Eat Your Heart Out (literally!)

Organ meats. Do you eat them? Or does your stomach turn at the thought of eating another creature’s . . . well, stomach?

Eating tongues, hearts, livers, and kidneys may seem pretty gross to most people, but way back when our hunter/gatherer ancestors would bring home a kill, the offal was prized and eaten first.

Personally, I’m not keen on eating innards. To me, offal is pretty awful. But I’ve been working hard at incorporating these organ meats into my diet because they are incredibly nutritious—it’s as if our ancestors knew there were important nutrients in those organs. And predatory animals know it too; they eat the organs of their prey before the muscle meat as well!

Let’s take a quick look at organ meats and find out why:

Liver. Did you know that liver was once considered a meal for the wealthy? The liver is a rich source of copper, folic acid, and iron. It’s also high in protein and vitamins A and B. You can eat the liver of almost anything: duck, goose, buffalo, chicken, lamb, goat, and beef. Beef is a good one to start with because it’s readily available and inexpensive.

Heart. Beef heart isn’t that much different from roasts and steaks, except it’s a heart. This muscle meat is generally quite inexpensive and has a high protein content. It’s also rich in zinc, phosphorus, selenium, folate, thiamin, amino acids, and B vitamins. Chicken hearts are also very rich in nutrients.

Kidneys. You can generally find beef kidney, pork kidney, and lamb kidney fairly easily. Kidney is rich in protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.

Sweetbreads. Here, I’m talking about the thymus and pancreas of an animal— generally a calf, pig or lamb. If you can put your mind somewhere else to actually stomach them, you’ll benefit from their high protein content!

Tripe. Tripe is the stomach lining of an animal, most commonly a cow, though you can eat sheep, pig, goat, and deer tripe as well. Tripe is not as highly prized now as it was by our ancestors, but it is high in protein, calcium, selenium, and zinc and this is what Menudo, a prized Mexican soup is made from.

Tongue. Because tongue is so high in fat, it’s very tender. It’s also one of the tastiest organ meats and the easiest to cook—I’ve made it myself in a crockpot. Not very pretty to look at, but tasty nonetheless. I’ve heard of some people actually preferring tongue over other cuts of beef after they’ve tried it. Tongue is high in iron, zinc, choline, and B vitamins.

Now, if you have a hard time incorporating these types of foods into your diet, I recommend that you try grinding some into ground beef. This will work with heart, liver, and kidneys, though I would recommend being extra careful with the liver as it has a strong taste.

Sweetbreads and tripe, I currently have a difficult time with, so I’m giving myself permission to ease myself into offal by starting with liver, heart, and kidney (and trust me, it will not be recognizable, probably in a meatloaf). One step at a time, right?

My biggest recommendation however is that I would only recommend that you eat organ meats from organic, grass-fed animals. This is important!

And one other thing you can do if you want these types of nutritional benefits without the offal is to eat shellfish like oysters, clams, and mussels. They provide the same types of nutrition (you eat the entire inside of these sea creatures), but they’ll be a little more palatable if you’re squeamish at the thought of eating innards. :).

You most likely know I eat a Paleo diet, so you might be surprised that organ meats give me the heebie-jeebies. Paleo eaters are supposed to frequently dine on animal hearts and livers, aren’t they? Let’s be honest— all aspects of a Paleo lifestyle are not going to work for everyone.

That’s why I wrote Part-Time Paleo: How to go Paleo Without Going Crazy, and it delivers just what the title suggests—tips for following a Paleo lifestyle without going to any extremes. Find out more here!

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6 Responses

  1. i was worried until you said use only grass fed healthy parts. and I howled with laughter when you said “trust me ..they won’t be recognizable” ! That is some honest creative cooking and .I can do that . Thanks Leanne!

  2. I have always loved heart! Trim it well, cube it and brown it in a bit of fat with onions. Add broth and simmer low and slow (a crockpot is perfect here.) Add some thyme and a bay leaf. Depending on your preferences you can take cornstarch, arrowroot, or other starch , and remove some broth, cool and mix into a slurry. Add the slurry back in and simmer until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with over brown rice, quinoa, or other base. Add some veggies on the side and you have a super yummy healthy entry meal to heart. Or use the base broth for a beef and vegetable soup that is very good if you are exercising or unwell as it’s super nutritious.

  3. I grew up in WY and was raised hunting and eating wild game. The heart and the liver were always eaten first and considered the best part but we never went beyond those two organs. I also raised my kids the same way. I felt healthier then, unfortunately my second husband grew up in the Midwest and refuses to eat anything that isn’t domesticated. I may have to start doing some hiding of my own. 🙂

  4. I was a vegetarian for over 30 years, and in the past few years reintroduced meat, as long as it was high quality pastured meat. Just recently I have been adding liver to my diet. Chicken livers are the easiest for me to deal with, but I have tried beef also. The farmer that I get my meat from actually sells ground beef with 20% organ meat. That is what I use for tacos and meat sauce…with all the seasoning nobody notices!

  5. The organs don’t really appeal to me and I read recently that it was a good idea NOT to eat an animal’s liver because it is one of the organs that cleans the toxins out of the system. That made sense to me but I can’t put my finger on where I read that so I don’t know if it was thoroughly researched. Anybody else heard that?

  6. Poupard- I have heard that liver contains toxins because it is the filtering organ but I have read that this is untrue. I have been told by my doctor that liver can increase your cholesterol so I’ve just limited it to about .5 ounce day. I used to hate liver but found that the organic chicken livers bolied in water till the water turns clear and then served with high quality olive oil and a little pink salt is really very tasty and easy to prepare!

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