For a good reason, many indigenous peoples traditionally ate only organ meats. The lean tenderloin was discarded or eaten by dogs at best.
We do it the other way around today, but it’s a relatively new custom compared to the rest of human history.
However, let’s take a deeper scientific look at why eating liver can offer outstanding health benefits before you turn up your nose.
Is Eating Liver Good for You?
The liver is one of the essential organs in both humans and animals.
Not only is it the largest internal organ, but it also has a variety of vital functions, such as:
- Metabolizing digested food from the intestines
- Storing glucose, vitamins, and minerals
- Removing toxins and medications from the bloodstream
With this in mind, a popular objection to eating liver is that it keeps toxins in the body.
Although the liver neutralizes toxins (such as drugs, poisons, and other chemicals), it does not store them. Instead, toxins accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous system if it does not eliminate them.
On the other hand, the liver stores nutrients, such as essential vitamins and minerals, needed for detoxification.
However, when we think of superfoods, exotic plants from the New World immediately come to mind. For example, these are usually chia seeds, açaí, or goji berries.
This may not be surprising since the general perception of nutrition is that high amounts of essential vitamins and minerals are found exclusively in fruits and vegetables.
While vegetables exist that carry a concentrated load of micronutrients, decades of marketing supported fruits’ shiny reputation.
In any case, what hardly occurs to a soul is that animal products can also be among the most nutrient-dense.
But organ meats, also known as offal, which we throw away too often, are true superfoods next door.
Because of its unique range of micronutrients, the liver is often referred to as the most nutrient-dense food on the planet (Hassan et al. 20121).
As we will see in a moment, the liver is also a natural source of the nutrients most people lack.
Beef Liver Benefits
Among offal, beef liver is known as the queen of nutrients.
Hence, as we will see in the beef liver nutrition facts, its nutrient density touches almost every aspect of the human body, from the immune system to the brain and bones.
Although beef liver tastes very intense, it can be a delicacy when appropriately prepared.
Furthermore, just 100 grams of liver is enough to give you a natural multivitamin boost (expressed as a percentage of the recommended daily intake*):
- Vitamin A: 634%
- Thiamine (B1): 13%
- Riboflavin (B2): 201%
- Niacin (B3): 88%
- Choline (B4): 107%
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 71%
- Vitamin B6: 51
- Folic acid (B9): 63%
- Vitamin B12: 1176%
- Vitamin C: 3%
- Tocopherol (E): 3%
- Vitamin K: 4%
Besides essential B vitamins, you are also providing your body with numerous essential minerals when eating beef liver:
- Calcium: 1%
- Iron: 36
- Magnesium: 5%
- Phosphorus: 50%
- Potassium: 10%
- Sodium: 3%
- Zinc: 35
- Copper: 714%
- Manganese: 18%
- Selenium: 52
Accordingly, beef liver can replace a B-complex and multivitamin pill and provide considerable amounts of iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus, and selenium.
Although vitamin B2 is not given as much attention as other vitamins, its health effects are not lesser.
On the other hand, researchers have found that even the slightest riboflavin deficiency significantly contributes to depression in women (Naghashpour et al. 20114).
We did not know about choline for a long time since it was not until 1998 that choline was recognized as an essential nutrient.
However, this designation means we must absorb it through food since the liver can only synthesize it in minimal amounts.
Nevertheless, choline is vital in several processes, such as brain and liver function, DNA synthesis, nervous system, fat metabolism, cell structure, and cell communication.
Because many people do not consume enough choline, they risk liver disease, atherosclerosis, and possibly neurological disorders (Zeisel et al. 20095).
Especially since it is the richest natural source of choline, just a few beef liver bites can prevent these diseases.
Copper is crucial in activating several enzymes that regulate energy production, brain function, and iron metabolism.
Because copper deficiency can cause anemia, beef liver is one of the few natural copper sources to prevent this disease (Myint et al. 20186).
Moreover, researchers have implicated copper as a potential natural antidote to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer (Tisato et al. 20107).
Nevertheless, excess copper can also cause liver problems in some people (Gaetke et al. 20148).
However, the other minerals in beef liver help neutralize copper levels.
For this reason, chicken or pork liver can be a healthy alternative for those sensitive to copper.
With this in mind, many people also dislike eating beef liver because of its intense taste. Hence, many of them reach out to calf liver.
Calf Liver Benefits
Strictly speaking, the calf is also beef. If the meat comes from cattle less than a year old, it is called veal or calf.
Especially when it comes to liver, veal has the advantage that it does not taste as intense as more aged beef.
Accordingly, in my experience, liver from aged beef is not particularly beginner-friendly.
Despite the following similarly stunning nutrition facts of 100 grams of calf liver, it is significantly tastier for most people (in % of recommended daily intake*):
- Vitamin A: 1340%
- Thiamine (B1): 12%
- Riboflavin (B2): 180%
- Niacin (B3): 72%
- Choline (B4): 82%
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 71%
- Vitamin B6: 45
- Folic acid (B9): 88%
- Vitamin B12: 1208%
- Vitamin C: 1%
- Tocopherol (E): 3%
- Vitamin K: 2%
In terms of minerals, calf liver is also very similar to that of beef, although in some cases, it can outperform it:
- Calcium: 1%
- Iron: 33
- Magnesium: 6%
- Phosphorus: 48
- Potassium: 10%
- Sodium: 4%
- Zinc: 79%
- Copper: 753%
- Manganese: 15%
- Selenium: 36
In summary, a calf’s liver is probably the best natural source of copper, vitamin A, and vitamin B12.
Although vitamin A is one of the most critical nutrients on the planet, its benefits are little known.
- Essential for the preservation of eyesight
- Fights acne and creates radiant skin
- Reduces the risk of cancer
- Strengthens the immune system
- Promotes fertility and reproduction
Consequently, vitamin A is indispensable in all aspects of life.
And as a vitamin A source, no other food or dietary supplement can replace liver from calf or beef.
For example, plant foods do not contain vitamin A. They can only provide beta-carotene – a precursor that is not nearly as potent.
Maybe that’s one reason there is a widespread belief that carrots support your eyes’ sight.
In contrast, vitamin A in veal liver comes in the form of retinol, which is remarkably bioavailable. As a result, the body can absorb it enormously efficiently.
Many people today have a vitamin B deficiency—especially those who do not consume much animal food. Consequently, the market for vitamin B supplements is booming.
But neither are those dietary supplements the only solution nor are they particularly effective.
In contrast, nature provides a source of vitamin B better absorbed by the body. Consequently, any liver covers a staggering range of B vitamins.
Among other B vitamins, a calf’s liver provides, in particular, cobalamin. For example, this vitamin is essential for cellular energy production.
Moreover, you can obtain the fact that vitamin B12 is as crucial as vitamin A to possible deficiency symptoms. Too little cobalamin harms the following components and processes of the human body:
Furthermore, it is vital for neurological function, DNA production, and repair (O’Leary et al. 201013).
Although, in my experience, calf’s liver tastes sensationally good when prepared properly, you can’t get it everywhere. On the other hand, chicken liver is available on almost every corner.
Chicken Liver Benefits
Chicken liver is much more suitable for everyday use compared to beef. After its flavor is not so intense, it is part of many traditional cuisines.
For this reason, it is used in many liver pate restaurant dishes, such as duck liver.
It is also popularly baked, fried, or grilled on skewers.
If you prepare 100 grams of chicken liver in a pan and eat it, you will provide your body with the following nutrients (in % of the recommended daily requirement*):
- Vitamin A: 288%
- Thiamine (B1): 19%
- Riboflavin (B2): 136%
- Niacin (B3): 70%
- Choline (B4): 82
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 83%
- Vitamin B6: 42
- Folic acid (B9, B11, M): 140%
- Vitamin B12: 352%
- Vitamin C: 5%
However, chicken liver does not stop at vitamins. It can also provide a wide range of minerals:
- Calcium: 1%
- Iron: 72
- Magnesium: 7%
- Phosphorus: 44
- Potassium: 9%
- Sodium: 4%
- Zinc: 27%
- Copper: 27%
- Manganese: 19%
- Selenium: 126%
Checking the nutrient density, we can see that eating chicken liver can bring large amounts of folic acid and selenium into the body.
For example, just 100 grams of chicken liver is enough for both nutrients to meet their daily requirement.
Folic acid is another B vitamin and is often listed as B9. It is mainly known to play a crucial role in fertility and pregnancy.
On the one hand, the essential B vitamin is responsible for cell growth in the fetus (Kamen 199714).
On the other hand, folic acid concentration in the follicular fluid of women undergoing infertility treatment is associated with higher fertilization rates and live births (Boxmeer et al. 200915).
Additionally, folic acid and copper, which are present in all types of liver, may also help men with fertility problems by increasing sperm concentration (Wong et al. 200216)
On top of that, folic acid may help with depression, according to a study that found a deficiency of folic acid in depressed patients and their diets (Bender et al. 201717).
For this reason, some psychiatrists treat depression through an all-meat carnivore diet.
Selenium is known as an anti-stress mineral. For example, it is an antioxidant against cell stress and inflammation (Rayman 201218).
Moreover, selenium can improve memory function in the elderly and inhibit aging by combating oxidative stress (Cardoso et al. 201619).
Pork Liver Benefits
Pork can also be incredibly healthy – if you eat the liver. It also has a comparatively low-intensity flavor and is popularly prepared with onions in traditional cooking.
However, a pork liver’s quality depends more on how the animal was raised and fed. Therefore, buying from a producer you trust tends to be advantageous.
However, if we look closer at the nutritional data, people rarely eat pork liver these days could be a mistake.
100 grams of braised pork liver contain the following vitamins (in % of the recommended daily allowance*):
- Vitamin A: 360%
- Thiamine (B1): 17%
- Riboflavin (B2): 201%
- Niacin (B3): 87%
- Choline (B4): 0%
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 48%
- Vitamin B6: 28
- Folic acid (B9): 41%
- Vitamin B12: 311%
- Vitamin C: 39
Moreover, the often highly underestimated liver of pigs convinces as a source of minerals:
- Calcium: 1%
- Iron: 100%
- Magnesium: 3%
- Phosphorus: 24
- Potassium: 4%
- Sodium: 2%
- Zinc: 45
- Copper: 32%
- Manganese: 15%
- Selenium: 96
In addition to being one of the rare animal sources of vitamin C, pork liver is a particularly efficient iron source.
I hardly need to advertise vitamin C at this point. The darling of the food industry is widely regarded as healthy.
On the other hand, animal products can provide vitamin C; conversely, it may be uncharted territory for many people.
Nonetheless, pork liver is a vitamin C source and has antioxidant and immune function-promoting properties.
Also, the body can better utilize vitamin C from animal sources since carbohydrates can block the vitamin’s absorption (Liang et al. 200120).
This mineral helps cells generate energy, plays a critical role in oxygenation in the body, and helps the immune system destroy harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses (Cherayil 201121).
Moreover, iron can help fight fatigue in both men and women.
Because iron deficiency lowers energy levels, fatigue often affects women during their reproductive years (Weinberg 201022).
In this context, the benefits of eating liver may provide a natural antidote. But how much liver is good for you, mainly since it contains a concentrated load of minerals in all its variations?
How Much Liver Is Good for You?
Now that we know why the liver is considered nature’s multivitamin pill, the question is how often eating this concentrated micronutrient can be healthy.
In the end, just one serving of liver is enough to cover the weekly requirement of various vitamins and minerals.
Accordingly, recent studies recommend eating liver several times a week due to the supply of valuable minerals (Kicinska et al. 201923).
So, how do you get the right portion of liver off, especially since it’s not precisely everyday food?
There are the following options that even people who are not big liver fans can manage:
- Eat about 100g of liver once a week
- Eat 25g portions of liver spread over the week
Besides, a recent study found that a single consumption of 66 grams of liver per month could make vitamin supplements obsolete for preschoolers in South Africa (van Stuijvenberg et al. 202024).
Accordingly, you do not have to eat liver daily if you don’t find it particularly tasty—the body stores nutrients.
Nevertheless, there are numerous ways to prepare veal and chicken liver deliciously to reap the multiple health benefits with joy.
Moreover, adding variety to your plate is not a mistake because of the different nutrients using different liver types.
Health Benefits of Eating Liver
Eating liver is usually said to have three main health benefits:
- Glowing skin
- Muscle growth
After looking closely at the nutrition facts, it seems evident that these three abilities can only represent a fraction of liver’s health benefits.
Therefore, I would like to explain the various benefits of eating liver.
1. Cognitive Function
According to studies, Choline, which you can find in large amounts in beef liver, can improve cognitive performance (Poly et al. 201125).
In contrast, choline deficiency can trigger dementia and Alzheimer’s (Zeisel et al. 200926).
In addition to choline, iron, and copper minerals are essential for brain function.
And most people do not consume enough copper in their diet.
Furthermore, liver is a natural source of iron, the micronutrient most commonly deficient in people worldwide – especially in women.
Also, offal contains particularly easily absorbed heme iron, which helps synthesize neurotransmitters and support brain function (Beck et al. 201429).
On top of that, the selenium in liver also supports improved memory function and prevents dementia (Cardoso et al. 201630).
2. Mental Health
According to studies, choline can improve depression, anxiety, and mood disorders (Bjelland et al. 200931).
Besides, liver is an excellent source of folic acid and riboflavin. These are both substances whose consumption may be instrumental in preventing depression (Naghashpour et al. 201132; Bender et al. 201733).
Finally, eating liver is a great way to provide selenium.
With this in mind, a recent study suggests that optimal selenium levels are essential for reducing depressive symptoms and improving mood (Conner et al. 201534).
3. Skin Health
Beef liver is a rare natural source of vitamin A1, also known as retinol.
This antioxidant protects skin cells from oxidative stress, such as UV rays. Accordingly, it can slow the aging process, promote skin renewal, smooth it, and counteract acne (Park 201535).
Accordingly, recent studies recommend natural foods rich in zinc and vitamins A and E to fight acne (Ozuguz et al. 201436).
These are the nutrients found in calf and beef liver.
Moreover, offal, such as liver, is an excellent source of collagen, offering tremendous benefits for skin and hair.
If you eat liver, you can confidently kick fructose-laden detox juices, which at best promote a fatty liver, to the curb.
That eating liver is healthy for the liver and detoxifying the body can’t be a coincidence.
Chicken liver, in particular, is full of coenzyme Q10 – a potent natural antioxidant (Hernandez-Camacho et al. 201837).
Moreover, even a tiny piece of beef liver can provide another vital coenzyme’s entire daily requirement, molybdenum.
Since molybdenum helps convert sulfides to sulfates, it helps the body break down and metabolize alcohol, and other toxins, such as drugs.
With this in mind, eating liver helps avoid high levels of sulfites, which can cause adverse health effects (Mendel et al. 200638).
5 Cancer Prevention
In addition to CoQ10, liver also contains antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and selenium, which protect cells from oxidative stress (Rayman 201239).
Therefore, they may scavenge free radicals that enter the body from UV rays, smoking, pollutants, or highly processed vegetable oils (Nishino et al. 200440).
Accordingly, these noble knights protect cells from damage, decreasing their chance of mutating into cancer cells.
And as we all know, prevention is better than cure. And the right natural foods, like liver, are a cornerstone of this strategy.
6. Immune Function
Regarding the immune system, we continuously hear about vitamin C, which you can also find in all sorts of liver.
For a good reason, vitamin A deserves more limelight because it has been discovered to be the anti-infection vitamin (Green et al. 192841).
For example, the intestinal wall relies on vitamin A to form or maintain cells (Huang et al. 201842).
Furthermore, this barrier is essential in keeping pathogens away from organs.
Accordingly, adequate consumption of vitamin A by eating liver helps to ensure intact immune function.
Based on a recent study, vitamin A in the diet also reduces infections and mortality associated with pneumonia, tuberculosis, or malaria (Huang et al. 201844).
7. Muscle Gain
Firstly, liver is a premium protein source, vital for building and maintaining muscle mass.
For example, it can help combat age-related muscle wasting (Lord et al. 200745).
Also, it contains leucine. Since this is the most anabolic essential amino acid, it stimulates muscle growth on a cellular basis.
However, excessive growth can harm health (Bremer et al. 201246).
Therefore, consuming proteins and amino acids isolated from dietary supplements is not purposeful.
For this reason, we should return to eating more liver and other offal, as they have a far better balance of nutrients, healthy fats, and leucine than lean meat.
What always fascinates me is why people prefer to eat artificial foods.
Liver is the best example of how nature offers us better ways than swallowing 20 different supplements a day.
With this in mind, much debate has been about whether synthetic nutrients can provide the same benefits as natural ones.
But recently, researchers put an end to this debate.
They declared that whole foods are superior to synthetic supplements, as clinical studies have supported many isolated compounds’ lack of effect.
While natural food synergy increases immunity and bioavailability of nutrients, it reduces infections and chronic diseases (Natarajan et al. 201947).
Accordingly, whole natural foods contain nutrient combinations that we are better able to absorb and process overall.
In short, eating liver offers health benefits in a holistic way that supplements cannot reveal.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How often should you eat liver?
Although liver is full of nutrients, you can eat it several times a week. According to science, even once a month is enough for young children to boost their immune function.
Is eating liver good for your heart?
Eating beef liver may help to reduce the risk of heart disease due to vitamin K2.
What is the healthiest liver to eat?
Beef liver is the healthiest liver you can eat. If you do not like the strong taste, try calf’s liver which is as healthy with a milder flavor.
Is eating raw liver healthier than cooked?
There is little difference in nutrient density: eating raw or cooked liver is as healthy as it gets.
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Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.
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