Doesn’t the very name “organ meats” just kind of send a shudder of sickness through you? Even if you don’t really understand exactly what that means, those are just two words that don’t really belong together in a discussion of food you actually eat. And yet organ meats are among the most popular in the world. Of course, organ meats are far more popular outside of the United States than inside, but even so. First, a quick course in what is meant by organ meats.
Organ meats are, quite simply, food made from the internal organs of animals. These include such popular items as livers, brains and hearts, as well as some less popular organs like kidneys, tongue and tripe. Why would anyone eat this stuff? Well, when prepared right, they can be tasty. Or so I’ve heard. And nutritionally speaking they do have an upside. For instance, almost all organ meat is high in Vitamin B12. Additionally, they tend to provide quality levels of such things as potassium, iron, protein and some of the other all-important B vitamins. Of course, with an upside there’s always a downside.
For one thing, organ meats-especially brains-are a rich source of cholesterol and I’m not talking about the good kind. Less than five ounces of pork brains will net you over 2000mg of cholesterol, for instance, and who wants that? In recent years, organ meats have taken a hit from the emergence of cases of Mad Cow Disease. Even so, that hasn’t stopped organ meat-based products such as pate and liverwurst from still showing up in fancy restaurants and your basic supermarket. Of course, when cow brains are no longer available, the makers of these foods simply look elsewhere: the stomach, the kidneys and even an animal’s feet.
Of course, when one thinks of organ meats there is one big organ that instantly springs to mind. The liver is far and away the most popular of all organ meats and for a good reason. For one thing, liver contains generous amounts of iron and Vitamin A, as well as Vitamin B12, folate, zinc and niacin. Let’s face it, the liver is nature’s vitamin store. Practically everything you get from your daily dose of your multivitamin you can get in spades from eating liver. Of course, you also get more than your daily dose of cholesterol, and that really is the primary disadvantage of eating liver. (Aside from the fact that you are, well, eating liver!)
As a result, The American Heart Association recommends that liver consumption not be engaged in regularly. If you are going to eat liver, make it only on special occasions. And even then only if you aren’t suffering from heart disease or high cholesterol. If you are, then it is recommended that you avoid liver completely. There is another reason why liver shouldn’t be on your menu on a weekly basis. The liver is a metabolizing organ, meaning it is there to filter out the toxic substances that enter a body. Sometimes these toxins remain in the liver and so as a result when you do eat animal liver you may be ingesting some leftover residue of any drugs or hormones fed to the animal. The occasional meal probably won’t be enough to hurt you, but if you ingest these toxins regularly they could become enough to prevent a health hazard.