form. Perfect Supplements is another brand that I use and recommend for organ supplements. The capsules can be quickly and tastelessly swallowed, while the powders can be conveniently mixed into foods like soups, stews, and chili or patted unknowingly into burgers. This way, all of the nutritional benefits of organ meats can be obtained without extended planning and preparation.
I was recently introduced to Pluck Organ-Based Seasoning that can be added to pretty much any meal that would typically use salt and pepper. It tastes like an all-purpose seasoning with a slightly smoky flavor and I like that it is sourced from humanely-raised, grass-fed and grass-finished New Zealand cattle, and are free of pesticides and hormones.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Tim Jackson. He is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Orthopedic Rehabilitation, and a Functional Medicine provider. He holds a B.S. Degree in Health Science and Chemistry from Wake Forest University. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you eat liver or other organ meats? How often and how do you prepare them? Share your tips below!
Discussion (105 Comments)
I have no interest in trying liver in recipes (sorry!) but have read on a few blogs about cutting it in small pill-size pieces, freezing for a few weeks, and just swallowing a few pieces like pills each day. This sounded doable to me, so I have some in the freezer right now. Do you feel like this method is ok? Thanks!
Ooo, good idea! I swallow other vitamins daily so I could do this too! And I bet it would work just fine. You wouldn’t get a whole lot at a time, but I think the build up over time would work, if you were consistent. The only ew-factor would be getting it cut up into those little pieces (I’m not a big fan of handling raw meat). Thanks Kimber!
I’ve done that & it is a great way to get your liver in.?
Thanks for the good info, Katie. I just cannot bring myself to eat liver. The taste, even cooked with onions, just gags me (without the spoon). But the stats are impressive.
My parents were constant blood donors during World War II. Their blood was always graded as the highest quality, since they both ate liver once a week. My mother only purchased calves liver, had it sliced very thin. She rolled it in corn meal, and quickly fried it crispy, and drained it immediately. She also served carmelized onions, and a spinach and tomato salad, with a light dressing. It was delicious.
Now that my husband and I are in our 70s, I include a liver and onions meal maybe twice a year. This not only satisfies my craving for this meal, but I believe it does help in maintaining our hemoglobin levels. We have never had to take any supplements to enrich our blood.
I know organ meats are “our of fashion” now, but I know that when people are very physically active, or when women have heavy monthly cycles, a boost to the hemoglobin level is necessary for one’s body to maintain optimal health.
I’ve been reading and some people say to stay away from meat, I personally love meat but I’m just wondering whats going on, why would one say stay away from meat
Thank you for this post! I have been confused about all the benefits of liver! I sneak liver into my family with this recipe:http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/04/recipe-egg-free-nightshade-free-hidden.html
It is amazing and they have NO clue! I would love to see a good recipe for kidney, and sweetbreads. I have some in my freezer from my side of beef, and I need some creative and good recipes that my family will eat. Thank you!!!
I’d like to see some real-life recipes for liver as well. The only kind I can find around here is calf or chicken liver at the grocery store and I was hesitant about the quality. I’m scared to try it because of the taste/texture thing too!
I’m hesitant to buy online as well, especially if I’m not sure we’ll like it.
Most good butchers can get liver for you, so will have it 2-3 times per week, others will get it in for you fresh. I would never buy it from the supermarket or online (in Australia). when you look at it, it should look fresh – have nice sheen, not be dry or blotchy.
if you haven’t eaten or cooked with liver much, I suggest trying a home made pate. you can use any liver you like, but I tend to use chicken. im not great with recipes (I like to make stuff up), but basically you saute 1 onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic with your choice of fat (coconut oil, butter, olive oil). put aside. prepare your liver about 350g. with chicken I just remove any obvious sinew, and chop up into even pieces. with bigger livers, I make sure I remove any gristle or tubes you can see. fry these off. add the onion mix. then add salt/pepper/parsley to taste. to this you can then add some brandy or orange juice & zest for a gourmet flavour. add mix to a blender and puree until smooth. you may need to add extra fat to make a wetter smoother mix. put into a serving bowl and serve. to stop it discolouring, you can push clingwrap onto the surface, or cover with clarified butter/coconut oil. this recipe is really easy and once you get the hang of it will only take about 15mins to prepare. its a hit at parties and really cheap. In Australia shop bought pate is very expensive ($5 for 100g) and it will cost about that to make it with 500g of liver.
I love to eat offal, I grew up on a farm and that was what was normal. it really is delicious and healthy and usually cheap. enjoy!
Ok, will have to try this out! Thanks!
DO you whole foods where you live? They sell organic chicken livers. Also you can soak the livers in kefir overnight, it will help get rid of the smell.
No whole foods here, unless I want to drive a good hour into the city. I think I can get some from a local butcher though.
I was just about to start researching a post on liver and why I eat it for my blog. I’ll link them to your post and Mommypatamus’ post about the function of the liver and just highlight some things. And maybe give some “how to eat it without gagging” tips. 🙂
Thanks for all the great info! Any ideas on how to transition into eating liver? I would like to add it to my family’s diet but none of us have ever tried beef liver and the idea of eating it grosses me out even knowing all the health benefits. Chicken feet used to gross me out and now I don’t bat an eye but this seems different. Any recipes or tricks to sneak it in would be great! Thanks!
I grind it up and do a 50/50 mix with ground beef in chili. My “eww, gross, I can’t believe you eat that” roommate didn’t even notice. And I didn’t tell her. 🙂
Oh that’s sneaky lol! Do you grind it after it’s cooked or raw? In the blender? Sorry, I’m a complete novice when it comes to this. Thanks!
I would suggest starting out with less than 50/50. I will do meatloaf, meatballs or meatza with 1lb liver and 2lbs ground meat and you can still taste the liver. Now, that is fine if you like the taste of liver, but may be hard for people trying to adjust. I find my kids don’t know the difference. They will eat up beef liver pate with raw veggies too. Also, I have made a hash with sweet potatoes, onions and chicken liver. (Just google the recipe. I can’t remember where i found it.) The liver was just nicely crumbled throughout and then with eggs over that, there was not much of a liver taste. You mix up the meat raw, by the way! 🙂
I have some pork kidneys in my freezer. does anyone have any good ideas on how to prepare those?
We always ate organ meat while growing up, liver, kidney, heart and even calves brains (ugh, don’t know if I could do that now) my mom used to soak our beef/pork kidney overnite in salted water, to sort of clean it, then she would cut all the pieces off, being VERY careful trim all the fat/sinews off, dredge the pieces in flour, salt and pepper and pan fry-there was always a nice brown base left in the pan and at the end, with the kidneys still in the pan, would add a little water and stir meat and drippings around, making a gravy-type sauce – it was always yummee, and this I still do, although I do slice up and saute onions to mix in at the end which is a nice touch. Of course everyone knows how to pan fry liver (dredged in flour/salt/pepper) and onions. We used to just bake the heart in the oven, and I even stuffed one once, and it was wonderful. Actually I am preparing kidney tonight, and this is the reason I am on this site, my daughter thought it wasn’t healthy to eat organ meat – BUT I WAS RIGHT, IT IS BENEFICIAL, unless of course the animal source of these organs are not healthy. I hope you enjoy your kidney this way, I do firmly believe in soaking the kidney overnight in salt though. Enjoy, as I will with mine tonight.
I grind it and mix it while it’s raw. Since I put it in a heavily-spiced chili (the chocolate chili from the Well Fed cookbook), you couldn’t taste the liver at all.
Start ground it and mix it with your regular ground meat
Can you tell me how to prepare the chicken feet? Thanks!
My family, including 9 and 11 year olds, love liver – calf and chicken. We eat tripe on a fairly regular basis as well. We recently tried beef heart and it was a hit. I find that it is all in how the food is prepared. I grew up hating the taste and texture of liver….until I found a recipe that recommended the liver remain pink and served with a pan sauce. It is really amazing.
I just made liver for the first time in years. I followed the suggestion regarding leaving it a bit pink in the middle. I dare says it was the most delicious liver I have ever prepared…I did use oat flour to coat in lieu of wheat.
I have LOVED liver ever since I was a kid. My parents were completely grossed out and I would beg for it. For a long time I quit eating it, believing it to be unhealthy– or at the very least, weird! Now I’m married to a German man and happily living in Germany, where many people eat organ meat. We often keep an organic pate in the fridge, but I really enjoy the traditional liver and onions and chicken liver risotto (I know, no rice on this website!). A traditional German preparation that I’ve come to really enjoy is like the traditional liver and onions, but with apple slices included. I’ve had the apple and onion variation with beef, pork and chicken liver. I tend to have problems with B12 deficiency, and I really believe that my consumption of organ meats has helped stabilize that, as well as keep my iron-levels high enough through pregnancy and now nursing!
Yum! I love liver+onions, but haven’t had it with apples. Do you saute the apples with the onions?
yes, they’re sauteed together. I don’t have any English-language German recipe websites to recommend, but I’m sure a google search can get you a good one. Very simple, very tasty!
I just made my liver with apples and onions? I so appreciate this tip. It helped me not to down it in ketchup. I . Love liver! I was just wonder is it ok to give my sister liver.? She is an amputee and takes warfin.
I love beef and lamb liver its loaded with nutration when I eat it my skin looks awsome
1 lb liver
1 onion chopped
1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 hot green peper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp all spice
1 lemon juce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped barsley
1 tomato cut ti small cubes
marined the liver with salt and peper garlic all spice cumin lemon juce leave it in the fridge
in a pan add olive oil and sautee the onion add the marineded liver ive it a stir till the water done add tomato and parsely leave it for 5 mins and serve it hot with pasta or bread
this sounds awesome; can’t wait to try!