Organ meats are some of the most nutrient-dense foods out there—but often they go to waste because so few people are willing to eat them. I get it. But considering the value that organ meats can add to your diet due to their high supply of iron, vitamin B12, zinc, and more, it’s worth learning about how to incorporate them into meals in an appetizing way.
Interested but intimidated? I’m here to help you venture into eating more organ meats, even if you’re a bit hesitant to get started. Below, we’ll look at the best types to purchase in places such as butcher shops or farmers’ markets, plus tips for dialing up their taste.
What Are Organ Meats and Why Are They Important?
Organ meats (also called offal) are edible organs taken from animals like cattle and chickens. The most common types include the liver, kidneys, and heart. Less often, the stomach, brains, pancreas, and intestines, not to mention the tongue, are also eaten. In some countries, organ meats from animals such as pigs, lambs, goats, and ducks are also commonly eaten.
While they might sound off-putting if you’ve never been exposed to them before, these foods have been eaten for thousands of years. Our ancestors often took a “nose to tail” approach to eating animals, meaning they tried not to discard any edible, valuable pieces of an animal, including the organs.
Read More: 5 Health Benefits Of A High-Protein Diet
What types of nutritional benefits do organ meats offer? Like other animal products, they provide lots of protein—but pound for pound, they’re even more nutritious than the muscle meat most carnivores eat today. Depending on the specific type, they’re great sources of vitamins and minerals such as:
- Vitamin B12
- Thiamine/vitamin B1
- Riboflavin/vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
This wide variety of nutrients means that eating organ meats can offer benefits for your own brain, muscles, nerves, heart, and more. When you add organ meats to your diet on a regular basis (about two to three times per week), the benefits can include:
- Better energy and focus
- Higher blood levels of iron, which can reduce your risk for iron-deficiency anemia (a common culprit behind fatigue and weakness)
- Protecting brain health and supporting memory
- Supporting immune health
- Supporting normal homocysteine levels and cardiovascular function
- Easier muscle mass maintenance
- Supporting thyroid health and a healthy metabolism
How To Source Quality Organ Meat
To ensure you’re consuming the highest quality organ meats available, it’s wise to buy organic and grass-fed organ meats whenever possible. Since they’re derived from healthy animals, these options will typically be the richest in nutrients.
For example, grass-fed beef has been found to be higher in vitamins A, E, and other antioxidants, lower in saturated fat, and higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) compared to conventional or factory-farmed beef.
These types of organ meats aren’t always easy to find in most grocery stores, which is one reason why visiting a butcher can be helpful. Butchers also typically know about the animals’ backgrounds and how they are raised, so you’re more likely to be able to have any questions answered that you may have about the quality of the products you’re buying.
How To Incorporate More Organ Meats Into Your Diet
While organ meats aren’t nearly as popular as muscle meats (at least in the U.S.), they’re still eaten somewhat frequently in other countries. For example, duck liver is popular in France, beef tongue is often served in Latin America, and pork liver is common in Germany.
Some types of organ meats, such as liver, tongue, and heart, are milder in flavor, and are a good place to start if you’re just dipping your toe into these foods.
Still, because they have a comparatively strong taste, organ meats are usually eaten in small amounts. Many people prefer to “hide” small amounts of cooked organ meats in flavorful dishes like meatballs, burgers, meat sauces, and meatloaf.
Try combining your organ meats with other tasty cuts of meat, such as your usual grass-fed beef, turkey, or chicken. (A common recommendation is to use about 30 percent organ meat with 70 percent ground beef.) From there, adding salt, pepper, and other spices (think turmeric, ginger, paprika, cayenne, etc.) will also help to make your meal pleasant and flavorful.
That said, if you really don’t enjoy the taste of organ meats but still want to reap all of their nutritional benefits, try dried liver capsules instead, which are very high in nutrients and easy to swallow. You may also be able to find supplements made from a combination of different organ meats—like liver, heart, and kidneys—which are another sustainable source of many vitamins and minerals.
Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.