'Offal is unbeatable': UK doctors push health and environmental benefits of organ meats

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/OlesiaShadrina
Image: Getty/OlesiaShadrina

Related tags Meat Heart Veganuary Beef Lamb Livestock Pork Processing equipment & plant design

In response to the Veganuary phenomenon, doctors in the UK are encouraging consumers to eat organ meats such as kidneys, liver and offal to help their health and the environment.

The Public Health Collaboration has launched Organuary​ to promote including organ meats in at least one meal, twice per week, within the diet throughout January.

Organ meats are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, it said.

Heart is rich in CoQ10, which is 10 times more potent than vitamin E, making it one of the most powerful antioxidants available, it stated. Heart is also high in selenium, iron, and zinc. Kidney is high in selenium, it added, while beef liver, it claimed, is the ‘best source’ of vitamins and minerals.

“Chicken, lamb and pork liver are good as well but a portion (approximately 100g or 4 ounces) of beef liver can give you almost a week’s worth of preformed vitamin A (immune health) and B12.

“Liver also has lots of zinc for hormone production, choline for cognitive health, folate for DNA repair, iron for red blood cell production and copper for increasing iron absorption in the gut.”

Stomach (tripe) and oxtails, pig tails and bison tails, meanwhile, are all rich in beneficial collagen protein. Nutritionally, offal is quite simply ‘unbeatable’, observed Organuary supporter Dr Zoë Harcombe. She said liver ‘tops the charts’ for retinol (the form of vitamin A that the body needs), most of the B vitamin group and is outstanding for iron, while providing valuable amounts of other micronutrients. “If you want to win a nutrient contest, pick liver and you’ve won.”

Possible environmental benefits

Organ meats also boast potential environmental benefits, according to advocates, because they may assist in food waste reduction.

According to the National Food Survey​, in 1974 the average person was eating 50g of organ meat per week but in 2014 the average person only ate 5g per week. This downward trend has resulted in lots of wasted food from livestock, said Organuary.

“Animals are an important part of our diet, but the organs of livestock are often thrown away or discarded after sitting on shelves. By increasing your consumption of organ meats, you will help reduce food waste and make the life that was given for your food go further.”

In addition, organ meats are much cheaper than muscle meats. 

As well as eliminating food waste, eating more offal could also help to reduce meat emissions. A study in Germany​ in 2019 said that choosing more meat by-products once or twice a week, such as liver, sweetbreads and tripe, could help to reduce livestock emissions by as much as 14% because if people chose to eat more offal, fewer animals would need to be reared overall.

Sam Feltham, from Organuary, said: “In the UK, livestock farming has a carbon footprint that is 2.5 times lower than the global average. This is partially because UK livestock are up to 90% grass fed and 85% of their water consumption comes from rainwater. Therefore, it is our view that if you buy standard British farmed organ meats, it’s potentially at least carbon neutral, if not a net benefit for carbon sequestration.”

The Organuary initiative is supported by the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), which said offal sales in the UK fell by 13% in the last year. “Organuary will help remind consumers of the great value for money as well as the environmental benefits which are derived from eating more of the animal,” ​said Tony Goodger, a spokesperson for AIMS.

Robert Verkerk, founder and scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health International, added that organ meats were a “fantastic repository of essential and conditionally-essential nutrients, including nucleotides that are so important for gastro-intestinal and immune health”.

He agreed that whole carcass utilisation could potentially help solve the massive wastage in the animal food industry. “It’s not wrong to say that our dogs and cats often eat the bits of animals that are better for us than those given to humans,” he said. “The BSE crisis took offal meats off many people’s menus and now many rely heavily on lean muscle-based meats, such as chicken breasts, beef mince or steaks, avoiding organs, intestines and all the other bits that are used in proper nose-to-tail eating.”

Recommended supplements for vegans:

  • eBranched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine, in 2:1:1 ratio): at least 5g daily
  • Algal DHA/EPA, 1-2 g daily
  • Vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin and/or 5′-deoxyadenosylcobalamin), 50-5000 mcg/d
  • Vitamin B6, preferably in the bioactive pyroxidal-5’-phosphate form, 25 mg/d
  • Reduced folate, as 5-MTHF (e.g. calcium-L-methylfolate, (6S)-5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid, glucosamine salt), 1000 mcg/d
  • Zinc (avoid consuming alongside cereals or grains as phytate prevents absorption), 15-30 mg daily
  • Iron (non-heme) (e.g. as bisglycinate, gluconate), 20 mg/d for women, 10 mg/d for men
  • RNA nucleotides (e.g. from Brewer’s yeast [Saccharomyces cerevisiae]), pyrimidine (not purine) dominant, 500-1000 mg/d

 Source ADH International

Veganuary scepticism

The Organuary initiative comes in response to the Veganuary​ campaign, which encourages people to promise to consume no animal products for a month and which hopes to attract 350,000 sign ups.

Verkerk is sceptical about Veganuary​. “The idea that going vegan will save the planet is a notion we [the ANH] struggle with because it’s so over-simplified​,” he said.

Animal farming, he claimed, including the ‘often maligned farming of cattle’, can be carbon neutral. Livestock and animals, he added, are needed to build healthy, living, organic matter-rich soils that are central to making farming sustainable and turning farms into net carbon sinks, not emitters.

He listed other things consumers might want to consider over veganism, such as avoiding ‘bar codes’ and turning away from food associated with high air miles in favour of grass-fed meat, to help turn the tables to the benefit of both people and planet.

Vegan diets, he added, are ‘inherently nutrient deficient’, especially for active people. He said that consumers taking part in Veganuary should take supplements in order to fill some key nutritional gaps, including vitamins B12, B6, zinc and iron.

4 alternatives to Veganuary

Go bar code free.​ Avoid buying any processed or packaged foods from a supermarket. Eat whole foods, whether it’s fruit or veg. If you eat meat, support local butchers or farm shops that can guarantee they supply meat or dairy from grass-fed animals. You might only manage this for 30 days, but in that time you’ll likely develop some good habits, some of which might be worth sticking with

Go ultra-processed free.​ Much of the food we eat is processed to some extent. Take even cold-pressed, unfiltered olive oil, for example, which is minimally processed. But it’s a far cry from ultra-processed refined vegetable oil blends, or ready-made meals or sugar-coated breakfast cereals.

Go grass-fed.​ Don’t buy any meat or dairy unless the seller can confirm the product is derived solely from grass-fed animals. That’s a tough ask in most supermarkets, but it’s much easier to get information about from local sellers, farmer’s markets, the farm gate, food cooperatives or box schemes.

Avoid air miles.​ Don’t eat any food that’s been shipped by plane. Try and avoid exotic foods that have come in by boat if you can. The more local, the better. Transport of food is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and we can all do more to select our food carefully, preferring local and regionally sourced foods where possible.

Source: ANH International

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