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Offal and Nutrient Overload

by 2031 · December 04, 2012 at 01:00 AM

For the past three weeks, I've been eating a pound each of beef liver, beef kidneys, and chicken hearts, plus lamb tallow and about a pound of kale every day. At the moment, with fall semester starting and a $1400 bill for my books, it's all I can afford if I want to remain grass-fed/organic.

So far, I haven't noticed any negatives, in fact I seem to be benefiting somewhat with more energy despite the fact that I just gave up caffeine. I'm losing weight at the same rate as well, so that's all fine. Mainly what I'm concerned with is overdosing on some nutrients.

According to Nutrition Data, I'm hitting 1600% (80,000IU!) Vitamin A, 4570% Vit K, 1000% B12, 400% Copper, and all the B Vitamins are in the 100-300% range - Every day. I'm also concerned because I hear people mentioning that you shouldn't eat more than a few ounces of liver each week. Am I doing damage with this diet? I'm not feeling the symptoms yet, but how at risk am I for vitamin toxicity? Is it ridiculously un-paleo to eat primarily organs? I know they're prized and everything, but how often and how much would primitive cultures really have had access to?

Anyone have any alternatives for me? Can anyone find a way for me to reach most of the RDAs while staying under 1300kcal and being restricted to the cheaper cuts?

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10 Replies

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15324 · August 28, 2010 at 05:47 AM

There's little real danger from nutrient over-dose from offal except in a few isolated cases.

One of these cases is vitamin A, which you could actually accumulate in toxic doses, as has already been pointed out. My first suggestion would be to switch from beef to chicken livers. This will switch your vitamin A intake from 17,000IU to 11,000IU at a stroke. The second thing would be to make sure you're getting lots of vitamin D, which protects against vitamin A toxicity (arguably, vitamin A toxicity is really just an inbalance between A and D). I eat chicken liver 1-2 times a week without a problem and have a little more than 5,000IU vitamin D per day (i.e. 5000IU supplement, plus highly infrequent sun, plus eggs and fish). The main thing, of course, is to limit the liver in your diet to somewhere in this region. Or, if you've been over-dosing for a while, cut back even more for an extended period, since chronic toxicity is determined by accummulation in fat. You certainly wouldn't have been getting 16,000IU of vitamin A per day unless you were eating liver every day (or including harmless beta-carote- you can ignore those 15,000IU per 100g- from kale). Beef kidney contains 1400IU per 100g, which is appreciable, but not going to lead to toxicity and heart is usually virtually the same as muscle meat.

One other area where toxicity is plausible from offal would be selenium, which I doubt you would be in significant danger from, but which can cause a few nasty symptoms.

Perhaps another way in which you could reduce risk and costs would be to eat less meat in general? A lot of paleos eat more meat (protein) than they strictly need (which is a very sating, if not optimally healthy way to produce a bit of glucose). Arguably people only need about a gram of protein per kilogram of target bodyweight +/- 10% depending on build and ignoring exercise (1.2-1.7g/kg is cited as sufficient when you are exercising). It's the protein component of the meat that you're paying for and which contains all these micronutrients. Tallow or butter cost virtually nothing and contain next to no micronutrients.

On the general point, I see no wider paleo reason to object to eating exclusively offal for meat, especially if you're eating a variety. If you were eating muscle meat to the exclusion of offal you would indeed be at risk for micronutrient deficiency, but there's no reason apart from an overzealous paleo precautionary principle to think that eating only offal for meat would be dangerous, there's insufficient biochemical difference between offal meat and muscle meat. Meat of any sort is certainly superior (in cost and nutrition) to egg protein (yolks are probably a net good, but watch out for the omega 6). I'd say that an exclusively offal based diet is going to be healthier than a predominantly muscle meat diet in almost all cases.

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3482 · August 27, 2010 at 07:34 PM

It's more dangerous to over do it to try to hit your RDA than the opposite. With the way we eat the RDA becomes useless in many ways. We already know that the RDA for cholesterol, sat. fat and carbs is BS so why should we worry about the rest like it was different?

I'm mainly worried about vitamin A toxicity in your diet. Sometimes there is no noticeable effects of such toxicity before it's too late. Interesting fact is that if you eat polar bear or husky liver, chances are good you'll die of vitamin A toxicity since their liver is so full of Vit. A. New explorers learned it the hard way.

Here's what wikipedia has to say about it:

In general, acute toxicity occurs at doses of 25,000 IU/kg of body weight, with chronic toxicity occurring at 4,000 IU/kg of body weight daily for 6–15 months. However, liver toxicities can occur at levels as low as 15,000 IU per day to 1.4 million IU per day, with an average daily toxic dose of 120,000 IU per day. In people with renal failure, 4000 IU can cause substantial damage. In addition, excessive alcohol intake can increase toxicity. Children can reach toxic levels at 1,500 IU/kg of body weight.

I wrote an article on saving money on paleo food: http://thepaleodiet.net/paleo-on-a-budget/

Basically, buying in bulk, cheaper cuts (shoulder, butt, hock, shank, ground,...), lots of homemade stock, lacto-fermented veggies, big ass salads with in-season cheap veggies,... Organs are also a good idea to save money, but you should not over-do it. I don't think you'll overdose on marrow or heart though.

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4813 · August 27, 2010 at 09:41 PM

People used to eat as much offal as they could, with the emphasis on "could". We can now buy a small portion in which would be dozens of chicken liver/hearts/stomachs... they would have two or three max, a liver of a bigger animal would be shared with others etc.

I am also on a budget, and I try to use ground beef (I make a big batch of basic cooked ground beef and then mix with veggies, eggs or eat by itself), cheap cuts or "stew meat" cooked in slow cooker with marrow bones. i eat chicken/beef liver maybe once a week... you could also try and find cheaper fish. I mix cheap tuna with more expensive but amazingly nutritious sardines and make fish cakes.

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4090 · August 27, 2010 at 07:00 PM

EEK! Too much vitamin A! When I overdid vitamin D (10,000IU a day for 8 months with no testing - stupid stupid I know) it took about 6 months for symptoms to kick in and another 2 months for me to relate the symptoms to toxicity (hair loss, aching joint, depression) So it'll probably take a long time for you to notice any symptoms, and even then it mightn't be obvious.

Do as Melissa suggested and eat muscle meat too. And some veggies and fruits wouldn't go amiss either..

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20469 · August 28, 2010 at 03:28 AM

If you stew that cheap tough meat for a long time, it gets really tender. That's why crock pots are so nice. Stick the meat in and stew it all day and by the time you get home, it's time to feast on the now tender delicious meats!

As for vitamin overdose, I think that is questionable territory. I do try to take it easy on the liver because of all that vitamin A. Some offal is more balanced than others. I don't do brain because I'm not sure about mad cow disease dangers. I haven't tried tripe yet as far as home cooking although I've had it in Vietnamese soups often enough. Then there is stomach and spleen, and eyeball, etc. But it may be that if you ate more variety of offal, the nutrients might be more balanced. And then dilute it with some other kinds muscle meat.

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148 · August 30, 2010 at 02:05 AM

I think you should ask yourself: Is this Paleo? Could any of my Paleolithic ancestors have hunted enough animals to eat a pound each of beef liver & kidneys, and chicken hearts, plus lamb tallow and then gather enough to eat about a pound of kale every day... My answer would be no, I don't think so! That much organs meat is A LOT of dead animal, and hunter-gatherers are known for having a huge variety of plants and vegetables consumed...

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2143 · August 28, 2010 at 10:57 PM

A pound of kale a day? That's absurd. Don't forget that cruciferous vegetables can have adverse effects on the thyroid. Look up "goitrogenic". There is no reason to eat that much.

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35 · March 10, 2011 at 11:14 PM

Has anyone heard from Katie? I hope she's ok from eating all that liver!

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2231 · August 28, 2010 at 06:12 AM

What is the safe amount of beef liver (grass fed) to consume say in a week? I have a lot of it in my freezer and would like to eat it, but I don't want toxicity either. How about one serving per week? Wonder how many ounces is one serving?

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-2 · December 04, 2012 at 01:00 AM

How about mixing in some fruits and nuts, seafood, muscle meat, and the occasional starchy tuber? No offense, but your diet is absurdly non-paleo. I'd bet my life that no human being in pre-history ate a daily diet even remotely similar to yours. Maybe some tribal king if he thought that was the healthiest way, but even then it was probably just ill-advised, megalomaniacal folly, and not an optimal diet. Three pounds per day of organ meat is beyond the pale. Three ounces might be about right.

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