In ancient times when our ancestors hunted, they consumed every inch of the animal – from one end to another. Organ meat such as the liver, the heart, and the kidneys were delicacies that contained far more essential nutrients than other parts of the animal. In Western countries, we primarily consume muscle meat. In addition, animals often get unnatural fodder with suboptimal nutrient content. This results in deficiencies and an imbalance between amino acids and fatty acids. In the following article, you can read more about organ meats (also known as offal), bone marrow, and bone broth and their high content of essential amino acids, vitamin B12, iron, selenium, Q10, calcium, magnesium, collagen, glucosamine, CLA, and other vital nutrients. Also, you can read more about why it makes sense to choose meat from free-range livestock.
In hunting cultures and in old days when people did their own slaughtering at home it was common practice to eat the entire animal to avoid waste. Now, in our modern Western culture, we primarily consume muscle meat such as minced meat, steaks, cutlets, chicken breasts, salmon steaks, cold cuts, etc. Muscle meat contains a variety of nutrients but organ meat – or offal – contains even more nutrition and in much higher concentrations. By including organ meat in your diet, you get more nutrients but you also get a better balance between amino acids and other nutrients. Remember to include vegetables and root vegetables so you get fiber, potassium, and magnesium.
From a nutrient perspective, it is a good idea to choose free-range animals that have been given natural fodder. This helps minimize the meat’s content of environmental toxins and it optimizes the nutrient content. It has been shown that meat from free-range livestock contains greater amounts of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin K2, more antioxidants, and as much as 2-3 times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is important for the animal’s ability to burn fat and build muscle mass. It is therefore better for you to consume meat from animals that have had as natural a life as possible, and eating more parts from the animal helps you get more nutrients in a healthier balance.
The liver – nature’s largest multivitamin
The liver is important for detoxification, digestion, storage of glycogen, lipid metabolism, protein and amino acid production, hormone balance, and storage of vitamins and minerals. The liver is so nutrient-dense that it is regarded as a super food or nature’s largest multivitamin. Here is a list of some of the most important nutrients and their functions:
- Pure vitamin A (retinol) – immune defense, vision, skin, and cell communication
- Folic acid (vitamin B9) – growth, blood formation, energy, and mood
- Vitamin B12 – blood formation, energy levels, and nervous system. The liver contains 17 times more vitamin B12 than ordinary muscle meat
- Vitamin K1 – blood coagulation and a precursor of vitamin K2
- Niacin (vitamin B3) – brain health, memory, and mood
- Iron (as bioavailable heme iron) – blood formation, vitality, and growth
- Selenium – immune defense, metabolism, fertility, and antioxidant protection
- Zinc – growth, immune defense, skin, hair, sense of taste and smell, fertility, and antioxidant function
- Molybdenum – uric acid metabolism
- Choline – cell membranes, nervous system, and mood
- Ergothionine – amino acid that supports the body’s detoxification
- L-carnitine, taurine, carnosine, and anserine – energy metabolism, brain health, immune defense, and muscle regeneration
The reason why the liver stores that many nutrients is that it handles so many different functions. Some people mistakenly look at the liver as ”impure food”. But rather than store toxins, the liver actually breaks them down and excretes them in the bile or in urine. In the Inuit culture and other hunting cultures is common practice to eat the liver first as a way of getting all the essential nutrients as fast as possible. The dogs are more likely to get the muscle meat. Cod liver is particularly high in vitamin A, vitamin D, and the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
The heart – a very unique muscle
The heart contracts approximately 100,000 times daily to pump blood to all the different parts of the body. Although the heart is in fact a large muscle it is considered to be organ meat. The heart is an excellent source of Q10, a compound that supports the cellular energy metabolism and serves as an antioxidant.
The heart contains several B vitamins and essential amino acids. The content of tryptophane in the heart is nearly nine times that of muscle meat. Tryptophane is used to produce serotonin, the hormone that helps regulate our mood, and melatonin that is important for our sleep.
The kidneys filter our blood and contain large quantities of vitamin B12 and selenium. Kidneys also contain other nutrients that support kidney function.
Tongue and sweetbread (thymus)
Both organs are examples of nutritious and inexpensive cuts. The thymus is a lymphatic organ that makes T cells (white blood cells)
The brain – a forgotten omega-3 source
The brain is the part of the central nervous system that is located inside the skull. Lipids represent around 60 percent of the brain’s dry matter weight. The brain contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that control a number of processes in the brain cells. Omega-3 is important for preventing inflammation, which is the common thread of many chronic illnesses.
Bone marrow – a superfood with very special nutrients
The bone narrow is a soft and fatty substance that handles blood formation. It the site of the blood’s stem cells and also contains blood cells in all of their maturation stages. Bone marrow contains particularly healthy nutrients such as:
- Collagen that is important for bones, skin, and connective tissue
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that is important for the burning of fat and for building muscle
- Glucosamine that is important for the structural integrity of joint cartilage and helps prevent osteoarthritis
- Adiponectin that is a hormone that helps break down fat and supports insulin sensitivity
Bones – a virtual mineral bank
Bones contain collagen, calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica, and other minerals and amino acids. If you let some bones simmer in water with a little salt for around eight hours or more, it releases their minerals and other useful nutrients. This gelatinous substance – also called bone broth – is very nutritious for your bones, tendons, skin, and hair. You can also cook bones with the marrow, onions, root vegetables, and herbs for even more nutrients and a richer flavor. It is a good idea to blend the soup to give it a creamy texture.
Anne Ringgaard. Britiske forskere: Økologisk kød og mælk har mere sundt fedt. Videnskab.dk. 2016
Frida - Database med fødevaredata udgivet DTU Fødevareinstituttet (fooddata.dk)
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF GRASS-FED BEEF (covecreekfarm.com)
Why Liver Is a Nutrient-Dense Superfood (healthline.com)
Bone Marrow: Health Benefits, Nutrients per Serving, How to Prepare, and More (webmd.com)
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