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Offal – Not So Awful: Organ Meats and The Paleo Diet

When we think of eating organs, the first thought that comes to mind is gray, stinky liver and onions served in a diner. The thought is far from the delicious aromas that get the salivary juices flowing.1 Whether it’s the unappetizing idea or sheer intimidation, organ meats, or offal, carry a unique flavor profile that might take some time to perfect and for your taste buds to appreciate.2

It isn’t surprising Western cultures prefer muscle meat (steaks, thighs, ribs, loins) of animals.3 Yet, our hunter-gatherers ancestors consumed the entire animal from nose to tail and recognized the wealth of nutrients obtained from the brains, liver, kidney, heart, blood, lungs, and all other visceral organs. From their fatty acid profiles, and high micronutrient (vitamins and mineral) contents, the inclusion of offal on your Paleo menu is a no brainer. 4 Organ meats are more nutrient dense than muscle meats, containing higher levels of vitamin B1, B2, B6, folate, B12 and A, D, E and K. They are also packed with minerals like phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, iodine, calcium, potassium, sodium, selenium, zinc and manganese. Organ meats also contain high amounts of essential fatty acids, including arachidonic acid and the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA.5, 6

But how to beat the struggle to incorporate organ meats into your Paleo Diet when that grilled steak is calling your name? Overcome the initial fear and apprehension and start experimenting. For the foods that have the initial “ick” factor, hide them in something else. As you become more adventurous and accustomed to the different texture and flavors of the organ meats, there is no limit to the number of delicious and nutrient dense recipes that you can attempt to make with them, as you diversify your diet from just eating common cuts of meat. The most widely available offal at your local grocery store, and perhaps the simplest to begin with, are liver, kidney, tongue and heart.

Liver is one of the most popular organ meats and it is also one of the most concentrated food sources of vitamin A.7 Raw liver can be frozen for 14 days to kill any parasites or pathogens and then grated into mashed vegetables, such as cauliflower, or into scrambled eggs, soups and stews.8 It can also be ground in a food processor, and cooked into meatloaf, burger patties, or into a dairy-free pate served on cucumber slices.

Kidney is particularly high in Vitamin B12, selenium, iron, copper, phosphorus and zinc.9 They are meaty in texture, have a tender flavor, and are best slow cooked at a low temperature. The easiest way to get started is to braise them with vegetables using a rich homemade bone and marrow broth.

Heart is a technically a muscle, so it can be an easier organ to palate as it resembles a steak or a roast. Many consider beef heart a superfood given its high CoQ10, B vitamins, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, and amino acids. 10 Beef heart can be marinated in vinegar overnight, then sliced into 1” thick slabs, and seared on the outside before serving. Thinly sliced heart can also be dried into flavorful jerky using a dehydrator or placed in the oven on the lowest setting.

As you branch out into your offal exploration, visit an ethnic grocer or a butcher for more exotic organs (at least for a Western Diet), such as brain, tripe (the edible parts of the stomach), sweetbreads (the thymus gland or pancreas), and “oysters” (the testicles). You might be surprised to discover for yourself why our ancestors prized organs and preferred to eat them instead of skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

1. Pedersen A, Bardow A, Jensen, S.B, Nauntofte, B. Saliva and gastrointestinal functions of taste, mastication, swallowing and digestion. Oral Diseases, 2002, 8: 117–129.

2. Drewnowski A. Taste preferences and food intake. Annual Review of Nutrition, 1997 July, Vol. 17: 237-253.

3. Cordain L, Brand Miller J, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SHA, Speth JD. Plant to animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in world-wide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000, 71:682-92.

4. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J, Mann N, Hill K. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: Meat based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56 (suppl 1):S42-S52.

5. Park, Y. W. and Washington, A. C., Fatty Acid Composition of Goat Organ and Muscle Meat of Alpine and Nubian Breeds. Journal of Food Science, 1993, 58: 245–248.

6. Nicklas TA, Drewnowski A, O’Neil CE. The nutrient density approach to healthy eating: challenges and opportunities. Public Health Nutr. 2014 Aug 28:1-11.

7. Available at: The United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 27. Accessed on September 29th, 2014.

8. Available at: //www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/the-liver-files/. Accessed on September 29th, 2014.

9. Available at: //www.eatthismuch.com/food/view/beef-kidneys,3447/. Accessed on September 29th. 2014.

10. Available at : The United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 27. Accessed on September 29th, 2014.

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