(Paleo, AIP, GAPS, Wahls)
“Organ meats are the most concentrated source of just about every nutrient, including important vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and essential amino acids.”
~ Dr. Sarah Ballantyne
Aren’t Organ Meats Toxic?
That’s a common misconception. We hear that the liver processes toxins and we think therefore it stores them. Not at all! The liver is a filter, not a sponge. It processes the toxins out of your body, and if you have too many toxins for it to process, they get packaged and stored primarily in fatty tissue, not the organs. That’s why if you’re eating conventional meats, the advice is to choose lean. (Organic, grassfed meats, on the other hand, have beneficial nutrients in their fats, because those animals weren’t exposed to many toxins.)
Not only are organ meats toxin-free, they’re actually superfoods. That’s because they have very important jobs to do and need a lot of nutrition to accomplish it all. They are packed full of vitamins, literally 10-100 times more than muscle meat. They also contain different amino acids than muscle meats, so incorporating them into your diet gives you more balanced nutrition overall. That’s why experts in the field of autoimmune healing recommend them highly.
Dr. Terry Wahls has a nutrient table in her book, The Wahls Protocol, where she lists the best sources for each vitamin and mineral. She’s famous for recommending we eat 6-9 cups of vegetables daily, so I expected those to top the list, but the food that appeared most often was liver. It led the chart in the following categories: Vitamin A, B2, B3, B5, B9, B12, Zinc, Carnitine, Lipoic Acid, and CoQ10. And other organ meats weren’t far behind. That’s why Terry recommends we eat 12 ounces of organ meat weekly. Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, author of The Paleo Approach, recommends we eat even more. She eats them almost daily for breakfast.
If We Can Eat Them, So Can You
You might be thinking Sarah and Terry and I, and everyone else you see eat organ meat, are naturally more adventurous eaters. Not so! I was an incredibly picky eater as a child, and while I expanded my palate slightly as an adult, I never touched organ meat until embarking on a healing diet. Terry was a vegetarian for over a decade, so you can bet organ meat wasn’t her first foray into meat consumption. And Sarah resisted organ meat as well for her first paleo year. So, what changed for all of us? A desire to heal. The science is clear: we need nutrition to reverse autoimmune disease, and these are the most nutrient-dense foods available.
Sourcing Organ Meat
So, the next question is: where do you find them? Check with your local farmers, ethnic markets, or even the meat counter or freezer section of your grocery store. If you strike out locally, US Wellness is an online meat provider that’s a favorite in the paleo community. They sell a wide variety of grass-fed organ meats, including chicken livers, chicken hearts, bison liver, beef liver, beef heart, beef kidney, beef sweetbreads, beef organ sausages, lamb heart, lamb kidney, lamb liver, and lamb sweetbreads.
50+ Recipes That Are GAPS, Wahls and AIP-Friendly
I consider these the gateway organ meat, because they’re mild in flavor, easy to prepare, and full of all those nutrients I mention above. You don’t even need a recipe. Just melt a tablespoon of your favorite fat in a skillet, fry the livers a few minutes per side, add a little sea salt, and serve. However, just because you don’t need a recipe, doesn’t mean a little creativity in the kitchen can’t make them taste even better:
Chicken Liver Fried “Rice” from Phoenix Helix
Chicken Liver and Mushroom Stir Fry from Kaiku Lifestyle
Bacon & Sage Wrapped Chicken Livers from Flash Fiction Kitchen
Chicken Livers with Riced Cauliflower, Collards, and Herbs from Autoimmune Wellness
Balsamic Chicken Livers with Grapes from A Squirrel in the Kitchen
Pork and Chicken Liver Terrine with Spiced Apple Compote from Autoimmune Wellness
Yam and Liver Meatballs from Field Notes on Healing
Bolognese Sauce from Healing Family Eats
Tomato-Free Ragu Bolognese from Joanna Frankham
Nourishing Chicken Liver Spread from Gutsy By Nature
Cranberry Chicken Liver Paté from 50 Shades of Avocado
Chicken Liver Pate (Low FODMAP) from Sweet Treats
Liver Pâté with Mushrooms and Bacon from Eat Heal Thrive
Easy to prepare, these are high in all of the B vitamins, including the powerful B12. Did you know that B12 deficiency can actually mimic autoimmune disease, and that correcting this deficiency, can sometimes eliminate symptoms?
Simple Marinated Chicken Hearts from Phoenix Helix
Chicken Gizzard and Heart Paté from Virginia is for Hunter Gatherers
Chicken Hearts with Carrot and Apple from Cooking Melangery (omit pepper for AIP)
Easy Pan-Fried Chicken Hearts with Garlic and Herbs from Comfort Bites
Vitamin A is essential to immune system health, and lamb livers contain 25,000 iu per 3.5 ounce serving. And this is the bio-available form, which means our bodies can use it right away. Vitamin A from plant foods need to go through a conversion process first, and much of the vitamin is lost during that process. So, eat some lamb liver today:
Like chicken hearts, these are a powerhouse of B vitamins. Here’s a slow cooker recipe to make their preparation easy:
Slow Cooker Crockpot Lamb Hearts from Comfort Bites
Pork liver can have a strong flavor, but Jo at Comfort Bites has you covered with recipes that include lots of other flavors to make the end result both sweet and smoky:
Beef (or Bison) Heart
In addition to a hefty dose of B vitamins and numerous minerals, beef heart is the best food source of CoQ10. People spend a lot of money in the health food stores for that supplement, because it’s a powerful antioxidant and absolutely necessary to the function of our mitochondria (the energy center of the cell that is the focus of the Wahls Diet.) If you marinate beef heart, it has a taste and texture similar to steak. The hard part is getting over the fact that it looks like a heart. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Organ meats remind us where our meat comes from and inspires more mindfulness and gratitude. Heart also requires some special preparation – you need to remove the tough outer pericardium prior to cooking. The first link is my recipe, and has a video tutorial.
Beef Heart with Chimichurri Sauce from Phoenix Helix
Beef Heart Stir Fry from Real Food and Love
Crockpot Beef Heart Stuffed With Bacon from the Paleo Drummer
Beef Heart Jerky from Real Food RN (omit pepper for AIP)
Secret Ingredient Stew from Delicious Obsessions (omit pepper for AIP; choose butternut squash for GAPS)
Hearty Beef Soup from Real Food and Love
Rosemary and Garlic Beef Liver Appetizer from A Squirrel in the Kitchen
Breakfast Heart Fry from Lichen Paleo, Loving AIP
Beef (or Bison) Liver
When people think of organ meat, they usually think of beef liver. It’s a nutrient powerhouse with a strong flavor. Some people love it, and for them, liver and onions is the way to go. In fact, that’s the most common organ meat recipe to grace a restaurant menu. Others like myself find it too strong, so patés help mask the flavor. And others still prefer to chop it up, freeze it, and swallow it like pills. And still others combine it with regular ground meats in “hidden liver” recipes. You want to find a way to get this into your diet. Why? Remember in the introduction how I mentioned that liver is a top food source for 10 vitamins and minerals. It’s nutrient-density incarnate.
Bacon Beef Liver Paté with Rosemary and Thyme from Autoimmune Wellness
Beef Liver Pâté with Balsamic Caramelized Onions from Real Food and Love
Beef Liver Pâté with Strawberries, Basil and Balsamic from Healing Family Eats
Bacon, Mushroom, Liver Pâté from Gutsy by Nature
50/50/50 Burgers from the Paleo Mom
Hidden Liver Sausage from the Psoriatic Paleo Guy
Liver Meat Squares from Kari Owens
Liver and Onions from Autoimmune Odyssey
Liver with Bacon, Onions and Collard Greens from Healing Family Eats
Rosemary and Garlic Beef Liver Appetizer from Autoimmune Wellness
If you’ve mastered the taste of liver, you might be ready to try kidney, in my opinion, the most strongly flavored organ. If that’s the case, why eat it? Because it has a unique nutrient profile. While beef liver may top the charts with many vitamins and minerals, kidney takes the lead with selenium. A 4-ounce serving provides 228% of our daily needs, making up for those days when we don’t quite get enough. Selenium supports all the antioxidants in our body, and also helps prevent mercury toxicity.
When you’re in the healing diet community, you hear about the importance of bone broth from day 1. Oxtail makes incredible broth – flavorful, gelatinous and nutrient-dense. These recipes, turn it into a meal:
These are actually the pancreas and thymus, and can be hard to source. But if you find them, they’re mild in flavor, and one of my personal favorites. You can buy lamb, veal or beef sweetbreads, all of which are incredibly high in all of the B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and selenium.
Grilled Sweetbreads with Balsamic Glaze from Phoenix Helix
According to Sarah Ballantyne, brain is very high in omega 3 fatty acids and a great alternative to fish. The trick is sourcing it. Where I live, I can only get it if I buy the whole head, and that’s a line I can’t yet cross. However, I’m a big believer in the anti-inflammatory power of omega 3’s, so if you can get source it, here’s a basic recipe.
Brain Tutorial from the BBC
And if you’re braver than me, here’s a recipe that involves the whole head. Maybe in another year I’ll be able to do this. The reward is getting the benefits of organ meat and gelatinous bone broth combined.
Head Cheese from Adventures in Cooking (omit black pepper for AIP)
Many people recommend these as gateway organ meats, because their flavor is similar to regular meat. That’s because the tongue is basically a muscle, so it really doesn’t fall into the category of nutrient-dense organ meat. Add to that the fact that it looks like a tongue, and it doesn’t get my top recommendation. That said, it’s inexpensive, and if you can get over the appearance, quite easy to prepare:
Sourcing Quality Bacon
Many of these recipes add bacon, because it just makes everything taste better. However, there’s a huge range in quality when it comes to bacon. You want to avoid anything that contains chemical additives, and also beware of unnamed spices since they usually contain nightshades. I share some AIP-friendly options in this blog post.
Shellfish as an Organ Meat Substitute
When I interviewed Terry Wahls, she said that when we eat shellfish, we eat the whole animal, and that means we’re eating organ meat. So, if you aren’t ready to eat organ meat from animals, start here. Shellfish can be incredibly nutrient-dense. In fact, The Paleo Mom just did a post about this. Here are the top 3 choices in this category:
- Oysters are the most nutritious, high in zinc, B12 and selenium. they are also one of the few foods that are rich in Vitamin D, which helps regulate our immune system. Try this easy recipe from Mark’s Daily Apple: Coconut Milk Oyster Stew (use an AIP-friendly fat like avocado or olive oil)
- Clams are rich in B12, selenium and iron. Try this recipe from The Primordial Table: Pumpkin Clam Chowder (for GAPS, sub turnips for parsnips)
- Mussels are high in B12, selenium and manganese. Try this recipe from Gutsy By Nature: Steamed Mussels with Prosciutto and Garlic.
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