Organ Meat… Good or Bad?

I know, the topic has strayed from what I usually discuss…

My dear relative told me recently that she wanted to increase her intake of organ meats. After swallowing the bile rising in my throat I promised I’d look at what the research out there says. As a doctor, we’ve been told to use the available dietary guidelines and to avoid organ meats in certain populations (eg. heart disease, obese). Beyond that I didn’t really know…

Her comment also reminded me of something my dear Dad said when we were younger. We were at the dinner table and he was chowing down on some kind of organ meat and invited me to do the same. I politely declined.

He went on to tell that “In times of food scarcity, war and starvation, people used to eat organ meats.”
Me in all my adolescent wisdom (and I cringe to think about it now) retorted “Well, we’re not at war now.”

Sorry Dad. 🙁

kidney

Fancy some kidneys?

Anyway, organ meats… What do the national nutritional guidelines say?

  • Australia: no specific guidelines exist. Apparently the most commonly consumed meats in Australia are poultry (45%), beef (39%), lamb (9%) and pork (7%). Consumption of organ meats is ‘negligible’. Er, I guess therefore it does not warrant being in our guidelines. Away with you, negligible meat.
  • US: the AHA advises that while liver is rich in iron and vitamins, it is very high in cholesterol, therefore it is not advisable to have more than 1 small serving (3 oz) once per month.
  • UK: no specific guidelines but quite a few of their sub-guidelines for specific conditions recommend avoiding organ meat altogether.
  • WHO: nothing on organ meat. Just the recent release that meat in general is carcinogenic.
liver

Fancy some liver?

What about Dr Google?

  • Once you get past all the “Feed Your Pet” pages (!) there are quite a few sites recommending an increased intake of organ meat. These sites are run it seems by mostly Camp Paleo people who give two main reasons for chomping down on a bit of heart/ kidney/ liver…
  • When cavemen used to hunt animals (exercise), we used to eat the whole animal (diet).
  • Many traditional cultures believe that eating a particular meat (eg. brain) will help the corresponding organ in your own body… One of the reasons my Chinese uncles used to nag me to eat pigeon brains. And look, I ended with a pigeon brain. Wait… Or is that because I had two babies?
  • The only problem with said reasoning is that in the modern world we no longer hunt and kill our own animals – in fact we just sit at our desks slowly killing ourselves and get our animals from feedlots, where they’re all packed together, standing in their own faeces, force-fed with fuel (grains) and meds (antibiotics, steroids), all while breeding the new superbug. Delish.
  • Those traditional cultural ‘recommendations’ were also formed long, long ago… Probably when animals got to run around and stuff…
goathead

Fancy some goat head? Holy shit they look surprised.

OK, what about the research?

  • Surprisingly there is not much out there – here’s what I could find…
  • Heavy metals are significantly accumulated in the internal organs of oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops (especially cadmium) – therefore you should remove their internal organs before eating them. I wouldn’t even know where a clam’s internal organs were…
  • In animals, normal ‘meat’ cadmium content is 1 ng/g (wet weight). In the liver it is 100-500x greater, and kidney it is 600-2000x greater.
  • Organ meat consumption is associated with a greater risk of contracting sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (“Mad Cow Disease“).
  • In chickens (ooh, Australia’s favourite meat)… internal organs carry the highest concentration of the pathogen Campylobacter, such that it sticks and breeds on live broilers and processed carcasses. Wow, also delish.
clam

In case you were wondering…

So what should you do?

  • Ah no-one really knows but ? common sense would suggest that…
  • If eating organ meats, do so in moderation (can’t give you more than that unfortunately given the lack of definitive evidence-based guidelines) and
  • Know where it’s coming from. Avoid organ meat from animals that have been grain-fed, grain-finished, or raised in confined animal feeding operations.

All this talk has seriously made me consider turning vegetarian.

brothel_sprouts

Totally unrelated, but really quite hilarious.

REFERENCES
Mok JS, Kwon JY, Son KT, Choi WS, Kim PH, Lee TS, Kim JH. Distribution of heavy metals in internal organs and tissues of Korean molluscan shellfish and potential risk to human health. J Environ Biol. 2015 Sep;36(5):1161-7.
Davanipour Z, Sobel E, Ziogas A, Smoak C, Bohr T, Doram K, Liwnicz B. Dietary Risk Factors for Sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: A Confirmatory Case-Control Study. Br J Med Med Res. 2014 Apr 21;4(12):2388-2417.
Berrang ME, Buhr RJ, Cason JA. Campylobacter recovery from external and internal organs of commercial broiler carcass prior to scalding. Poult Sci. 2000 Feb;79(2):286-90.
Narres HD, Valenta P, Nürnberg HW. Voltammetric determination of heavy metals in meat and the internal organs of slaughter cattle. Z Lebensm Unters Forsch. 1984 Dec;179(6):440-6.
Bakir F, Al-Shahristani H, Al-Rawi NY, Khadouri A, Al-Mufti AW. Indirect sources of mercury poisoning in the Iraqi epidemic. Bull World Health Organ. 1976;53 Suppl:129-32.

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