In Defense of (Some) Meat
by Dan Delluomo
If you’re going to indulge in the flesh, consider organ meat—it’s good for you
Life has some grim, meat-hook realities. We can hide from them, we can deny them. But they’re still there. One is that the healthiest meat isn’t steak, ribs, or even salmon. It’s organ meat. You know, organs. Liver, kidney, heart—food that most Americans find disgusting. But feelings don’t change the fact that organ meat has a vitamin and mineral profile that puts every other food group on the planet to shame.
Almost every piece of meat you’ll see in the US today is known as muscle meat—meat from the animal’s muscles. This is new. The elderly and many middle-aged people can remember a time when liver and onions were a dietary staple. Tripe (stomach lining) was a recurring entree. Organ meat was part of nearly every historical food culture. Hominids have been eating it for 2.6 million years.1 In less developed countries, it’s still common.
It’s not that muscle meat is unhealthy. But organ meat is far superior. And as we’ve shifted to only eating muscle meat, our health has suffered accordingly.
When a lion kills a zebra on the open savannah, it eats the liver, heart, and kidneys before anything else.2 That’s not random. Nature selected for this behavior over millions of years—due to the dominant nutrition of organ meats. In certain Native American cultures, the muscle meat was left for the dogs.3
What’s so special about organ meat? The discussion usually starts with liver. Liver is the most potent food source of Vitamin A known to man.4 Bar none. It blows carrots and squash out of the water. And it doesn’t stop there.
If you were to poll Americans on what food they thought was the healthiest, broccoli and kale would come up a lot. Those vegetables are great, and everyone should eat them. Blah, blah. But if you compare 100 grams of those “superfoods” to 100 grams of beef liver on a nutrient-by-nutrient basis, it’s grade school t-ball versus the New York Yankees.
Liver thoroughly annihilates broccoli and kale (and carrots, apples, spinach, blueberries, and steak) in each of the following vitamins: Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin A, Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12, Folate, and Vitamin D—the majority of the vitamins listed on the USDA National Nutrient Database.4 In several of these cases, liver beats the closest plant by orders of magnitude (at least 10 times as much of the nutrient). Liver also crushes them in Iron, Phosphorus, and Zinc.4 Regular old beef liver pulverizes fresh wild-caught Atlantic salmon in 10 of the 12 aforementioned categories.4
Liver’s also very high in protein and low in fat—not that animal fat (or cholesterol) is bad for humans. But that’s a separate topic.
Heart, kidney, and other organ meats are rich in many of the same vitamins and minerals as liver. Heart is one of the best known sources of Coenzyme Q10, a fat-soluble antioxidant that’s necessary for proper Vitamin E function and is linked with heart health.5 Kidney is one of the top food sources of Selenium.6 Similar to vegetables, each different organ meat has its own special nutrient profile.
Not only is our muscle-meat-only diet robbing us of these phenomenal nutrient sources, it’s overloading us with methionine—an amino acid which is high in muscle meat. Methionine is essential and not inherently harmful. But it’s converted in a pathway that includes B vitamins, choline, and glycine, three things organ meat has in spades.7 So by eating no organ meat and lots of muscle meat, the methionine builds up. Excess methionine has resulted in shorter lifespans in animal models.8
One of the clichés circulating in mainstream nutrition is to “eat the rainbow”—to include fruits and vegetables of every color in your diet. Good advice. But regularly eating lots of different organ meats would be even better. An optimal diet would include both.
Aside from the wild health benefits, organ meat’s very cheap—due to the huge supply and limited demand. And even if you never try brains or heart, learning to eat liver once a week is one of the best dietary changes you could ever make. Don’t cook it too long, and add lots of seasoning.
Dan Delluomo has an MS in biology from UB, and is currently writing a fat-loss manual.
1) Domínguez-Rodrigo, M. et al. “Cutmarked bones from Pliocene archaeological sites at Gona, Afar, Ethiopia: Implications for the functions of the world’s oldest stone tools,” Journal of Human Evolution 48, 109-121 (2005).
2) Time Life Television, Wild, Wild World of Animals: The Cats (New York: Time Life, 1976), 24.
3) Price, Weston. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (New York: PB Hoeber), 274.
4) “National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference—Release 26” United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed March 2, 2014. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
5) Matilla, et al. “Coenzymes Q9 and Q10: contents in foods and dietary intake,” Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 14 (2001), 409-417.
6) Barclay, Margaret N. I.; MacPherson, Allan; Dixon, James (1995). “Selenium content of a range of UK food,” Journal of food composition and analysis 8 (4), 307–318.
7) Helga Refsum and Per Ueland, “Homocysteine and Cardiovascular Disease,” Annual Review of Medicine 49 (1998), 31-62.
8) Miller, Richard A.; Buehner, Gretchen; Chang, Yayi; Harper, James M.; Sigler, Robert; Smith-Wheelock, Michael (2005). “Methionine-deficient diet extends mouse lifespan, slows immune and lens aging, alters glucose, T4, IGF-I and insulin levels, and increases hepatocyte MIF levels and stress resistance,” Aging cell 4 (3), 119–125.blog comments powered by Disqus
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