Dietitian, Berna Harmse, underlines the pros and cons of eating organ meat.
What is organ meat?
Organ meat, or offal, refers to any part of the animal that falls away when it is butchered. This includes liver, heart, kidneys, brain, tongue and tripe.
Organ meat consumption has been a staple in some rural diets for many years. The popularity of eating organ meat mostly depends on where you grew up. Also, across the world, many cultures use an animal in its entirety for food. Whilst people living in big cities, generally, do not opt for organ meats as a regular food choice as muscle meat is considered a part of the Western diet.
Food consumption and trends are constantly changing. There are many characteristics that dictate the way we eat. Major areas that contribute to ‘food trends’ include convenience; affordability; proposed or perceived health benefits; and ethical and environmental issues, such as animal welfare.
The upside of organ meat
Organ meat is very high in trace elements (iron, copper, magnesium and phosphorous) and vitamins. Especially, vitamin B and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Liver is the most nutrient dense of the organ meats and a powerful source of vitamin A (good for eye health and reducing inflammation) and iron.
Whilst kidneys and brain are high in antioxidants. Heart contains ample B vitamins (good for the nerve endings in the body as well as energy) and also coenzyme Q10 (a powerful antioxidant, especially useful in heart disease).
The downside of organ meat
Organ meat, especially liver, is very high in vitamin A, which in large dosages can be harmful in pregnancy, for mom and baby. Pregnant ladies are advised to limit their intake.
Organ meat is also very high in purines, which should be avoided by those who suffer from gout. It’s also very high in saturated fats and cholesterol which is not ideal for those suffering from heart disease.
One should also keep in mind that organ meat is still considered red meat, of which we limit the consumption of no more than two to three times per week. This is because high intakes of red meat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and some cancers. For example: colon, pancreas and breast.
Organ meat eaten in moderation can be a beneficial addition to your diet. The general prudent recommendation on animal proteins, however, is to favour lean meats, such as chicken or fish. Also, try to include one meat-free dinner per week to your menu.
MEET OUR EXPERT – Berna Harmse
Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian. She holds a MSc in Dietetics, and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.