Are there downsides to not eating organ meats?
July 8, 2016 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Are there downsides to not eating organ meats? How has the transition to eating only flesh impacted our bodies?

It seems as though the organ parts of an animal, like liver, kidneys, bone marrow, heart, what have you, were much more popular in olden times. It seems like a particularly drastic change from a diet back then to the eating habits nowadays. Are there any nutrients, vitamins, or other types of sustenance that are only found in organ meats that we aren't consuming now?

I was reading something a while back that discussed the nutritional superiority to organ meat over flesh meat, and the author used carnivores in the wild as an example - they always go for the organs first, and start on the muscle once those are finished.

Are organs the same physically as just hyperconcentrated muscle? Or are there added benefits there that you wouldn't be able to get otherwise?
posted by amicamentis to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Two things that may or may not be direct answers to your question, but are germane:

Did "we" ever really stop eating organ meats? For one thing, the modern affluent Western revulsion at organ meats is very recent (like since the 50s or 60s probably), and also dependent on other factors like ethnicity, class, etc. For another thing, have you looked into how products like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, sausages, etc are made? They and a great many other foods popular with modern-day Americans absolutely contain organ meats.

Secondly, we are omnivores. There are entire societies on our planet that do not consume meat at all, let alone this or that part of the animal. There have been entire social classes for centuries that lived mostly on carbohydrates, sugar, and caffeine ("tea and two slices" as the classic working class meal during the British industrial revolution, for example). There is no substance in organ meats that humans require to live and cannot obtain any other way. We would be extinct, otherwise.
posted by Sara C. at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2016 [13 favorites]

This is a hypothesis, not data, but here goes: people in my demographic almost never eat liver. People in my demographic suffer from widespread anemia, despite abundant food options. Come back and tell us what you find if you research a causation!
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Who stopped eating organ meats? Not this guy. (Nor Leopold Bloom, who ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards...). And even if you're not into a nice fried kidney, lots of people end up eating organ meats in meals with gravy (giblets included is how i like my chickens and turkeys).

Anyway, they seem to be pretty rich in vitamins and nutrients, particularly vitamin D, which is hard to find from plant sources (although not impossible). Paleo websites are pretty crazy about the benefits of offal, so take that where you will. I'd link to some of those sources but nutrition websites are basically internet leprosy, and you'd find the same thing googling that I would.

But I don't think theres anything in them that humans can't find from other sources that is also essential for life. Meat has carnosine, for example, but you'll be just fine without it in your diet.
posted by dis_integration at 1:28 PM on July 8, 2016

Organs have a variety of different nutrient profiles. One advantage they have over muscle is a higher density of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Liver, for instance, is very nutrient dense (eating the livers of certain animals can cause toxic vitaminosis). Brains and bone marrow are highly caloric because they are very fatty. Wild animals are rather lean, and their muscle is not very high in calories. The heart is a muscle and is pretty similar to other muscle meat.

If you "live off the land" (whether you're a predatory wild animal or a human being), offal can represent a nutritional source that might not be otherwise fulfilled by the other components of your diet. If you are a subsistence farmer, your staple crops (potatoes, rice, etc.) might leave you with potentially dangerous vitamin deficiencies if you don't have access to a nutrient-dense food like offal during the winter.

If you have access to a wide variety of foods in your diet all year round, there's no specific reason to eat organ meats. Eat them if you want, but don't worry about missing out on anything. You are undoubtedly getting plenty of calories, vitamins and minerals through other food sources or through the industrial fortification of staple foods like flour. If you're anemic or have some other deficiency, supplementing your iron intake through food sources is probably going to be absorbed better than supplements in pill form. There's nothing in organ meats that you can't get from other food sources.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

There's a condition called "rabbit starvation" that is thought to result from not eating enough fat. Organs famously contain vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin A, both things that are found in plants.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:31 PM on July 8, 2016

Here is a dubious post about why you shouldn't just eat muscle meat:

For what it's worth, I feel much "better" (for reals), and my skin definitely looks healthier, if I supplement with collagen.
posted by zeek321 at 1:32 PM on July 8, 2016

(As in, organ meats have a different protein profile.)
posted by zeek321 at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2016

Are organs the same physically as just hyperconcentrated muscle?

I grew up eating organ meats. They are not just a variation of muscle. My history of anemia would have been worse had I not been fond of liver.

But my mom was really savvy and organ meets were chosen and prepared with care. They can be problematic. The liver detoxifies the body via the bloodstream and sometimes liver tastes funky because it is kind of an unclean meat.

As I understand it, in the Orient, there are exotic dishes, such as puffer fish, that can potentially paralyze you if they aren't properly prepared. While organ meats aren't as problematic as that, they are kind of trickier thanpreparing meat. A lot of Americans aren't exactly skilled cooks. They may not know how to properly prepare something like organ meats.

In the modern world, you can get a wide variety of foods from all over the world. You can also straight up buy vitamin supplements. While some people will argue that it is better to get your nutrients from your food, and this might be true assuming you can establish some optimized diet, we don't typically see serious deficiencies a la Scurvy anymore.

Scurvy -- aka vitamin C deficiency -- was a real problem in "developed" countries not that long ago. It is horrible stuff and, these days, readily and cheaply solved by stopping by any number of stores to grab some cheap supplements.

I think a more serious concern is kind of the degree to which diets revolve around commercially available beef, chicken and pork. I also ate deer and squirrel growing up and fresh vegetables from the garden out back and fresh fruits and vegetables from farmer's stands by the roadside and from going blackberry picking and mushroom picking in the woods. Some pieces of that are things I could potentially replicate. Others are not.

I may have been a bit of a statistical outlier for my generation, but I think it wasn't all that long ago that diets tended to be more varied simply due to people eating what was seasonally available. Now, people are generally more able to eat the things they prefer, with fewer compromises rooted in lack of availability, and, for some people, that convenience really narrows their dietary choices in a way that simply would not have been an option a few decades back.

We are not carnivores. Stuff I read recently suggests that modern human form is intrinsically related to the long human practice of cooking. This allowed our digestive tracts to evolve away from things seen in wild animals. You need to be careful when comparing human diet to that of other species. Other species do not engage in the complexity of food prep that humans do. And we have done so for thousands of years, long enough to reshape our anatomy.
posted by Michele in California at 3:18 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you live with a diet that's short of iron, you can suffer from anemia. Liver is an excellent source of iron.

Problem is, it's also an excellent source of lead, mercury, cadmium, chloroform, and a bunch of other things you don't really want to eat. Those things can't be excreted normally, and the body deals with them by storing them in the liver. They're known as "cumulative poisons".

They are in the liver of the animal whose liver you eat, and afterwards they're in your liver. If too much of any of them accumulate then they'll kill you.

But if you have anemia and don't have access to modern diet supplements, liver is just the thing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:21 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is informed speculation: Animals probably go for organs first because they are softer and easier to eat, so are more of a net calorie gain than chewing tough muscle for a much longer time. Humans don't have that problem because we make muscle easier to eat by cooking it.
posted by ejs at 5:06 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

s/chloroform/trichloroethylene/... thank you. (I mixed them up.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:48 PM on July 8, 2016

Eating brains increases your chance of getting a prion disease (mad cow-BSE, scrapie. kuru, Creutzfeldt–Jakob, chronic wasting disease, etc)
posted by H21 at 9:22 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

You name any food, there are or were people who didn't or don't eat it. Prior to 1492, New World people didn't have access to Old World foods and vice versa. There is no specific food that humans need to eat. We as a species seem pretty prone to food taboos, so we even seem to do ok not eating whole categories of foods. Taboos against animal-based foods of one sort or another are common- e.g., the Jewish and Muslim pork taboos.
posted by Anne Neville at 11:46 AM on July 10, 2016

Hyperconcentrated nutrients may not always be a good thing, especially in a modern diet. Vitamin toxicity is a real thing. In fact, pregnant women in the US are told to avoid liver, because it is high in preformed Vitamin A. (I found that to be one of the easier dietary restrictions to follow during my pregnancies). Too much of that can cause birth defects (though Vitamin A from plant sources is generally safe). More isn't always better when it comes to vitamins. Wild animals and people who don't have access to the amount and variety of food that modern First World people have might find hyperconcentrated sources of nutrients to be beneficial when we could find it harmful.
posted by Anne Neville at 11:56 AM on July 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Basic use and navigation of the MelOn iOS app?   |   How to think about a partner and what matters long... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.