There is an old Chinese saying that you should “eat what ails you.”

Liver is a nutrient dense organ meat and containing specific bio-available forms of nutrients that are very challenging to get elsewhere. Eating liver on a bi-weekly basis can provide the requirements needed for optimal health. Eating liver even has an impact on bone and dental health. Many individuals who are following a healthy lifestyle opt for a diet rich in sustainably raised, organic muscle meat. In fact, many authors beat this fact into the ground, but it is important to repeat: in some traditional cultures, only the organ meats were consumed; lean muscle meats were discarded or given to the dogs.

Vitamin A

Liver is a powerful source of pre-formed vitamin A (retinol), three ounces of beef liver is estimated to contain about 27000 IU of vitamin A in a highly bio-available form. Chicken liver and cod liver oil are also very good sources. Many people mistakenly believe that beta-carotene is synonymous with Vitamin A. The human body must convert beta-carotene to Vitamin A; only 3% of the beta-carotene is converted. This means one would have to consume 4.4 pounds of cooked carrots or 40 pounds of raw carrots. Additionally, it’s estimated up to 45% of the population are unable to convert beta-carotene to Vitamin A!

B vitamins and vitamin C

Bioavailable B vitamins including riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid (B5), and choline are plentiful in liver. Liver is the richest source of B12 with roughly three times as much as kidney, seven times more than heart and 17 times as much as ground beef. Notice that the vitamin C content in liver is triple that of carrots and apples.

Iron

Liver is important for maintaining iron levels in the body as it contains “heme-iron” a form of iron easily absorbed by humans. People eating diets containing grains are going to be much more susceptible to iron deficiencies due to high levels of phytic acid. Interestingly enough cocoa powder is high in iron may explain people’s addiction to chocolate, in particular people who do not eat meat.

Trace minerals

Liver contains many of the trace minerals zinc, copper, manganese, phosphorus and selenium which are required for healthy bone, glucose and testosterone metabolism.

Co enzyme Q 10

CoQ10 improves energy, augments the immune system, and acts as an antioxidant. The level of CoQ10 is the highest in organs with high rates of metabolism such as the heart, kidney, and liver where it functions as an energy transfer molecule. The primary biochemical action of CoQ10 is as a cofactor in the electron-transport chain, in the series of redox reactions that are involved in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate. As most cellular functions are dependent on an adequate supply of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), CoQ10 is essential for the health of virtually all human tissues and organs. Coenzyme Q10 is one of the most significant lipid antioxidants, which prevents the generation of free radicals and modifications of proteins, lipids, and DNA. In many disease conditions connected with increased generation and the action of reactive oxygen species (ROS), the concentration of coenzyme Q10 in the human body decreases and the deficiency of coenzyme Q10 leads to the dysfunction of the respiratory chain, which is due to the insufficient production of highly energetic compounds, which decrease the efficiency of cells.

Notice that liver does not contain high levels of vitamins D, E and K1. So be sure to find foods and sunlight that will give you these important vitamins.  Liver, however, is rich in Vitamin K2 which is key to calcium deposition in the bones rather than in soft tissue.

Many have been misled to believe the liver is a “filter” and thus filters and stores toxins. The liver is actually the body’s “Metabolic Engine” and one role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), yet it is not a significant storage place for these toxins. In fact meat and the body’s fatty tissues accumulate these toxins much more than liver does. It is more accurate so say that the liver provides the nutrients necessary to rid the body of many toxins.

In any case, it’s important to acquire liver from the highest quality grass-fed animals either fresh or fresh frozen. If you are further concerned about toxins in your liver, you can soak it in warm water or in milk for a few minutes to a few hours and then discard the liquid.

Cooking liver is a lost art. Most people tend to overcook it which ruins the taste and yields a grainy texture. When done properly fresh liver such as calves liver or chicken livers are considered a gourmet delicacy and a true “superfood.” If don’t have much of a taste for liver I recommend cooking it in a stew or mixing it into ground beef at an 80/20 (80% ground beef and 20% ground liver) and most never even notice. This is a great way to get it into your children’s diet as they will not even tell the difference. I have also heard of freezing the liver and shaving small bits into a bone broth. Other easily available sources of liver are pate, foie gras, liverwurst or braunschweiger. Finally, if there is no way you can handle liver as a real food there are desiccated Liver capsules.

The chart below lists the micronutrient content of apples, carrots, red meat and beef liver. Note that every nutrient in liver surpasses those found in apple and carrots! In general, organ meats contain up to a 100 fold higher in nutrients than corresponding muscle meats. Think of eating liver as taking a vitamin, because that is really what it is.

Remember that it’s essential to eat meat and organ meats from animals raised on fresh pasture without hormones, antibiotics or commercial grain feed. Organic raised meats are a good product as well, but often cost prohibitive. Pasture-raised grass-fed animal products are much higher in nutrients than animal products that come from commercial feedlots. For example, meat from pasture-raised animals has 2-4 times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain fed commercially raised animals. And pasture-raised eggs have been shown to contain up to 15-20 times more omega-3 fatty acids than supermarket eggs! In addition to these nutritional advantages, pasture-raised animal products benefit farmers, local communities and the environment.

APPLE (100 g) CARROTS (100 g) RED MEAT (100 g) BEEF LIVER (100 g)
Calories 52 41 187 135
Calcium 3.0 mg 3.3 mg 11.0 mg 11.0 mg
Phosphorus 6.0 mg 31.0 mg 140.0 mg 476.0 mg
Magnesium 4.8 mg 6.2 mg 15.0 mg 18.0 mg
Potassium 139.0 mg 222.0 mg 370.0 mg 380.0 mg
Iron .1 mg .6 mg 3.3 mg 8.8 mg
Zinc .05 mg .3 mg 4.4 mg 4.0 mg
Copper .04 mg .08 mg .18 mg 12.0 mg
Vitamin A None None 40 IU 53,400 IU
Vitamin D None None Trace 19 IU
Vitamin E .37 mg .11 mg 1.7 mg .63 mg
Vitamin C 7.0 mg 6.0 mg None 27.0 mg
Vitamin K 1.1 mcg 17 mcg 2.4 mcg 92 mcg
Vitamin B12 None None 1.84 mcg 111.3 mcg
Vitamin B6 .03 mg .10 mg .07 mg .73 mg
Biotin None .42 mcg 2.08 mcg 96.0 mcg
Thiamin .03 mg .05 mg .05 mg .26 mg
Riboflavin .02 mg .05 mg .20 mg 4.19 mg
Niacin .10 mg .60 mg 4.0 mg 16.5 mg
Pantothenic Acid .11 mg .19 mg .42 mg 8.8 mg
Folic Acid 8.0 mcg 24.0 mcg 4.0 mcg 145.0 mcg

Cites

Booth SL, Sadowski JA, Pennington JAT. Phylloquinone (Vitamin K1) content of foods in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Total Diet Study. J Agric Food Chem 1995,43:1574-79.

Booth SL, Sadowski JA, Weihrauch JL, Ferland G. Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone) content of foods: A provisional table. J Food Comp Anal 1993;6:109-20

Pennington JA, Church HN: Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 16th Edition, J.P. Lippincott Company, 1994.