I’m pretty notorious for encouraging my nutrition clients to eat weird stuff…like having canned salmon instead of whey protein after a hard workout, drinking bone broth by the gallon, having fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut on eggs, but the toughest one to get some buy in on seems to be organ meats. Why is everyone so afraid of eating hearts and livers?!
Truth be known, the organs of any kill would have been the most highly prized pieces to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They also would have been eaten first (have you seen The Revenant yet?). Kidney, tongue, brain, liver, sweetbreads, and heart were highly sought after for their caloric and nutritional density. Liver for example is chock full of protein, iron, vitamin A, B vitamins, folic acid and more. How’s that for a nutritional supplement?
What’s the benefit of eating these nutritional powerhouses? As with any nutrient rich food, saturating your cells with vitamins and minerals results in improved energy levels, improved recovery from training, and decreased oxidative stress. As athletes, we can greatly benefit from all of this. Because organ meats are so full of vitamins and minerals, you do not need to eat them every day. Supplementing your diet weekly with liver and onions, ground heart burgers and homemade sausages should do the trick.
It’s helpful to remember when you are diving into the world of organ meats, that the heart is just a big muscle similar to any cut of steak. Many have described it as “sweet” and find it to be the easiest of the organ meats to palate. Grilled heart or heart jerky are two great options for incorporating this super food into your diet. What makes heart such a super food? It’s higher in protein than any other cuts on the animal, plus it is absolutely full of trace minerals such as zinc, selenium, phosphorus, folate and thiamin. Still feeling uncertain? Try grilled chicken hearts on a stick and you will be impressed!
Want to simply check eating organ meats off your to do list? Try the ol’ Mexican favorite, Tongue Tacos (recipe below). Tongue is a very fatty cut of meat, which turns into the organ meat equivalent of carnitas when shredded. It is full of iron, zinc, choline, B vitamins and a host of trace minerals, plus it is cheap! Dress it up for dinner with hot sauce, sour cream, and fresh cilantro, and no one will be the wiser.
With any organ meat, preparation is key. Be sure to trim any white fat, as well as the silvery outer membrane. This is will make a big difference in your dining experience. You can also soak the meat in chilled salt water for a much milder taste if you’re feeling a little unsure. Pro tip: if you’re preparing organ meats for your family and friends, hold off on the bragging rights. It’s best to slip this stuff into their meal rather than making it publicly known. They will likely enjoy their burgers with heart and liver mixed in more if you don’t tell them it’s in there…at first!
Even if you didn’t bring home the organs from your last hunt, or don’t plan to, it is still worthwhile to sneak these diet superheroes into your nutrition plan. Be sure to take good care in sourcing organ meats from healthy, pasture-raised animals. You can learn more about this from the Weston A. Price Foundation (westonaprice.org), which is the leader in traditional food wisdom.
To be clear, we should consume liver from the healthiest animals possible, ideally wild game. But if buying from a grocer – cattle, lamb, buffalo, hogs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese are your best bet. The best choice is liver from animals that spend their lives outdoors and on pasture. If such a premier food is not available, the next best choice is organic chicken, beef and calves liver. If supermarket liver is your only option, the best choice is calves liver, as (at least in the U.S.) beef cattle typically spend their first few months on pasture. Full-grown beef liver is more problematic as this tends to come from cattle “finished” in feedlots. Liver from conventionally (mass production) raised chicken and hogs are not recommended.”
From what I have gathered, it appears the only organ you do not want to be hauling out of the backcountry is bear or seal heart, for risk of vitamin A toxicity (yep, that’s how high organ meats are in good stuff). The rest of the organs should be good to go!
On your next hunt, I hope you take the time to pack up the heart, kidneys, and liver to bring home and cook. These vitamin, mineral and protein rich powerhouses are not to be wasted! Think of them as a nature’s super powered multi-vitamin and enjoy!
Recipe: Heather’s Liver & Heart Cubes (aka Organ Bombs)
Thoroughly clean one heart and one liver of all silvery membrane and any white fat. Cut into 1 inch cubes. Put heart and liver cubes through a food processor or meat grinder, until it’s the consistency of burger. The mixture will be quite “watery”. Pour into greased ice cube trays and freeze till solid. Once solid, store in the freezer until ready to use.
Add two thawed cubes to each pound of burger. Use the ground meat as usual.
About the Author:
Heather Kelly is the creator of Heather’s Choice Meals for Adventuring. Inspired by her personal backcountry trips, Heather strives to create healthy, delicious meals and snacks for folks headed out on epic adventures. You can order her meals and snacks online at heatherschoice.com and use the coupon code JOMH to save 10% off your next order.
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