Liver: Nature's Most Potent Superfood | Chris Kresser
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Liver: Nature’s Most Potent Superfood

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beef liver nutrition, liver nutrition
Adding things like beef liver and onions to your diet is a nutritional win. iStock.com/freeskyline

Conventional dietary wisdom holds that the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements) we need from foods are most highly concentrated in fruits and vegetables. While it’s true that fresh fruits and veggies are full of vitamins and minerals, their micronutrient content doesn’t always hold up to what is found in meats and organ meatsespecially liver.

The chart below lists the micronutrient content of apples, carrots, red meat and beef liver. Note that every nutrient in red meat except for vitamin C surpasses those in apples and carrots, and every nutrient—including vitamin C—in beef liver occurs in exceedingly higher levels in beef liver compared to apple and carrots.

In general, organ meats are between 10 and 100 times higher in nutrients than corresponding muscle meats. (That said, fruits and vegetables are rich in phytonutrients like flavonoids and polyphenols that aren’t found in high concentrations in meats and organ meats, so fresh produce should always be a significant part of your diet.)

In fact, you might be surprised to learn that in some traditional cultures, only the organ meats were consumed. The lean muscle meats, which are what we mostly eat in the U.S. today, were discarded or perhaps given to the dogs.

A popular objection to eating liver is the belief that the liver is a storage organ for toxins in the body. While it is true that one of the liver’s role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems. On the other hand, the liver is a is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.

Remember that it is essential to eat meat and organ meats from animals that have been raised on fresh pasture without hormones, antibiotics or commercial feed. Pasture-raised 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 commercially-raised animals. And pasture-raised eggs have been shown to contain up to 19 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.

For more information on the incredible nutritional benefits of liver and some suggestions for how to prepare it, click here.

APPLE (100 g)CARROTS (100 g)RED MEAT (100 g)BEEF LIVER (100 g)
Calcium3.0 mg3.3 mg11.0 mg11.0 mg
Phosphorus6.0 mg31.0 mg140.0 mg476.0 mg
Magnesium4.8 mg6.2 mg15.0 mg18.0 mg
Potassium139.0 mg222.0 mg370.0 mg380.0 mg
Iron.1 mg.6 mg3.3 mg8.8 mg
Zinc.05 mg.3 mg4.4 mg4.0 mg
Copper.04 mg.08 mg.18 mg12.0 mg
Vitamin ANoneNone40 IU53,400 IU
Vitamin DNoneNoneTrace19 IU
Vitamin E.37 mg.11 mg1.7 mg.63 mg
Vitamin C7.0 mg6.0 mgNone27.0 mg
Thiamin.03 mg.05 mg.05 mg.26 mg
Riboflavin.02 mg.05 mg.20 mg4.19 mg
Niacin.10 mg.60 mg4.0 mg16.5 mg
Pantothenic Acid.11 mg.19 mg.42 mg8.8 mg
Vitamin B6.03 mg.10 mg.07 mg.73 mg
Folate8.0 mcg24.0 mcg4.0 mcg145.0 mcg
BiotinNone.42 mcg2.08 mcg96.0 mcg
Vitamin B12NoneNone1.84 mcg111.3 mcg

459 Comments

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  1. Chris,

    I just can’t bring myself to feed our 6-month old RAW liver, but have no reservations with cooked and pureed. Is there any major nutrient loss from doing so, and how much would you recommend?

    • A six month old should be nursing. Babies do not have the stomach acids to digest foods till around 9 months and as long as they are nursing they can eat as little or as much of everything you are eating and their mama’s milk will make sure they are balanced & healthy.

      • This is at odds with Chris’ Healthy Baby code that suggests soft-boiled egg yolk, CLO, mashed, ripe banana, and/or raw liver (frozen & grated) as first “solid” foods at 6 mos.

        This is intended to supplement BM, which our LO is consuming 24-30 oz per day.

    • I would never feed a baby raw liver. The risk of infection, however slight it might be, is unacceptable. Cooked liver is very high in nutrients. The nutritional difference between raw and cooked is slight and safety of cooked is much better.

  2. Chris, I just read somewhere that cooking in cast iron does not lose as many nutrients. I use stainless steel cookware, but to cook liver, etc. is it best to use cast iron? Thank you

  3. Good morning. I’ve been diagnosed with severe anemia due to heavy blood loss because of a uterus problem. My iron level has dropped from 11 to 7.8. I was eating beef liver, but just read that chicken liver is higher in iron and better to absorb? Can someone please help me understand what is best to eat? I can’t take iron supplements, and docs are discussing a blood transfusion and/or iron intravenous treatments, which I really don’t want. My health is really declining due to my severe iron deficiency. Much help appreciated. Thank you

    • IV iron is not a bad thing, after my celiac diagnosis my haemoglobin was only 7, they gave me iron infusion , and after a few months my haemoglobin came up to 13.4!

    • Brenda,
      I had severe blood loss after delivering my 2nd child. My hemoglobin dropped from 12 to 4.9. The doctor recommended a blood transfusion. I chose not to get the transfusion. When I returned home, my father cooked chicken liver broth with spinach for me every day, which I drank. About 3 weeks post-partum, I got out of bed one morning, and a stream of blood poured out of me. I had to go back to the ER. An ultrasound revealed that a small piece of the placenta was still in my uterus and was causing my post-partum bleeding to continue. While in the ER, the doctor tested my hemoglobin because he was concerned about my previous low levels. The test results showed (even though I was still bleeding everyday for 3 weeks) my hemoglobin had still increased to 10 in only 3-weeks of drinking chicken liver broth. Just so you know, I did not take the iron pills I got in the hospital after my delivery because they were synthetic. I’m not telling you or anybody to turn down a transfusion or IV treatments, if that’s what you want. But it sounds like you are looking for a more natural way to heal, and I hope that by me sharing my experience with the healing power of food, you will have the courage to try it too. May God bless you in your healing journey!

  4. Hello!

    Does chicken liver fall into the same nutritional value as beef liver? It is much easier for me to find organic chicken liver and it significantly cheaper. Many thanks!

    • The nutritional profile is not exactly the same, but any liver from any animal is a nutritional powerhouse. I wouldn’t worry too much about the slight differences.

  5. Hi Chris – Does cooking and then freezing your liver deplete vitamins? Essentially, I buy grass fed beef liver from a farm where it gets shipped to me frozen in an airsealed plastic bag that has way too much meat for one sitting. I normally cook it all and then freeze it into individual servings. My question is am I losing any health benefits by doing this?

    Please advise!

    • You should never thaw meat and than re-freeze ! You can cook it all and than freeze it again but you will lose taste and nutrients. No meat should ever be thawed and froze again! This can cause food poisoning. Maybe you could ask to have smaller portions froze or froze individual packs, the that way you can thaw what you need. Good luck!

      • There is no danger from refreezing meat. As long as it was thawed properly, there is no increased health risk. It’s the method is thawing, not freezing, that can cause food poisoning.

        Re-freezing does reduce the quality of the food slightly, but it would still be perfectly edible. The nutritional quality may be reduced slightly, but liver would still be extremely nutritious even after freezing, thawing, cooking, and refreezing.

  6. How much liver is to much a day and why?
    Someone I know is eating 8 oz a day of raw smoothie. Is that safe? If it’s not then why?

    • No that’s not safe. Mainly from the very high level of vitamin A s/he’s ingesting. Secondly, the raw liver possesses a greater chance of infectious disease than if it was cooked. Thirdly, liver contains elevated levels of heavy metals. Which probably isn’t a problem with a weekly meal, but at 8 oz a day s/he could be accumulating a large amount of heavy metals.

      I wouldn’t eat more than 10000 IU vitamin A from livers in a day, which is about 1oz beef liver or 3oz chicken liver.

  7. Hi Chris,
    Nice article and also thanks for share vitamins chart. I am pure vegetarian. So for me apple and carrots are best. Helpful.

    • Carrots give beta carotine which the body precisely converts into vit A , only as much bit A as you need. You can overdose on Vit A pills but not on beta carotine. See.

  8. I’m often told that liver is not good, liver keep the poison and protect the body, and liver matters is very dangerous, the toxic can remain in animal liver… and this article tells me liver is good, even superfood?
    I will give this article to my mother.

    • My classmates parents are very healthy and her folks eat liver regularly; they are both in their upper 80’s. A friend’s dad eats off the land (garden, cattle) and he eats a lot of liver and is 95 & in great health. She said he has always stayed away from bread and sweets and eats mostly produce and protein. I eat it regularly & always get a burst of energy afterwards. I cook & freeze because we get a side of beef & it is packed with 5-6 pieces. I actually like it better at room temp after thawing out; doesn’t have as strong of a flavor as it does right after cooking. If I can feel the energy after eating it, then I don’t feel I need to eat it raw to get the benefits. People get carried away with these things; eating cooked is much better than not eating at all.

  9. The National Institutes of Health provided this information on Vitamin A, the type in liver is preformed A, not carotenoids, like beta-carotene found in dark leafy greens and bright orange veggies and fruit.

    Observational studies have suggested an association between high intakes of preformed vitamin A (more than 1,500 mcg daily—only slightly higher than the RDA), reduced bone mineral density, and increased fracture risk [1,4,39]. However, the results of studies on this risk have been mixed, so the safe retinol intake level for this association is unknown.

    Total intakes of preformed vitamin A that exceed the UL and some synthetic retinoids used as topical therapies (such as isotretinoin and etretinate) can cause congenital birth defects [2-4]. These birth defects can include malformations of the eye, skull, lungs, and heart [4]. Women who might be pregnant should not take high doses of vitamin A supplements [2].

    Unlike preformed vitamin A, beta-carotene is not known to be teratogenic or lead to reproductive toxicity [1]. And even large supplemental doses (20–30 mg/day) of beta-carotene or diets with high levels of carotenoid-rich food for long periods are not associated with toxicity. The most significant effect of long-term, excess beta-carotene is carotenodermia, a harmless condition in which the skin becomes yellow-orange [1,24]. This condition can be reversed by discontinuing beta-carotene ingestion.

    Supplementation with beta-carotene, with or without retinyl palmitate, for 5–8 years has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease in current and former male and female smokers and in male current and former smokers occupationally exposed to asbestos [26,40]. In the ATBC study, beta-carotene supplements (20 mg daily) were also associated with increased mortality, mainly due to lung cancer and ischemic heart disease [26]. The CARET study ended early, after the investigators found that daily beta-carotene (30 mg) and retinyl palmitate (25,000 IU) supplements increased the risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality [40].

    Source:
    https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/

    Hyperdosing on preformed A from liver or supplements does not seem to be prudent, but eating foods high in carotenoids : cooked dark leafy greens, cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, pink grapefruit and spices (paprika, cayenne) and, maybe even an occasional glass of carrot juice makes sense.

  10. Article stated “folic acid” in liver. I hope not! You mean folate. Folic acid is a cheap synthetic chemical that causes problems with an estimated 1/3+ of the population who have the genetic issue. It is added to all flour in the US, and is in most multivitamins and B vitamins. Google 5-MTHF

      • Folic acid is a synthetic B vitamin found in supplements and fortified foods. Curiously, mainstream media and government agencies use the term synonymously with folate, the natural form of multiple B vitamins commonly referred to as “vitamin B9.”

        This has led the entire nation to believe that folic acid is a naturally occurring vitamin (which it isn’t), and that it’s healthy to supplement with (which it isn’t).

        Unlike natural folates (which are directly metabolized by the small intestines), folic acid requires the assistance of a specific enzyme named “dihydrofolate reductase”, which is relatively rare in the body.
        Source:
        https://draxe.com/folate-vs-folic-acid-1-healthy-1-dangerous/

        Jims3d is correct. Research MTHFR gene which will give more insight on folate metabolism and how genes dictate the methylation process. There’s very affordable DNA testing through genealogy companies like 23andme, Family Tree DNA…or just ask your doctor to test you.

      • I agree- folic acid is synthetic. I’m assuming its folate since it’s naturally occurring. I had the same concern!

  11. I love organ meats, gelatin cuts(oxtail, bone marrow), and bone broths. I’m no longer eating a keto diet however when I did I made sure to include all parts of the animal in my diet. Eating just muscles will raise your methionine levels which can increase homocysteine and put you at a greater rick of a heart attack. See, muscle meat whether grassfed or not is high in methionine but eating organs and drinking bone broths has proline and glycine which balances your methionine. in addition to this folate(B9), choline(found in eggs and liver), and B12 lowers methionine as well. Anyone eating a keto diet needs to know this. I’m now just carb restrictive at about 125 grams a day instead of just 40 a day. However I still make sure to eat liver and drink a couple glasses of bone broth a week. If you don’t have access to quality organs and bones I recommend you eat more eggs and fish as opposed to meat.

    • Excellent post, Barry. If you have a source for your information, please pass it on. I would appreciate it. It all makes sense to me…
      My husband, has had some triangular issues with symptoms of insulin resistance increasing blood pressure and blockages in kidney arteries… he got surgery for recently.
      I have been trying to get my husband onto a keto/paleo diet because his BP spikes in the presence of carbs, and he loves meat. I have been going the fish direction and serving high quality grass-fed beef, and with my chicken bone broth in the oven overnight, just so happens. Argh! I am thankful that he is responding, but he loves his carbs. Taking his postprandial BP helps him to see the light that diet is important. He hates supplements, and this is too bad… Not sure I can get him to eat organ meats. I will try.

      • Training an adult palate to love organ meats is no small task. I’d suggest freezing liver/heat/etc and then mixing in 1/4-1/3c grated offal into 1lb of ground beef. My kids and hubs never notice. 😉

  12. It remains me of the article I read a long time ago about a person who joined Eskimos in remote location over the winter. He started to eat only the extremities of the seals – and became sick due to vitamin deficiencies. Eskimos told him “you need to eat the whole animal as the animals live in the natural environment and are not deficient in anything”. So he reluctantly started to eat all animal parts and on his return the doctor’s examination showed that his health was in perfect order. – This reminds me of my childhood living in the communist country. My parents did not want to become communists so my father was punished for that. For that reason money were not plentiful. During the communism the vegetables or fruit were non existent for at least 9 months/year except for an occasional cabbage and potatoes. I was always wondering why we were in a very good health. No wonder => my mum on a very low budget had to buy a cheep meat consisting of many animal organs. I just wonder how healthy were the communists who had enough money to buy the steaks but could not buy the vegetables/fruit anyway as there were none.
    JN

  13. Chicken liver and other meat, dairy and eggs are so good for you that vegans in study after study live longer and have less disease…

    Isn’t amazing that as Okinawans move away from Japanese yams, vegetables and fruits to more meat and processed foods that disease is increasing and life is getting shorter.

    • Richard, your statement brings up another weakness found in observational studies: there is a confluence of factors that could play a role in health and longevity. You say that “as Okinawans move away from Japanese yams, vegetables and fruits to more meat and processed foods that disease is increasing.” How do you know the determining factor is grass-fed organ meat when you yourself said that another factor was processed foods. Are they equal? Indeed, Okinawans have not only increased their intake of conventionally raised meat (i.e., unhealthy product–unlike grass-fed meat and pastured eggs) and processed foods, but have also increased their intake of whole grains. Their lifestyles have also become more sedentary. More Okinawans smoke tobacco and drink alcohol than did in the 1950’s.

      Genetics also play a role in longevity and health. Okinawans may be adapted to a diet higher in carbs and lower in fat, but it doesn’t make grass-fed beef unhealthy for all humans. Their diet and lifestyle were largely Paleo before the addition of processed foods and grains like wheat.

      • If you were truly paying for your own health care, which most are not, I would care less what lifestyle you think is right for you.
        Observational studies of large populations are not perfect nor are they advertised as perfect. However, studies of one or two components of a diet are less perfect.
        Studies of dna impact on health indicate that it is no more than 25%. You blah, blah till you are blue in the face and then try to explain to me why Japanese and Okinawans that move and consume the Western Diet reflect the same rates of disease as they age…What happen to your it is genetic????
        I have studied the area of nutrition to the point I am satisfied that nutritional research is not going to provide many better answers in my lifetime than studies of the five Blue Zones.

        • Richard, nobody here is saying that the modern western diet is healthy! Of course the Okinawans have become unhealthy if they are eating diets high in sugar, refined flours and all the rest.

          Most people in the west do no eat liver anyway. Yes, a vegetarian or pescetarian diet can be healthy, and maybe vegetarian is the most ethical choice, but you also cannot deny that liver is exceptionally high in important nutrients.

          • More is sometimes less. Overdosing or excess consumption of fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and D can be detrimental to health. The same holds true for iron, copper, carnitine and choline.

            Best bets for safely loading up on micronutrients is regularly eat cooked kale, collards, raw arugula and other greens while getting regular, safe (no burn) sunshine. In this way, you also get the antioxidants, polyphenols etc.. Chris mentioned and… lots of prebiotic fibers, healthy gut anyone?

        • Of course Okinawans get sick if they start eating a Western diet. Are you seriously that ignorant? What does a western diet even have to do with grass-fed liver? Just because you study veganism doesn’t make you a complete nutrition genius. Maybe you should go to school, get a college education, and learn how to interpret research without bias

          • Come on…… that reply was a bit harsh, don’t you think? You are stooping to his level, Now you really should apologize —– you were very rude. He was only voicing his opinion –without mentioning YOUR college education (or lack thereof).

            • I guess Obitan’s ego took over and felt the need to attack.

              The assumption that the body with all it’s intricacies is easily understood by anyone is a misconception. How ridiculous not to acknowledge how complex the human body truly is. We can talk of generalities, but have to take into account confounding complexities, such as: Family history, region, genetics, existing diseases and even how polluted the organism is at the time.

              One size does not fit all.

              Nancy Ryer RN, BSN

    • It is not that meat is so bad, it is that plant based eaters have more respect to what else they are putting in their mouths, less smokers less alcohol less drugs, less mixed fat/protein/flour/sugar as in fast foods.

      • Really? Did you get that out of a comic book? Okinawans smoke more than people in the US…
        They also drink more green tea, exercise more and sit less.

        Rather that trying to identify the one or two things that might be crucial it makes more sense to accept the whole lifestyle less the things we might have good evidence on like smoking. In another hundred years or so of research maybe science can be more specific but at this time I will look hard at the five Blue Zones and not research trying to prove details like saturated fat, dairy, meat, fish, eggs and other specifics that will remain unproven for many decades.
        The five Blue Zones have many commonalities, that is good enough for me.

        • The Blue zones are a hoax. They were carefully selected to include meat eating communities and most are myths. They have deliberately excluded various parts of the world. I personally know India has so many communities that are vegetarian (and some eat meat like once a month or on few times a year) that live way above 100 years but none are mentioned.
          There is a community of my close friend in South India where people live upto 135 years. He said very reluctantly after a lot of urging that they used to bury the old alive cause sometimes they just won’t die. They won’t be eating anything and will just lay alive motionless. The last person they buried alive was 125 year old lady some 40 years ago.
          Now nobody lives that long at the current generation are dying at 65 because they eat a lot of meat even though its only tender lamb and wild fowl but it clearly affects them This community is proof that genes don’t matter at all its the diet and the environment. They lived in pristine environments and everything grew around them until they were rediscovered again. They ran away from muslim invaders to southern parts that were remote as it had vast plains. They crossed over till they reached the mountain ranges which are inhabited from the other sitde but they never cross over.
          There are some 300+ Raw vegan communities (quite a few of them eat honey) that live long lives above 100 even these have not been included in the Bluse Zones.

    • Why are you comparing the health of vegans to that of the general population who don’t even eat offal.

      At least be intellectually honest enough to compare the health of vegans with people eating health conscious omnivorous diets that includes pasture raised offal and free range eggs.

    • Richard you are an idiot…google traditional Okinawan diet. Lots of pork…yes!!!!! I said lots of pork!!!!!!!!!..organ meat and muscles. Soooo..shut up about meat being unhealthy. Meat is what we are made of. Now their pigs aren’t raised in factory farms and their diet is varied and doesn’t consist of factory style feeds. So…I mean come on man do some reasearch before you start spitting out so bs you read on one site.

      • The scientific analysis of the Okinawan centenarians’ diets are 96% plant based, with most of the 4% of animal sourced calories as fish. Stewed pork with the fat skimmed off during a long cooking process, is served on special occasions/holidays- roughly .5 – 1% of total calories.

        Many of the centenarians, survived a very tragic war torn food shortage, when sweet potatoes were over 65% of their diet over a number of years.

  14. Hi, Chris. Thankyou for the info. I read somewhere that pregnant women must avoid eating liver. Is that so, and do you know why.

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