Is Liver Good For You? Here’s 9 Benefits of Eating Liver

April 12, 2018
Is liver good for you? - Dr. Axe

One of the questions people ask often is, “Is liver good for you?” Organ meats, including liver, are considered one of nature’s most powerful superfoods. Why exactly is liver good for you? Liver— including beef liver, chicken liver and duck liver — is very high in many essential nutrients. This usually surprises people, since an animal’s organs — including the liver, spleen, brain and kidneys — are usually discarded in favor of muscle meat.

When we typically think of superfoods, we think of things like green leafy vegetables, berries from the Amazon, cocoa, green tea or and other plant foods. However, certain animal foods are also highly valuable due to their rich nutrient content, especially organ meats (also called offal), which is exactly why they have been included in traditional diets for thousands of years.

The University of California’s Berkeley Wellness website states, “Ounce for ounce, liver is probably more nutritious than any other food.” (1) Even though you may never have thought of liver as being on par with foods like fruits and veggies, I’m here to tell you why liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, packed with vitamin A, iron, B vitamins (especially B12) and much more.

So, indeed, the answer to the question is liver good for you is a resounding yes, as it’s been shown to help prevent anemia, support fertility, aid detoxification and more.


Why Is Liver Good for You? 9 Benefits of Eating Liver

Liver is an organ found in the abdominal cavity of both humans and many animals, specifically all vertebrates. Chicken liver and beef/calf liver are the two most widely available types of liver in many countries. Throughout history, people living all over the world have highly regarded organ meats, such as liver, for helping with fertility, growth and development, maintaining high energy levels, mental health, and more.

Is liver good for you, and just how nutritious is liver? Not only does liver provide a very high dose of iron and vitamin A, but it’s also one of the best sources of many B vitamins, phosphorous and magnesium. In fact, liver is hands down your greatest source of vitamin B12. If you compare the overall nutrient density of liver to other healthy foods like spinach, carrots or apples, liver outperforms all of them due to how many vitamins and minerals it packs per calorie. However, the key to getting all of these benefits from liver is consuming the right kind: liver derived from organic, grass-fed or pasture-raised animals. I recommend that you avoid eating the organs of animals who were not free-range and appropriately fed.

So is liver good for you? Below is more about some of the main benefits of eating liver:

1. Loaded with Vitamin B12

The No. 1 benefit of consuming liver is that it’s very high in vitamin B12. We know that vitamin B12 benefits red blood cell formation and improves cellular function. Eating foods that are high in vitamin B12 helps prevent prevent B12 deficiency, which can cause symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, brain fog and mood changes. We also need vitamin B12 for nervous system function, supporting our metabolism and for brain health.

2. Great Source of Active Vitamin A

Liver is one of nature’s most concentrated sources of vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts like an antioxidant, helping reduce inflammation through fighting free radical damage. It’s needed for vision and eye health, skin health, thyroid health, building strong bones, regulating gene regulation, facilitating cell differentiation, and supporting immune function.

What’s important about the vitamin A found in liver is that it’s the active form (also called retinol), which only comes from animal-derived foods. Active, or preformed, vitamin A can be used directly by the body and does not need to first be converted like plant-based vitamin A (called carotenoids).

3. Very High in Iron, Helping with Anemia Prevention

If you struggle with any type of anemia, which is often tied to iron deficiency, then liver is one of the best foods to consume. It contains a powerful combination of folate, iron and vitamin B12. These are three vitamins and minerals you need in order to overcome anemia naturally and prevent or treat symptoms like low energy, fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles or neurological issues. Menstruating females, pregnant women, nursing mothers and vegetarians/vegans should be especially careful to get enough iron from their diets. (2)

4. High in Vitamin B6, Biotin and Folate

In addition to vitamin B12, liver is high in vitamin B6, biotin and folate. These B vitamins, especially folate, help your body with something called methylation as well as cellular function. An important folate-dependent reaction in the body is the conversion of the methylation of deoxyuridylate to thymidylate in the formation of DNA, which is required for proper cell division. (3) When this process is impaired, this initiates megaloblastic anemia, one of the hallmarks of folate deficiency.

Liver also supplies smaller amounts of nutrients, including copper, zinc, chromium and selenium, which have far-reaching benefits for your metabolism, central nervous system and endocrine systems.

 

Is liver good for you? - Dr. Axe

 

5. Great Food for Fertility and During Pregnancy

Liver is practically the perfect food for pregnancy, providing protein, B12, iron, folate and other key nutrients for reproductive health and fetal development. Pregnant women, or women who are nursing, need even more B12 than normal to help with growth and development of their babies, including the brain and organs. Folate is also especially important during pregnancy because it helps prevent birth defects. Folate (the natural form, as opposed to synthetic folic acid) aids in prevention of neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord.

Pregnant women are at higher risk of iron deficiency due to the increase of iron demand, making iron-rich foods essential since iron plays a role in the transfer of oxygen to tissues, including the placenta. Liver and other grass-fed organ meats are also a good source of protein during pregnancy. Pregnant women should aim to eat at least three servings, or 75 grams, of protein per day.

Liver also provides activated vitamin A for pregnant women that helps with reducing oxidative stress. The Baby Center website states that for pregnant women over the age of 19, “The USDA recommends getting no more than 10,000 IU of preformed vitamin A from supplements, animal sources, and fortified foods – combined – each day,” so it’s best to consume liver in small amounts only several times weekly. (4)

6. Helps with Detoxification and Supporting Liver Function

One of the questions I often get asked is, “Isn’t your liver toxic; doesn’t your liver deal with toxins?’’ Actually, toxins are cleaned by your liver, but they are not stored in your liver. Your liver helps filter waste and toxins from your blood so they can be removed from your body, but it requires essential nutrients to work properly. Your liver is also responsible for metabolizing drugs, hormones and medications, plus helping make proteins that are needed for blood clotting.

B vitamins that are found in liver, especially folate, help with cellular functions, so they help support your body’s detoxification pathways. This means that consuming liver actually helps your own liver function better. In fact, consuming liver is actually an effective liver cleanse, especially when it’s part of an overall healthy diet, because it provides your body and liver with all the nutrients you need in order to eliminate waste from your system.

7. Good Source of Protein

Eating between one to three ounces of liver provides about seven to 21 grams of quality protein. The macronutrient protein helps with dozens of functions in the body, including maintenance of muscle mass, which is especially important as we age. We also need enough protein to help with tissue repair, recovery from exercise, for growth and development during childhood, for controlling our appetite, producing hormones, forming our skin and hair, and for many more bodily processes.

8. Plays a Prominent Role in Disease-Fighting Gerson Therapy

Liver has actually been used extensively by doctors of natural medicine for years. In fact, German scientist Dr. Max Gerson created something called the Gerson Protocol, or Gerson Therapy, that involved the use of liver. Gerson Therapy was a natural cancer treatment protocol that was used for every type of disease as well as digestive disorders, tuberculosis and heart disease.

Gerson had his patients drink 13 glasses of vegetable juice a day, eat raw veggies, and have beef liver or liver juice (he also recommended performing coffee enema). (5) Beef liver was part of his primary protocol in helping his patients heal due to how many important vitamins and minerals it provides. According to the Gerson Institute, Gerson Therapy helps regenerate health by supporting metabolic functions, reducing oxygen deficiency in the blood, and supporting the thyroid by increasing antioxidant intake and cutting out heavy animal fats, excess protein, sodium and other toxins.

9. Provides CoQ10

Both beef liver and beef heart have been found to be rich sources of CoQ10. CoQ10, which is often taken in supplement form, is found in the greatest concentration in the mitochondria of cells, also called the cell’s “powerhouse” because it helps produce energy. CoQ10 is associated with cardiovascular health, improved blood pressure and vascular health, improvements in sperm and egg quality, enhanced endurance, reduced inflammation, and much more. Animals’ organs are where the greatest supply of CoQ10 can be found, although muscle meat and even some plant foods also contain smaller amounts. (6)

Since our CoQ10 supplies decrease with age, eating liver and other organ meats is a great way to keep your levels up, helping decrease the effects of free radical damage and stress.


Is Liver Good for You? Types of Liver to Eat

Livers from different animals were believed to have somewhat different properties, although for the most part liver from various animals provide similar nutritional benefits. Below are different types of edible livers that you can look for in grocery stores, at farmer’s markets, at local butcher’s shops or even online:

  • Chicken liver — Chicken liver has the mildest taste of most livers, so it’s a good choice for organ meat “beginners.” It’s the type of liver used in most liver spreads and recipes served at restaurants or prepared at home. Chicken liver has more fat, folate and iron than beef liver.
  • Beef/calf liver — Compared to chicken liver, beef liver contains a bit more calories, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin A, zinc and phosphorus. Many people find that beef liver doesn’t quite taste as appealing as chicken liver. You can find beef liver at some farmer’s markets, but if possible it’s best to purchase calf liver over liver from adult cows, since this reduces the chance that you’ll consume hormones and antibiotics given to cows.
  • Fish liver (such as cod liver, or cod liver oil) — Cod liver is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D.
  • If you can find them, you can also try mutton liver, lamb liver, goat liver, duck liver or goose liver. Your best bet for finding these types of livers is asking your local butcher, or if you’re a hunter, then gathering and preparing the liver yourself.
  • I don’t, however, recommend eating pork liver, due to how pork products tend to come from unhealthy/dirty pigs. Pigs are typically are raised in factory-farm conditions and treated with hormones or other chemicals.

Is Liver Good for You? Liver Nutrition Facts

Liver from different animal sources will provide varying levels of micronutrients. According to the USDA, one ounce of cooked chicken liver contains about: (7)

  • 49 calories
  • 7 grams protein
  • 2 grams of fat
  • 6 micrograms vitamin B12 (79 percent DV)
  • 4,076 international units vitamin A (75 percent DV)
  • 162 micrograms folate (40 percent DV)
  • 0.6 milligram vitamin B2/riboflavin (33 percent DV)
  • 23 milligrams selenium (33 percent DV)
  • 1.9 milligrams vitamin B5/pantothenic Aaid (19 percent)
  • 3.6 milligrams iron (18 percent DV)
  • 3.9 milligrams vitamin B3/niacin (15 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (11 percent DV)
  • 125 milligrams phosphorus (11 percent DV)

Are you curious about whether liver is fattening, and if so, is the fat content something to worry about? Liver is overall not very high in fat when compared to other animal products, such as beef, butter, dark meat poultry or full-fat dairy. One ounce of liver only has about two grams of fat.

This is not to suggest that fat from quality animal products is bad for you. Getting some saturated fat from animal foods can actually be very healthy. Healthy fats help with neurological function, hormone production and reproductive health, for example. In certain animal studies, adding chicken liver to rats’ diets has been shown to help alleviate oxidative stress and improve serum lipid profile, despite the rats being fed a high-fat diet. (8)


Is Liver Good for You? Where to Find and How to Use Liver

Wondering how much and how often should you eat liver? Most experts recommend eating liver or other organ meats about one to three times weekly. You don’t necessarily need to eat large amounts to get the benefits of liver either. Even small servings of liver, about one to four ounces, eaten several times per week supply significant nutrients. A good goal is to aim for about 100–200 grams of liver per week.

When you buy liver, whether at your farmer’s market or in supplement form, it’s important that you get it from organic, pasture-raised animals. Calf liver and chicken liver are two of the best types. You want to make sure the animals are grass-fed, free-range and pasture-raised when you consume liver, since healthy animals provide the richest sources of nutrients. If you can’t find liver in your grocery store, speak with a local butcher or ask a farmer who supplies meat at your local market. There’s a good chance someone will be able to supply you with organ meats, including liver, that might not otherwise be available.

 Is Liver Good for You in Supplement Form?

For those of you who don’t want to venture into the world of eating raw beef liver or chicken liver pate, I recommend you take a quality dessicated liver supplement instead.

When looking for liver supplements, you want to make sure it’s from pasture-raised animals — just like you would when buying liver itself. You can get dried liver in powder or tablet form at health food stores or online. A high-quality liver supplement in its purest, most natural form basically works as a multivitamin, plus a B complex, in tablet form. It’s a great supplement for those who struggle with anemia, low energy levels, adrenal fatigue, thyroid issues, autoimmune disease, poor cellular function and even cancer. I recommend trying to eat actual liver if you’re adventurous enough for the real thing (starting with tasty, nutritious chicken liver pate), but if not supplements are a good alternative.

Is Liver Good for Your Pets Too?

We’ve already answered the question, “Is liver good for you?” How about your pets? Liver and other organ meats are great sources of nutrients for your pets too. Why is liver good for dogs to eat? Just like how humans require iron, B vitamins and other nutrients found in liver, so do animals, including dogs. Organ meats like liver are usually inexpensive to buy and an easy way to give your pet’s food a boost in protein,  healthy fats, key vitamins and minerals.

Dogs can eat raw liver (from a trusted source), liver that’s lightly cooked or even dehydrated liver that’s made for pets. Dogs Naturally Magazine recommends that you “start with about half a tablespoon every few days for a medium-sized dog and watch their stools. If they get loose, decrease the frequency of feeding and/or the amount given each time that … consider feeding up to 1 oz. of liver per day for a medium to large dog, and up to 0.5 oz. per day or small dogs.” (9)

 

 


Is Liver Good for You? Liver Recipes: Chicken Liver Pate, Soup and More

There are lots of different ways you can prepare liver. Liver is sometimes eaten raw, stewed, baked, broiled, added to soups, combined with other cuts of meat or fried in ghee/butter/oil. It goes well with ingredients like onions, lemon, black or red pepper, jerk spice, jalapeno, Indian spices, raw cheeses or raw milk/buttermilk, garlic, olives, fig or blueberries, and chopped beef. It’s commonly made into spreads, such as liver pâté or foie gras, or used to make liver sausage. (10)

My favorite way to consume liver is to eat chicken liver pate. If you’ve never tried it before, chicken liver pate actually tastes delicious, and while more and more restaurants serve duck or chicken liver pate, it’s a very easy recipe to make at home. Here’s how you can make chicken liver pate at home:

  • Take your uncooked chicken liver and add honey, onions and other spices like garlic. Mix it all together, until you have a chicken liver pate. This tastes absolutely amazing on something like nutrient-rich cucumber or sourdough bread.
  • You can also put chicken liver in chicken bean soup. You could take some white beans and chicken, throw some liver in there, and it adds a little bit of a good flavor while also preventing wasting the liver.
  • Beef liver, unfortunately, doesn’t taste as good as chicken liver, but you can use it in a couple of different ways. You could throw it in a blender and down it as a drink, or you could cook up beef liver and consume it with loads of nutrition-rich onions and flavorings. You cook it just like you would a steak: Sauté it well and cover it in garlic and onions. It’s actually pretty tasty if you consume small bites of it along with a steak.

Is Liver Good for You? Historical Facts About Eating Liver

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, “Practically every cuisine has liver specialties. Some cultures place such a high value on liver that human hands can’t touch it … Throughout most of recorded time humans have preferred liver over steak by a large margin, regarding it as a source of great strength and as providing almost magical curative powers.” (11)

In his book “Nutrition and Degenerative Disease,” Dr. Price traveled the world to study the traditional diets of 14 different populations. He found that nearly every group included organ meats in their diets in some form, as this helped them avoid disease and reproduce successfully.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, liver has long been viewed as a nutrient-providing powerhouse. Eating organ meats is believed to help replenish depleted nutrition stores and support the functions of one’s own organs. (12) For many centuries, liver has been eaten by hunter-gatherers, such as those living in parts of Africa, who subsided on mostly animals like moose and deer. Liver was a valuable source of protein and nutrients when food was scarce, including in colder climates when plant foods were hard to grow.

In Medieval Europe, liver was a popular ingredient used in dumplings, terrines, sausages and puddings. In Asia, liver has a long history of use in broths and stews and is sometimes used to thicken recipes. In Japan, liver has always been considered an important food for pregnant women. Today, liver is still commonly consumed in France, Argentina, India, Spain, Russia, parts of Scandinavia and parts of the Middle East. For example, liver and onions is still a popular dish throughout Latin America, such as in Spain or Portugal.


Is Liver Good for You? Potential Side Effects: Are There Any Dangers from Eating Liver?

You can tell by now that liver is a very healthy food for most people, but is liver bad to for any reason? There are certain pros and cons of eating liver to be aware of. For example, if you already have high iron or copper levels, then limiting your consumption of liver and other organ meats is a good idea. If you are taking high doses of vitamin A in supplement form (for most people this is not recommended) then be cautious about consuming liver, since this may potentially raise your vitamin A level to overly high amounts. Very high vitamin A intake can potentially be toxic and should be avoided, especially during pregnancy or in childhood.

In regard to eating raw liver, only do this if you’re sure that the product is fresh and derived from a healthy animal that was raised properly. Many health authorities warn against eating raw liver due to the risk for contamination with bacteria, but anecdotal evidence suggests the risk is lower if you purchase fresh, quality organ meats. (13) Freezing and cooking liver can help reduce the risk for bacteria. Liver is usually safe for children to eat starting at around 6 months old. Keep in mind that for both children and adults, only small servings of organ meats are needed, so more is not always better.


Final Thoughts on Is Liver Good for You

  • Many people wonder, “Is liver good for you?”
  • Liver is an organ found in all vertebrate animals that is edible and packed with nutrients. Chicken liver and beef/calf liver are the two most widely available types of liver, although you may also be able to find lamb, mutton, goose, cod fish liver and other types.
  • Is liver good for you? Liver is good for you because it provides high amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin A, other B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, protein, CoQ10 and more.
  • Benefits of eating liver (whether cooked or raw) include preventing anemia, helping with fertility and a healthy pregnancy, improving detoxification, preventing deficiencies in B vitamins, and supporting liver function.

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