Liver: Nature's Most Potent Superfood | Chris Kresser

Liver: Nature’s Most Potent Superfood

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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

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    • I had anemia really bad, and my doctor suggested IV’s I was suffering so bad heart palpitations, shortness of breath , and wheezing. I suffered for eight months taking iron supplements. I got on iron IV’s the fourth one my symptoms disappeared but an reaction to the iron ! My doctor took me off the IV’s right away, so now I’m the iron supplement works great
      I read liver and onion every day will cure anemia in 5 to 7 days, good idea to take B-12 and folic acid

  1. I HATE LIVER but…

    I have M.S. and recently had an accident where I suffered a serious concussion. I was in the hospital for a month and was told to expect a long and complex recovery. When I got home I started researching what foods/supplements would be the best for ‘healing my brain”. I went through what seemed like hundreds of sites promoting hundreds more products and supplements… after narrowing down the most helpful vitamins and minerals I started looking for natural food sources. And the no.1 winner was (by a long shot)…
    BEEF LIVER!
    I was horrified – because I HATE liver.

    I went to the local grocery store and bought the only liver they had. I tried cooking it in a variety of ways – YUCH YUCH YUCH

    Finally, I diced it and cooked it in a bit of oil with some onions
    I then separated it into small baggies and stuck them in my freezer.

    Now, whenever I cook with ground beef, I add a handful of liver.
    Also being a BIG Smoothie fan, when I make soup, I take a cup of the broth, a handful of fresh vegetables and a baggie of my LIVER – throw it in my Nutribullet for 30sec and pour it back into my soup pot – and voila – nice thick soup – NO LIVER TASTE and all the benefits!! and it is delicious!! Kids love it!

    Now we eat liver several times a week.
    YUMMMM!

    • Best way to cook beef liver:
      Slice it into slabs 20mm thick, sprinkle w/ salt & pepper, broil (turbo broil 240•C for 10 mins each side). Slice into 10 mm strips. Dip: apple cider vinegar w/ salt & diced garlic. Good w/ beer, spirits or wine!

    • I have RSD another devastating nerve disease.
      Liver has been suggested to me on many occasions.
      I now crave liver it’s wonderful the recipe is posted sorry for typos I didn’t have glasses handy.

    • I’ve never been a fan of beef liver, but I recently started trying calf liver, which has a milder taste in my opinion. My favorite way to prepare it is to fry some bacon in a skillet until partially cooked. To the bacon I add some onion, a sprinkle of basil, and a shake of crushed red pepper. I lay a slice (4 oz.) of calf liver over the frying bacon and let it cook for several minutes. Then I flip it over and cook until done, moving the bacon to the side if need be so that it is thoroughly cooked. Once on my plate I add a dollop of sour cream to the top.

  2. I know you talk about taking liver pills. My liver arrives frozen. Is it ok to let it thaw, cut it, then freeze it again to take in pills? Raw the whole time.
    Thank you!

  3. What is the best way to consume liver to receive optimal nutritional value? By this I mean raw vs. cooked vs. freeze dried?

    Thank you!

  4. I have become an organ meat eater of beef (of late), along with my usual Pink Salmon. I follow Nora Gedgaudas’s suggestion to limit protein to abut 40g daily.

    Then suddenly I was hit with gout. It is the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. I could not think why I would endure such a plague on primal. I’ve been primal most of my life (if Atkins and D’Adamo O Blood can be called Primal, but seriously Ketogenic Primal three years now. After much pondering and checking out my ailing toe region I realised I had a few bumps that always seemed to give me problems and one area on the outside of my big left toe that has always been callused and which could not be shorn down by sanding or by cleansing an oiling. It seems to be overgrown bone growth. My feet are otherwise callus free, soft and well cushioned.
    Then I realised that I had gone off my Vitamin C and other Vitamins and Minerals for a number of months. I grow weary of regime at times and I thought my new understandings and programme in diet were enough. I then realised or at least I suspect that my Vitamin/mineral programme was a minimalist health routine that had possibly only keeping my tendency (genetic predilection) to gout at low intensity. That foot especially has often had an ache about it to which I have grown custom and has been easy enough to ignore.

    I am now back on my Vit-Mineral routine, and after buying Carolyn Dean’s book, “The Magnesium Miracle”, third edition, I am adding another routine to my health. I now take daily soaks in her baking soda-magnesium protocol and have added baking soda to my health drink (and Vitamin C back) of magnesium, borax, Xylitol and wet Celtic sea salt.

    Also, sleeping with my feet raised on an old leather chesterfield cushion has helped immensely. This last edition was just a thought to the possibility that my circulation is not as good at the extremities as I had thought. This is the next area of my protocol to health that I must venture to study. But maybe the oxygenation of the body with Baking Soda proposed by by Dean and Sircus and primal sites will be enough. I am just into Dr Dean’s book. Time will tell.
    Namaste and care,
    mhikl

    • The gout is from a highly acidic body.. Do what you can to bring it to a more alkaline state.. too much meat without enough raw fruits and veges will surely create acidity.. this is what gout is..

        • Marcia, yes I’m sure enough of it can as it is acid.. All someone has to do for gout is to get more ph balanced and just stick to alkaline forming foods for a bit and it will go away, along with many other pains and skin issues..

          • According to Chris, the notion that eating acidic foods affects the body’s acid-alkaline balance is a myth:

            http://chriskresser.com/the-ph-myth-part-1
            http://chriskresser.com/the-acid-alkaline-myth-part-2

            The basic idea is that the acid-alkaline balance of what we eat has little or no bearing on the balance in our blood and tissues. Our bodies have regulating mechanisms to ensure the proper balance.

            With gout, this and other regulating mechanisms may be broken. The solution is to fix these regulating mechanisms, not to eat alkaline foods.

            • I have learned NOT to listen to EVERYTHING that one person says.. While Chris is right about a lot, I don’t think he knows everything nor does any other person that preaches certain health and diet.. I go from my own experience and I found that when I ate meat every day my body got highly acidic.. I don’t go by testing I go by symptoms and the way I felt.. as soon as I stopped the meat and went to all veges my ph changed and all my symptoms went away.. It is true that you can change your ph balance in your body by diet.. I don’t know what planet that information that it cannot came from but it is NOT true.. The body fed a diet of highly acidic foods will indeed become overly acidic.. aches and pains, clogged lymph, failing kidneys are all signs of being highly acidic.. I could go on but don’t feel like it..

              • Gout is uric acid buildup which mostly affects the joints. I have never seen anything that says acidic foods change the ph of the whole body.

            • Gout used to be called the rich man’s disease because eating too much red meat and red wine triggered flareups. Gout is a type of arthritis and is caused from a uric acid buildup. The buildup can be so bad the acid forms crystals in the joints and causes a lot of pain. Google it and learn the advised diet when there are flareups. The diet definitely affects the symptoms.

        • Oh, wait did you mean fruit.. most if not all fruit is alkaline and it will actually cure gout eventually. I was assuming you meant processed fructose actually which is acidic. But I am not sure what you meant at this point.. I hear too many tomatoes (technically a fruit) cause gout but in general raw ones won’t but cooked will.

          • Jenn — just google fructose and gout, and you’ll pull up a lot of information.

            Fructose connected to all sorts of inflammatory disorders as well as metabolic syndrome.

            Tomatoes and other nightshades can cause arthritic and other problems in a percentage of folks due to their solanine content…

            • I think I said I agreed, but not FRUITS, fructose corn syrup and other acidic foods.. Tomatoe sauce was the cause of gout in a relative when I was younger.. it’s acidity from the sugars that causes the gout.. Acidity is the main cause of inflammation throughout the body.. Some people and some researchers never distiguish between the two differences.. I have know plenty of fruitarians and others on raw food diets mainly fruits who are nothing but healthy and no signs of gout ( which IS a form of arthritis. If some how they are linking fruit to gout then they are surely missing something else.. fruit alone won’t cause it.. people were meant/designed to eat fruit.

      • I had also hear diets that are heavy in rich creamy foods, like cream and cheese sauces, hard cheeses, too much dairy, etc. can lead to gout. and I think I heard uric acid is the culprit. Not all acidic foods put uric acid in the body. (E.g. lemons can be paired with almost anything and do not create an acidic condition in the body, and a good quality apple cider vinegar, like Bragg’s, also is acidic, but is really good for you).

        I personally think the problem is when anyone does anything in excess. At different times in my life, I have been vegan, vegetarian, raw foodie, gluten free, macrobiotic, Paleo, and then eating whatever I want. I like to experiment with nutrition and read a ton.

        I use meat more like a condiment — meaning I eat smallish portions of it and the bigger portions in my diet are plant based, and some whole grains. So I will saute red meat with veggies like garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and serve it over something like spaghetti squash, or raw zucchini shreds. I am 50 years old, look 30, and have never had any problems with my health. I also indulge occasionally on junk like pizza, or some desserts, or have a couple of margaritas on occasion. I love food and life and think food is such a big part of the joys of living.

        I think the less processed foods we eat, and if we don’t make meat the biggest portion on our plate, we can enjoy just about anything.

        I landed on this page because I am trying veal liver for the first time and I was looking for iron content…

  5. If you eat grass fed Bison/Bison liver, it has less impact on the environment and is healthier and usually tastes the same if not better than beef. Bison have different grazing habits than cattle and have a lighter impact on the land, they don’t require the pampering like cattle do, can survive harsh winters easier, and also have better defenses against predators and therefore will not give farmers as much of an incentive to kill wolves/bears/cougars etc. You will be supporting a native north american animal too. I see a future where Bison is Americas new beef, and rightly so!

    • I take 10 dessicated bison liver capsules a day and have been for 8 months. Do you know if bison liver contains more, the same or less iron than beef? …Your comments as to why bison liver is superior to beef has gotten me thinking! Bison isn’t farmed here in Australia, but now I’m thinking that I might be able to rustle up some kangaroo or emu liver! …I’ll have to talk to my butcher about that!

  6. I appreciate you spreading the word on the value of organ meat! Ever since I starting eating organ meat, especially liver and beef heart, I have never felt so good. I have so much more energy and I sleep better when I eat beef heart. As a caveat, I notice that I can only eat liver for breakfast or lunch. Eating during or post dinner, leaves with too much energy to sleep. I am not sure why but just expressing my experience.

  7. I happen to really enjoy the taste of liver. I’ve been cooking it stovetop in some oil and eating it plain with salt and lots of fat (like most other meats, due to highly individualized SCD/SIBO/FODMAP diet).

    My question: How much liver is too much?? Per day/week?

    I’ve read no more than a pound a week. But what about per day? I’ve been eating around an ounce a day.

    Thanks!

    • I’m no expert but I do eat nearly a kilo of beef liver a week and I haven’t turned orange, yet. It, along with heart make up most of my protein intake (about 180 grams protein a day). I just love them both so much I converse with them.
      If your skin starts to turn a funny orange colour, then I might suggest you cut back. 🙂 Seriously, such skin colour change is an indication that you might let it rest a while and should only be a concern if you don’t heed the warning signs. I actually did read this bit of info a long, long while ago; so my understanding my be out of whack.
      Namaste and care,
      Michael

  8. I totally agree and teach this in my classes. I was also very sick and my chicken liver paté and cooked dark leafy greens were a big part of my recovery diet. I hate the taste and texture of liver so I had to make it palatable. I made it taste like sausage or liverwurst with lots of spices- esp sage, and blended it super smooth in a vitamix. My recipe is available in my book: The Whole-food Guide to Overcoming Irritable Bowel Syndrome at New Harbinger Press. Try it and you may just enjoy liver.

  9. The idea of eating liver regularly seems “out there” now, but I believe I remember when I was on Weight Watchers in 1975, they recommended 1 serving of liver per week. Interesting!

  10. I can’t find organic liver, or liver that’s pasture raised without hormones, antibiotics or commercial feed. Whole foods doesn’t have it, and none of the other health food stores around here. Where can I get it?

  11. I’ve been listening to the educational videos of Dr. Robert Morse, ND, and following his fasting protocols and have switched to mostly raw fruits and raw or steamed veggies. However, the human’s brain is large and his gut small in proportion to apes and that seems to demand a nutrient dense diet (esp. lipids). Apes will occasionally eat meat and perhaps they too prefer the organs and gut contents. Male Orangutans will bulk up on ripe fruits and tender greens, roots, and insects. Liver is nutrient dense and I have felt more energetic when I eat it occasionally and am only debating with myself whether it is more assimilable raw (in a smoothie?) or softly cooked. Liver On!

  12. Does boiling liver cause it to lose any nutritional value? I like how it keeps the liver moist and soft, but also gets it done….without me having to watch it closely. Halfway through or so I will drain the water since blood boils out of it, add more water to the pot, then finish boiling. When it’s done, I sometimes like to add a bit of some sort of fat and sea salt.

  13. I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian until 2010(also ate tofu and other soy products everyday). Began eating fish(salmon, sardines)because I heard how good n-3 is for mood disorders(I have rapid cycling bipolar + am hypothyoid). I think Ray Peat is correct regarding excess n-3. My health has gotten worse since then. Now, rarely eat salmon, but I CRAVE liver. My wife was and still is a vegetarian and is so sensitive about eating meat or animal organs,though she wasn’t always a vegetarian.

    When she was away for a week, I bought plain old regular beef liver in Safeway, lightly cooked in olive oil, with garlic, oregano and sea salt. Loved it!!! Even our cats ate some(before spicing). My dad and I ate liver all the time. I’m not knocking being a vegetarian or vegan but for me, it might have led to many physical problems.

  14. Timely article for me as I just ordered some beef from a local rancher who is totally into grass fed/finished beef and ecological responsibility. I’m splitting my order with someone who does NOT want any organ meat because of her belief that they are the “filters” of noxious elements. Glad to see that topic approached in your article. I’m taking the organs, and make myself liver whenever my husband is out of town (he won’t touch it). Last time I made liver dumplings with my leftovers and froze them. One of my favorite lunches is a few of the dumplings in beef stock with spinach. For those that hate liver, they just taste like meatballs. BTW the Weston Price link in the article is a bad link–they must have moved their recipes elsewhere.

  15. I have hemochromatosis. Would somebody address this issue in regards to the consumption of cooked liver?

  16. Start with coconut oil in the pan.
    Add some curry and herbs de provence. (Me? I like alot of both)
    One bunch of green onions.
    One small yellow onion.
    1/2 stick of rhubarb.
    Cook it altogether hard for a few moments, then put on low simmer for a few minutes.
    That was it.

    AND DON’T FORGET THE LIVER 😉

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