Today we welcome a post by guest author Ashleigh VanHouten, health and nutrition journalist, public speaker, certified health coach, and host of the Muscle Maven Radio podcast. Here, she explains why we’re missing out if we’re only eating boring boneless cuts of meat from the grocery store, and makes the case for eating nose-to-tail, for both our health and for our enjoyment. Her new cookbook, It Takes Guts, is available for preorder and hits the shelves in late October.
“It’s good for you and for the planet – and it’s easier and tastier than you think!” – Ashleigh VanHouten
Modified excerpt from It Takes Guts, shared with publisher permission.
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me, “I just can’t get my head around eating [insert type of organ meat here] because I didn’t grow up eating it,” I could retire now and live out the rest of my days eating animal hearts on a beach somewhere — but I have a secret for you. I didn’t grow up eating organ meat, either; I grew up eating cereal and bread and chicken breast, and while I always gravitated toward animal products, I certainly wasn’t eating liver or sweetbreads.
But as someone who has dedicated their career to researching, studying, and experimenting with nutrition, I believe strongly that one bite of something new won’t hurt you, and it just might open up a whole new world of pleasure and health. It’s a fact that organs are generally the most nutrient-dense parts of an animal, so if we can find fun and creative and even subtle ways to enjoy them, we’re winning. And by eating the whole animal, we’re also honoring and respecting the beings who sacrificed for our dinner plates by ensuring none of it is wasted.
I wrote my nose-to-tail cookbook It Takes Guts because I am passionate about honoring the animals we’re eating, and enjoying the full bounty of delicious and healthy options available to us. As the saying goes, the way you do anything is the way you do everything, and I believe we should all be approaching our plates, and our lives, with a sense of adventure and enthusiasm.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the reasons why eating organ meats is a good idea:
It would be wasteful to buy a huge house and use only one or two rooms, right? Adopting a whole-animal approach reduces waste, and buying from local farms and butchers helps decrease the carbon footprint created when meat is brought to you from far-flung places. In the process of breaking down an animal, less than half of it will usually end up as boneless cuts,
or the type of meat you normally pick up at a grocery store. Much of the rest is bone, hide, blood, and organs – the latter being the most nutrient-dense part of the animal, which we are essentially giving away to then eat the less nutrient-dense muscle meat!
If you’re reading this, you probably eat animals, and if you’ve accepted that eating animals is a natural part of living, the best way forward is to ensure that the animals you’re eating lived a healthy, natural life and were slaughtered humanely, and that we honor the animal’s sacrifice by not wasting any of it over arbitrary (and misguided) beliefs that some part of the animal are acceptable to eat and others aren’t.
It’s a fact: organ meats like liver, heart, and kidney are nutritional powerhouses, not just for their individual nutrients but for the synergistic effect of consuming these nutrients together. Nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin D, and magnesium work together with other food-based compounds. That’s why taking many of these nutrients on their own (in pill form, for example) doesn’t have as much of a positive effect on your body.
And to debunk a big myth about these cuts, it is untrue that organ meats like liver and kidney store and contain toxins. Organs like the liver filter toxins, usually moving them to the kidneys, from which they are eventually expelled through the urine. Toxins are removed from a healthy, well-functioning animal’s body via these miraculous organs just like they are in ours; eating fresh, healthy organs is the same as eating fresh, healthy muscle meat. If toxins do linger in the body, they are generally stored in fat cells (this goes for us too), which is why it’s crucial to source high-quality animal protein that is raised without pesticides or antibiotics, because that’s where they’ll end up: in your delicious, fatty rib-eye.
Organ meats are so nutrient-dense that you can eat very small amounts and get more benefit than you would from nearly any other food on the planet. A few ounces of beef liver contains your daily needs for many nutrients, including iron, copper, zinc, folate, choline, and vitamins A and B12. So even if I can’t convince you to love the taste of organ meats, I hope I can help you understand that these are superfoods that can dramatically improve your health.
Often, organ meats are less expensive than muscle meats simply because they aren’t in high demand. Imagine the nutrient-dense parts being sold for scraps while the basic protein is sold at a premium! Unlike prime cuts of grass-fed beef, grass-fed beef liver and heart are pretty cheap. A beef tongue can feed a party of six for about ten bucks; chicken hearts are often sold for a few bucks a pound; and you can buy a bag of tasty, protein packed chicken gizzards that will serve a whole family for less than you’d pay for a fancy salad at your local fast-casual restaurant.
If you want to get the best nutritional bang for your buck with protein, your best bet is to throw some offal in there. Make friends with your local butcher, too, so you learn about and source the best stuff!
It’s Fun (and Ancestral!)
If you can reframe your perceptions of organ meat being “gross” or extreme and see it for what it really is—just a different part of the animal you’re already eating, and a much more nutritious part at that—you can start having fun with different recipes and preparations.
Nose-to-tail eating is also a celebration of culture and history, honoring the traditional foods off different countries; a time when people were less swayed by grocery store marketing and more driven by instinct; when we gave more respect to the time, skill, and labor of providing meals for our families, and when nourishment mattered more than hyperpalatability.
It’s Tasty (Really!)
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it—that’s what I’m always telling my skeptics. While certain organ meats have stronger flavors and unique textures and may never appeal to some people, the same can be said for less controversial foods (don’t even get me started on broccoli—now that’s an acquired taste!) I know I’ll never win everyone over, but if you’re willing to at least try,
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how delicious, delicate, and decadent offal can be. If you’d like to learn more about the health, history, and deliciousness of organ meats, including my personal journey and more than 75 offal-based recipes created by myself and a range of other fantastic chefs, you can pre-order my book, It Takes Guts, now!
Ashleigh VanHouten is a health and nutrition journalist, public speaker, certified health coach, and self-proclaimed muscle nerd. She has written for Paleo Magazine for more than eight years, along with a number of other health publications. She hosts the Muscle Maven Radio podcast, which has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times, where she’s interviewed some of the biggest names in health and wellness, including Mark Sisson, Dave Asprey, and Steph Gaudreau. She’s also worked with other top-rated health-related podcasts, such as Barbell Shrugged, Muscle Intelligence, and Paleo Magazine Radio. Combining her formal education and professional experience in marketing and communications with her passion for healthy eating, exercise, and learning, Ashleigh works in a consulting role for a number of professionals in the health and wellness world, working alongside individuals like Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, Ben Pakulski, and Elle Russ. Find out more at ashleighvanhouten.com.