Research & Education

Exploring the Nutrient Density of Organ Meats

Consuming a nutrient-dense diet ensures that the body has the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other beneficial compounds available for its needs. Western style diets consisting of primarily energy-dense, ultra-processed foods, and lower levels of key nutrients are continually associated with the development of chronic health conditions, including cardiometabolic diseases, obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancers. A balanced, whole-food diet contains many essential nutrients and beneficial compounds. Adding organ meats to such an eating pattern may also help increase nutrient density.

Historically, humans consumed animals from nose to tail, including many of the organ meats. As diets shifted over time, adding organ meats to the diet became less common. However, organ meats have a potentially beneficial role to remain part of a healthy eating pattern, as they are among the most nutrient-dense food groups. Organ meats that are sourced from grass-fed cattle naturally contain some key vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and E, the B complex vitamins, and heme iron. Additionally, they contain various enzymes and bioactive peptides that support health. Vitamins A and E support antioxidant status, especially to protect against lipid peroxidation. The B vitamins have important roles in energy production, DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter synthesis and function, methylation, and the one-carbon cycle. Iron has many important roles in the body, such as oxygen transportation and thyroid function.

Organ meats have been found to have a favorable omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio. This promotes a healthy inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation has been shown as a potential underlying factor in many chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disorders, mental health conditions, metabolic disorders, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and cancer.

Compared to skeletal muscle meat, organ meats contain higher amounts of proteins, helping to provide many essential amino acids for body processes. These include carnosine, anserine, carnitine, taurine, and creatine. Organ meats also contain nutrients beyond vitamins and minerals, including coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and the beneficial fat, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). They are also an antioxidant source of glutathione.

Studies have found that bioactive peptides found in organ meat may have regulatory functions that support health, including the support of intestinal health and immune function. These bioactive peptides are specific protein fragments that play a role in the regulation of cellular processes. The compounds found in organ meat may also support mineral bioavailability and overall nutrient intake. 

There are many components to a nutrient-dense diet that support overall health. Adding organ meats alongside other meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, and other whole foods may help increase the overall nutrient consumption, especially as organ meats may have a higher density of certain nutrients compared to other foods. Finding delicious ways to incorporate these organs may help fill in potential gaps in a person’s eating pattern. 

By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS