What is Offal?
We are often quizzed by pet parents about these unique ingredients. What is it and what are the befits? If you’re a gen X (or Y) or Millennial, then these items might be foreign to you. Won’t see them on the shelves at your favorite retailer either. Our desire for consumerism, packaging and presentation has alienated and orphaned these nutritional gems to dark little corners in old rusty shacks.
The sad state of meat affairs is that this long-forgotten food group is every bit as nutrient dense as fruits and vegetables that most of our westerners eliminated from our diets. Liver for instance, is enormously healthy and full of an array of B vitamins, vitamin A, selenium and folate. In our world of real, biologically specie appropriate raw food, we believe that liver is a superfood that is much more nutrient dense than kale and spinach. Misinformation has led pet parents to believe that animals’ livers store toxins, which one would consume if eaten. But the liver metabolizes and helps the body excrete substances that pass through it and it not only is free of toxins but also gives your fur kids’ body key nutrient to support their own liver in detoxification. Instead of sending dangerous substances further through your digestive system, the liver changes them into something less dangerous and chooses where they will go from there.
Other organ meats, like heart, have copious amounts of CoQ10, an antioxidant that is used as a natural way to prevent and treat certain diseases and kidney is loaded with selenium and other key nutrients which support adrenal and thyroid health. Spleen, pancreas, thymus and brain, are all incredibly nutritious organ meats as well that have tremendous health benefits.
Consider this - organ meats are far higher in nutrients than the muscle meats we’re used to eating. For instance, beef liver contains 50 times as much vitamin B12 as steak and more folate and b vitamins than other food on the planet. Beef liver is known as nature’s B-complex vitamin. It’s more densely packed with vitamins and minerals than kale, spinach and broccoli!
Let’s define offal
For our article, we will use beef, chicken and lamb to describe some of the nutrient nuggets that might find their way into our supreme pet cuisine. These three animals represent most of what is available today: - beef, lamb, duck, chicken, turkey, lamb, venison and ostrich. Note: nutritional amounts are based on human RDA’s.
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If you are an avid Do-Yourself-Raw-Feeder, then you will agree that there are dozens of “accepted” types of offal. We are not going to provide an exhaustive offal handbook, but we’ll briefly review some of the more common forms: liver, heart, kidneys, tongue, sweetbreads, brain, tripe and gizzard. Robert Sietsema wrote some beautiful articles on this topic specifically focused on human foods!
Liver contains only 116 calories but has more than double the daily recommended value for vitamin A and vitamin B12. In addition, folate and riboflavin in chicken liver equal out to over 100 percent of what the average pet parent needs each day. Chicken liver also contains high amounts of vitamin B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, iron, phosphorus, selenium and copper.
While it may not have as much of each nutrient as liver, the heart (especially beef) provides you with the most CoQ10 of any of the offal meats. And it still has a ton of great nutrients — over 100 percent daily value of the vitamin B12 pet parents need and over half the riboflavin (not to mention significant amounts of niacin, iron, phosphorus, copper and selenium).
Eating kidneys is a concept you may need a bit of time to wrap your head around. But beef kidney has over five times the amount of B12 pet parents need each day, as well as almost two times your value for riboflavin. Beef kidney also contains 228 percent of the daily value recommended for selenium intake for pet parents. This trace mineral has a huge number of benefits attributed to it, including the prevention of certain cancer types, lowering risk of cancer, defense against oxidative stress and boosting immune responses.
As variety meats in the offal family go, tongue is a popular but slightly less nutritious option than other organ meats. This tough-surfaced organ contains about ¾ daily value of vitamin B12, along with a quarter of the niacin, riboflavin and zinc. Another factor making this offal less of a home run is that it has over 250 calories in one relatively small serving – but only as far as pet parents concerned. For mutts, pups, nobles, masters and muggles, this is a must-try.
This deceptive name refers to the organ meat found in two separate areas of the body: the thymus and pancreas. While they aren’t sweet, nor made from bread, these meats are not high on the human nutrient winner list. These do, however, contain a large amount of dietary cholesterol and fat. We’re slowly learning that eating foods high in fat is not that bad for you at all, but it’s worth noting. This is also the first offal meat in which vitamin C wins the top spot for nutrient loads, making it ideal for those wishing to boost immunity and decrease cancer risk.
Surprisingly, brain may not be the smartest choice when selecting offal. While it has somewhat significant amounts of several nutrients, it also contains over 800 percent of the average human’s daily recommended value for cholesterol intake. Not that cholesterol is a problem in fur kids, still …
Tripe is another common organ meat that’s popular without much nutritional science to back up its popularity. While it does contain almost 14 grams of protein, the other nutrients it offers aren’t found in very high amounts in a serving. But we love tripe, and so does our fur kids – and that’s what is most important!
Ranking above tripe for a few nutrients and carrying an astounding 44 grams of protein per serving, gizzard is a fairly worthwhile offal meat to keep in mind. It does contain quite a bit of cholesterol in a serving but also includes 85 percent of the selenium pet parents need each day.
Our final thoughts on offal
- While they’re often considered “lesser” meats or perceived as dangerous, many of the organ and variety meats known as “offal” are densely packed with nutrients;
- Liver, one of the most popular types of offal, contrary to popular belief, is not laden with toxins, but a superfood one would equate on the same lines as kale and spinach;
- Because farming standards greatly impact the quality of organ meats, it’s important to only use meats raised ethically, meaning free-range animals fed species-appropriate diets (not grain-fed);
- Several types of offal are extremely high in vitamin A, an antioxidant that’s linked to decreasing cancer risk, protecting eyes and reducing chronic inflammation;
- Offal generally contains significant amounts of B-complex vitamins, known for their roles in helping prevent cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease and help the brain function at peak levels;
- Offal is also known to often contain minerals that aid in fertility and pregnancy, as well as those that may help treat anemia;
- Liver, heart, kidneys, sweetbreads and gizzard are some of the types of offal with the best nutritional profiles.
One day, when we have some time on our hands, we will map their nutritional values into the National Research Council Profiles for Canine and Feline Nutrition for reference.
- Liver (Chicken) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Heart (Beef) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Kidneys (Beef) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Tongue (Beef) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Thymus (Sweetbread) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Brain (Beef) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Gizzard (Chicken) - National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Tripe – National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference