Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Must Eat Brains: Animal Organs Are Good for Us

In the AMC series American Horror Story, Jessica Lange’s character brings animal offal to her neighbor, Vivian, to support Vivian's pregnancy. She says that parts such as brain and liver are critical to having a healthy baby. We watch Vivian’s horror, but see her gamely take a bite of each dish as it is presented to her over several days. In spite of her initial disgust, Vivian ends up polishing off each organ with gusto, even going so far as to scrape the bowl to get the last of the raw brain.

I admire the writers of that show for including traditional nutrition that most of the world knows, but that many Americans have forgotten: organ meats (liver, brain, intestines, heart, etc.) contain far more vitamins and essential fatty acids than any other part of the animal. These parts have been critical to human health through millennia, especially to ensure that women have hearty, strong babies. Fruits and vegetables have important nutrients, but they also have a lot of water and sugar. They’re important for things like vitamin C, but we need fat to process fat-soluble vitamins like A, D and K. These nutrients are best absorbed from animal foods like dairy, meat and organs.

Dr. Catherine Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food makes a case for how our body parts are nourished by the correlating body parts of animals. Eating cartilage is good for building cartilage, eating eyes gives you excellent nutrients for healthy eyes, etc. Gram for gram, organs like heart and liver contain more vitamins, folate and magnesium than an equal amount fruits and vegetables. These are the nutrients critical to a healthy body, especially for women considering pregnancy. Fetuses need this stuff, so start eating it now.

[photo by Michael Nagrant and taken from this webpage]

What’s sad is that the whole world knows this except for just a few of us. My friends born in Korea, Mexico and Lithuania enthusiastically tell me of their favorite offal dishes. Other cultures ply their pregnant women with organs and intestines, knowing these are the healthiest foods they can eat. American Horror Story got it right. It’s us squeamish Americans who are missing out on the good stuff, although in rural parts of the U.S. they enjoy things like Rocky Mountain oysters (calf testicles) and other such delicacies. So really it’s us city folk who need to get in step.

Beef and chicken liver have been the easiest offal for me to find in the regular supermarket, so I loosely followed a recipe for flourless liver with bacon and onions for the first time last week and it was surprisingly good. Yes, I’m a squeamish urban American who did not grow up eating things like liver, but if it’s good for me, I’ll give it go. I’ve made that liver recipe twice this week and I enjoy it more each time. I also had my first tacos de tripa (cow intestines) last Saturday and they were delicious. A little chewy, but not more so than squid or calamari. I went back for more yesterday.

Some feel concerned about the amount of saturated fat or cholesterol found in animal organs, but I think the benefits outweigh the risks. We know vitamins and minerals are good for us, but no study has ever clinically proven (as in a double-blind experiment) that saturated fat or cholesterol conclusively cause heart disease. Researchers have drawn that conclusion based on questionnaires asking people what they’ve been eating. While high heart disease rates correlate with people who eat lots of red meat, those meat-eaters usually consume a lot of buns, French fries, bread and baked potatoes with their burgers and steaks. Is the meat causing the health problems or is it the starch? Since no one has proven anything, you have to decide for yourself. (Hint: homo sapiens and our hominid ancestors have been eating animal fats and cholesterol for millions of years. If those things were bad for us, how could we be here now? Wheat has only been ingested by humans for the past 20,000 years and man-made frying oils for only a few decades.)

I recently discovered that Brown’s Chicken sells fried livers and gizzards. Foods fried in vegetable oil aren't good for us because vegetable oil is a chemically produced, toxic fat, but Brown's might be a place to at least taste gizzards. A friend promises to take me with her to a taquería that sells tacos de sesos (brain) and tacos de lengua (tongue). I can’t wait. I’m proud to have left the population that turns up its nose at the healthiest part of the animal. I’m happy to have joined the global majority that knows that animal offal helps to maintain strong bones, joints and healthy tissues.


Dave Hildebrandt said...

So by this argument, pregnant women should eat fetuses, preferably human :) Not that I disagree with the offal argument, I just enjoy taking the shock value to the next level. Personally I find offal awful. I have no taste for tongue, no courage for heart, and can't even think about brains. I certainly couldn't see eyes either. Call me American. I have been able to connect with cartilage, so there is some hope for me.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Maybe just the organs of the fetus, Dave (jk). Actually I understand that for humans, human flesh isn't a good food source, so I can't answer this question and I'm not interested enough to find out. But thanks for raising it!

Steve Meier said...

Thanks for the validation, I had heard there are some micro-nutrients in offal but did not have a good source. We are lucky to be able to purchase chicken parts ( liver, hearts, gizzard) at our local farmers market from this Fiesta Farm, based out of Watsonville. You should see the difference between factory organic livers and pasture raised. For same size chicken they are about 3 times in size, have much richer color.