Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Haggis Bad For You?



Short answer

Traditional haggis is rich in protein, vitamins A and B12, iron, and selenium, making it nutritionally beneficial when consumed in moderation. However, it also contains high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, which can be a concern for cardiovascular health and blood pressure. Balance and mindful consideration of portion sizes and frequency of consumption are key when incorporating haggis into a diet, especially for those with dietary restrictions.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Traditional Haggis

When evaluating traditional haggis, we must first dissect its historical composition. Originating from Scotland, this savory pudding is a combination of sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach. This melange not only creates a unique taste profile but also contributes a dense nutritional content which can be dissected accordingly:

  • Proteins: Given that haggis is made up primarily of sheep organs, it is a rich source of protein. Protein is essential in building and repairing tissues, making it a necessary component of a balanced diet.
  • Fats: Suet, which is the raw, hard fat of beef or mutton, contributes to the high fat content in haggis. While fat is an essential nutrient necessary for energy, certain types of fat consumed in excessive amounts can be a concern for cardiovascular health.
  • Carbohydrates: Oatmeal provides the bulk of the carbohydrates in haggis, serving as a good source of energy and contributing to dietary fiber intake, which is beneficial for digestive health.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Organ meats are incredibly nutrient-dense; particularly, they are high in vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, and selenium. Vitamin A is important for vision and immune function, while B12 is crucial for blood formation and brain health. Iron is integral to blood cell production, and selenium functions as a powerful antioxidant.

Here's a closer look at the potential nutritional breakdown of a typical serving of haggis:

Nutrient Approximate Amount per 100g Serving
Calories 250-300
Protein 18-25g
Total Fat 20-25g
Saturated Fat 8-10g
Cholesterol 60-90mg
Carbohydrates 2-4g
Dietary Fiber 0.5-1g
Sugars Less than 1g
Vitamin A Significant Amount (varies)
Vitamin B12 High Level (varies)
Iron 2-3mg
Selenium 15-20mcg

Due to these nutritional components, a moderate portion of haggis can indeed be a part of a balanced diet. However, those with dietary restrictions related to fat, cholesterol, or specific vitamins and minerals should pay special attention to the amount and frequency of their haggis consumption. Moreover, it is crucial to consider individual variations; recipes and preparation methods can significantly alter the nutritional content. Be mindful to reference nutritional labels where available and consult a healthcare professional if in doubt about its inclusion in your diet.

While haggis provides a robust profile of nutrients, as with any traditional dish, it is important to consider other foods consumed alongside it. Balancing haggis with nutrient-rich vegetables and moderate fat intake throughout the day can help maintain nutritional equilibrium. Furthermore, it is always advantageous to understand both the benefits and potential drawbacks of the constituent ingredients within traditional dishes like haggis, acknowledging variations and individual dietary needs.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol in Haggis: Health Implications

When discussing the nutritional profile of haggis, it's important to consider its content of saturated fat and cholesterol. Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish made from sheep's heart, liver, and lungs, mixed with onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, encapsulates a rich array of these components. Its distinctive mixture of offal and other ingredients contribute to its unique nutritional makeup.

Saturated fats are a type of dietary fat that, when consumed in excess, have been linked to increased levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 6% of total daily calories for those needing to lower their cholesterol.

In the context of haggis, the amount of saturated fat can vary depending on the specific recipe and the ratio of ingredients. Nevertheless, the presence of suet (a form of hard, saturated fat) and organ meats are primary contributors to the saturated fat content. Nutritionally, a typical serving of haggis may contain significant quantities of saturated fat, which should be thoughtfully considered within the context of one's overall diet.

Cholesterol itself, found in all animal-based foods, is also present in haggis due to its organ meat components. The body requires cholesterol for building cells and producing hormones, but too much cholesterol can lead to the same health risks associated with high levels of LDL cholesterol.

For those managing cholesterol levels or at risk of heart disease, it is essential to monitor the intake of dishes like haggis that are potentially high in saturated fat and cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest consuming less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day, keeping in mind that one serving of haggis can contribute significantly to this limit.

It is worth noting that not all saturated fats have the same health impacts. Recent studies have indicated that the source of saturated fat and the overall dietary pattern play roles in cardiovascular risk. Nevertheless, moderation is key, and the relationship between saturated fat, cholesterol consumption, and health remains an area of active research.

Beyond health implications, those interested in enjoying haggis should also consider individual tolerance to organ meats. Some individuals may experience digestion issues or intolerance to such rich sources of fats and proteins. While it is essential to align with cultural culinary traditions, understanding and adjusting portion sizes to maintain a balanced and heart-healthy diet is equally imperative.

In conclusion, while haggis can be enjoyed as part of a traditional fare, mindfulness towards its saturated fat and cholesterol content is necessary. Balancing haggis servings with other lean protein sources and a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits is advisable for those concerned with heart health and maintaining overall wellness.

Sodium Content and Blood Pressure Concerns

The traditional Scottish dish haggis, known for its unique blend of sheep's offal mixed with oatmeal, seasoning, and fat encased in a sheep's stomach, may offer a taste of cultural heritage but brings with it important health considerations, particularly regarding its sodium content. High sodium intake is a well-known risk factor for hypertension (high blood pressure), which can lead to cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes. Let's delve into the specifics concerning haggis and its potential impact on blood pressure.

According to nutritional data, haggis contains a significant amount of sodium. A typical serving size of haggis (about 150 grams) can contain upwards of 840 milligrams of sodium. This figure represents approximately 35% of the American Heart Association's recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams per day and nearly 60% of their ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams for most adults, especially those with hypertension or prehypertension. Here's a snapshot of the sodium content in haggis:

Serving Size Sodium Content Percentage of Daily Value (2,300mg limit) Percentage of Ideal Limit (1,500mg limit)
150g ~840mg ~36% ~56%

It's also essential to point out the compound interest effect of sodium in the diet – often, haggis is not eaten in isolation. It is typically accompanied by sides that may also be high in sodium, such as "neeps and tatties" (turnips and potatoes), which might be mashed with butter and salt, further elevating the sodium content of the meal.

Evidence from numerous studies, such as those published in The New England Journal of Medicine, highlights the direct relationship between high sodium intake, elevated blood pressure, and the increased risk of cardiovascular events. The body retains excess fluid to deal with the additional sodium, which increases the volume of blood in the bloodstream and, consequently, blood pressure.

For those with existing cardiovascular concerns or a family history of hypertension, it is advisable to consume haggis in moderation. Modifying the recipe to use less sodium-rich ingredients or seasonings may help mitigate potential health risks. Individuals aiming to manage sodium intake should consider the entire day's meals and not just the haggis serving in isolation.

While enjoying haggis as part of a balanced diet, awareness of its sodium contribution is key. Persons particularly sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium, including those with hypertension, should be cautious. Consistent with health guidelines from various authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's important for individuals, especially those with cardiovascular concerns, to monitor and manage their sodium intake diligently.

Protein and Vitamin Composition: The Upside of Eating Haggis

Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish, may be daunting for the uninitiated due to its distinctive ingredients, including sheep's pluck (the heart, liver, and lungs). However, these organs are nutrient-dense and make haggis a rich source of protein and various vitamins. Let's delve into the positive aspects of its protein and vitamin composition.

Protein Content

Protein is a vital macronutrient necessary for building and repairing tissues, making enzymes, and supporting immune function. Haggis offers a high protein content, which varies depending on the recipe and serving size but typically ranges between 20 to 25 grams per 100g serving. Since haggis is made primarily from sheep's organs, the protein is complete, containing all nine essential amino acids our bodies cannot synthesize independently.

Vitamin A

Sheep liver, a primary component of haggis, is exceptionally high in vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin is crucial for maintaining vision, skin health, and proper immune system functioning. A 100g serving of sheep liver can provide well over 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A.

B Vitamins Galore

Besides vitamin A, haggis is a powerhouse of B vitamins, particularly B12, niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), and folate (B9). Organ meats have some of the highest concentrations of vitamin B12 found in food, vital for red blood cell formation and neurological function. A 100g serving of sheep liver can contain up to 75% of the RDA for B12. Niacin assists in metabolism and DNA repair, riboflavin helps convert food into energy, and folate is essential for DNA synthesis and repair as well as producing healthy red blood cells.

Iron and Selenium

Haggis is also a good source of iron and selenium. Iron is a component of hemoglobin, assisting in oxygen transport throughout the body. Organ meats like those in haggis provide heme iron, which is more readily absorbed by the body than the non-heme iron found in plant sources. Additionally, selenium is a critical antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress and may lower the risk of certain diseases.

When considering the nutritional upside of haggis, it's important to note that while it is nutrient-dense, portion control is crucial, as organ meats also contain high levels of cholesterol, which may need to be moderated based on individual health concerns. It's also worth considering the sourcing of the meat, as organ meats can accumulate more toxins if the animals were exposed to pollutants. Opting for haggis made from grass-fed, free-range animals can help mitigate this risk.

In summary, haggis can be a nourishing addition to the diet, particularly when emphasizing its protein and vitamin-rich profile. However, balance and moderation are key to ensuring these benefits are enjoyed without consuming excessive amounts of less desirable nutrients. As always, individuals with specific dietary restrictions should consult with a healthcare provider before integrating new foods such as haggis into their meal plan.

Haggis and the Risk of Foodborne Illness

The topic of foodborne illness in relation to traditional dishes like haggis is indeed important for both food enthusiasts and the cautious diner. While haggis, a classic Scottish dish made from sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), mixed with onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, encased in the animal's stomach, is enjoyed by many, especially during Burns Night, its safety is sometimes questioned. Here, we'll examine the risk of foodborne illness associated with haggis.

Understanding the Ingredients: The main components of haggis are animal organs, which are highly nutritious but can also be a source of pathogens if not handled properly. The liver, for instance, can harbor bacteria like Escherichia coli or parasites such as toxoplasma gondii. Adequate cooking and handling are crucial to eliminating these risks.

Cooking and Preparation: Traditional preparation methods involve boiling which, when done correctly, helps to kill bacteria and parasites. The key is to ensure that the haggis is cooked to a safe internal temperature. Health guidelines suggest that meats, particularly organ meats, should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) to eliminate the risk of foodborne pathogens.

Commercial vs. Homemade: Commercially prepared haggis is subject to strict safety standards and regulations to minimize health risks. Homemade haggis, however, can be more susceptible to contamination if proper hygiene practices are not followed. It's essential for home cooks to source their ingredients from reputable providers and adhere strictly to food safety guidelines.

Storage: Haggis like any other perishable product, can be prone to bacterial growth if not stored correctly. Refrigeration below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) is vital to prevent the growth of bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella.

Cross-Contamination: When preparing haggis, there's always a risk of cross-contamination, where bacteria from raw ingredients are transferred to utensils, surfaces, or other foods. Keeping raw and cooked food separate, using different chopping boards and knives, and thorough hand washing can significantly reduce this risk.

Expert Opinion: According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the cooking process for dishes like haggis should be meticulous, considering the potential presence of pathogens in organ meats. They emphasize the importance of proper cooking temperatures and times.

In conclusion, while haggis can be prepared and enjoyed safely, attention to ingredient quality, cooking technique, and storage can significantly minimize the risk of foodborne illness. Those who make or consume haggis should prioritize these safety measures to enjoy the dish without undesirable health implications.

Balance and Moderation: Positioning Haggis in a Healthy Diet

When exploring the role of haggis within a balanced diet, it's critical to understand its nutritional profile and how it fits into the broader context of varied eating habits. A traditional Scottish dish comprising sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, encased in the animal's stomach and cooked thoroughly, haggis is often enjoyed as part of Burns Night celebrations but can be found year-round.

Incorporating haggis into a healthful diet demands attention to its rich nutrient content, as well as the importance of moderation. Here are key points to consider:

  • Rich in Iron and B Vitamins: The organ meats in haggis are an excellent source of iron and B vitamins, vital for energy production and red blood cell formation. However, these organ meats can also be high in cholesterol and saturated fats, which suggests that haggis should be eaten in moderation, especially by individuals with heart-related health concerns.
  • Protein Content: The dish is a good source of protein, necessary for muscle repair and growth. Still, portion control is essential to avoid excessive intake of the accompanying fats and cholesterol.
  • Fiber Source: Oatmeal, a primary ingredient in haggis, is a good source of fiber, which aids in digestion and has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Salt Concern: Haggis is typically high in sodium, which can pose a risk to those with hypertension or a family history of heart disease. Care should be taken to balance the rest of one's diet accordingly on days when haggis is consumed.
  • Dietary Variety: Balance is about more than just the foods we include; it's also what we accompany them with. Serving haggis with a range of vegetables, for example, can provide a more balanced meal with added antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Understanding the nutritional aspects of haggis, let's delve into how to appropriately balance this traditional dish within a healthy eating regimen:

  1. Occasional Consumption: Due to its dense nutritional profile, haggis should be considered a less frequent indulgence rather than a staple, much like other rich, savory dishes.
  2. Portion Size: As with many traditional dishes, portion size is paramount. Eating smaller amounts can allow one to enjoy the flavors and nutrients without overindulging in calories and fats.
  3. Complementary Foods: Pairing haggis with high-fiber vegetables and whole grains can balance out the meal, contributing to satiety and nutrient diversification.
  4. Modifying Recipes: For those who prepare haggis at home, recipe modifications can help tailor the dish to better fit into a healthy diet. For example, opting for leaner meats or reducing the amount of suet can lower the saturated fat content.

Focusing on moderation and balance is the cornerstone of including any rich and flavorful dish into a health-conscious diet. It's not about eliminating such traditional foods, but rather understanding their place within the scope of an overall healthy and diverse eating pattern.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, vegetarian and vegan haggis alternatives are available and typically use lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds in place of organ meats. These versions also contain the traditional spices for flavoring but eliminate all animal-derived ingredients.

Yes, haggis can be included in a low-carb diet as it contains minimal carbohydrates. A typical 100g serving of haggis has only 2-4g of carbohydrates. However, attention should be paid to the high fat and protein content and how these fit into your specific dietary goals.

To reduce the cholesterol content in homemade haggis, you could use leaner cuts of meat, trim excess fat before cooking, and limit the use of suet. Additionally, including more oatmeal and less organ meat can help lower the overall cholesterol in the dish.

Traditional haggis may not be suitable for individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance due to the presence of oatmeal, which can contain gluten. It's important to check for certified gluten-free haggis options or modify the recipe using gluten-free oats.

Ask a question about Haggis and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • indigestion
  • increased cholesterol levels
  • elevated blood pressure

Possible long-term side effects

  • cardiovascular disease
  • hypertension
  • increased risk of heart attack and stroke

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high in protein
  • rich in iron and b vitamins
  • contains beneficial nutrients such as vitamin a and selenium
  • oatmeal provides dietary fiber

Healthier alternatives

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Stahly Scottish Haggis

  • Rich traditional flavor
  • Convenient 15oz size
  • Double pack value
  • Authentic Scottish recipe
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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-21-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-21-2024

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