The Other, Other Red Meat...
Organ meats have been much neglected in our society. Most cultures around the world make good use of the internal organs of the animals they consume. In fact, organ meats are often the most prized part of the animal, and for good reason. The Inuit would actually prefer the organ meats, feeding the leanest muscle meat to their dogs. Westerners have in a large part lost the taste for these great parts of the animals, and I'm going to explain why you should change this, not only for health and money, but for performance! (Which is truly all we really care about, right?) Hot, dirty, nasty performance as K-Starr would say!
To look at the nutrition content of each type of organ meat, click the links!
Organ meats are the most nutrient dense tissue in an animal! These babies are like a multivitamin! Liver is a nutrient heavy-weight, boasting a great source of copper, iron, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, all B-vitamins, and phosphatidylcholine. Kidneys are incredibly high in vitamins and minerals as well, similar to liver! Heart, though not as concentrated as liver, still offers up a great nutrition profile similar in content to liver and has the benefit of having the highest phosphatidylserine content outside the brain. Sweetbreads (thymus and pancreas) offer a similar nutrition profile to heart, with the exception of being very high in vitamin C; just 3 oz will fill the RDA for vitamin C!
Organ meats are cheap! Because of the public's general attitude towards them, organ meats often sell for much less than their muscle counterparts. I've often found chicken hearts for half the price of ground beef, pound for pound. With the decreased price, and increased nutrient density, you get much more nutritional bang-for-your-buck.
Phospholipids are molecules that compose the largest part of cellular membrane in our cells. New interest in increasingly being focused on the phospholipids that we consume because of their potential benefits in nearly every area of our body.
Phosphatidylcholine(PC) for example, is a vital phospholipid that makes up as much as 90% of the cellular membrane at birth, dropping to as low as 10% in the elderly. It is an important nutrient for the production of acetylcholine, the prominent neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system. Indeed, administration of PC has shown to improve acetylcholine levels and memory in mice with dementia.
It's also important in the sports arena. Studies have shown that choline levels drop up to 40% in response to sustained strenuous exercise, and administration of PC beforehand stops this decrease. Theories are nice, but does PC actually improve performance?
Yes. In various studies performed on athletes, PC administration significantly reduced time to recovery significantly. In a study in which participants ran 10 miles, those in the PC group ran it in about 5 minutes less time than those in the control group (153.7 vs 158.9 min). About two grams per day may be an adequate dose.
Phosphatidylserine(PS) has been studied to a further extent than has phosphatidylcholine, and has shown many benefits. Particularly interesting is it's effect on preventing overtraining.
Overtraining is a serious roadblock to performance and health, and occurs when the training load becomes more than the body can recover from. With the onset of overtraining, cortisol levels increase, testosterone levels decrease, the resting and submaximal heart rate increases, soreness increases, and performance suffers; performance progress often stops and/or reverses.
PS administration has been shown to almost completely suppress the cortisol release that is usually seen in exercise. Lower cortisol levels means less muscle breakdown and a better environment for musclular growth and repair. In another study, PS supplementation increased the time to exhaustion by 29% compared to controls, a very large increase. In another, subjects performing intense weight-training reported much less soreness and better overall sense of well-being compared to placebo.
In a study on intermittent sprint performance, those who received PS performed significantly better compared to the control group. PS has also shown benefits in mental clarity, reduced stress response to acute stressors, and overall improvements in feelings of wellbeing.
Organ meats and eggs are the richest sources of these phospholipids, muscle meats and plant foods are poor sources in comparison.
Here is a great resource on selecting, buying, and preparing organ meats.
As to my personal experience, I've had beef and chicken liver, chicken heart, turkey and goose kidneys, heart, and liver. Liver has a kind of pasty texture, is best cooked lightly, until just done, and served with other foods, so that the flavors mesh together well, I've had success with liver and eggs, as well as liver and ground beef. Heart is delicious all by itself, sauteeing it, they are a bit chewy and taste like sausage. Kidney has an interesting texture and is a bit chewy. I look forward to trying new kinds like sweetbreads, which are supposed to be sweet tasting, rather than savory.