Liver. Not exactly known for being the tastiest of foods, it’s still something that’s been on the dinner table for thousands of years. And recently, in our realm of traditional, alternative nutritional standards, has developed a bit of a cult following. We real food people are all about it these days, and for good reason.
But invariably, whenever I see liver mentioned on a real food blog or Facebook page, including when I talk about it, I always see a comment from someone saying this:
“Liver is dirty! That’s where all the toxins are stored!”
The idea that liver shouldn’t be eaten because it’s a detoxifying organ and is filled with junk, is a very commonly-held belief these days. Many people actually think it’s dangerous to eat liver.
I think this could be one of the reasons why we all stopped eating it. Not very long ago, it was customary–even in America!—to eat liver at least once a week. Ask your grandmother! I bet she was served liver and onions in her home growing up.
Thankfully, many old traditions surrounding our diet are being revived — we’re learning that eating natural, whole foods like butter, bacon, and eggs really isn’t bad for us, in spite of advice from some mainstream medical professionals stuck in the 80s who haven’t yet gotten the memo.
Should You Eat Liver?
Modern nutritionists will tell you that liver should be avoided because it’s high in a substance they always advise against—cholesterol. But we know that’s not something to worry about. Cholesterol is healthy and serves very important purposes in your body. And there are some who warn about liver being too high in vitamin A.
But by far the most common misconception about eating liver that people are worried about is this myth: because it is a detoxifying organ, liver acts like a filter, trapping all the toxins in your body.
This is not accurate at all.
It IS true that liver is a “detox” organ. But it’s NOT true that liver is where the toxins are stored.
Wanna know what liver does store? A veritable motherlode of critical vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants — like vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, folate, copper, and iron. These nutrients are what helps the liver to get rid of the toxins in the body — not trap them inside. The liver is able to neutralize chemical agents and poisonous toxins we encounter every day, so your body’s natural detoxifying system can get rid of them.
Why Liver Needs to Be Grass-Fed
Just like humans, for a cow or chicken, those everyday toxins include whatever the animal is exposed to in their food. If that animal is eating a healthy, natural diet, their liver isn’t going to be encountering very many toxins at all.
But if the cow or chicken is being fed pesticide-laden, genetically-modified corn and soy feed, animal waste, drugs and antibiotics, and other nasty things — their poor, exhausted livers are working overtime trying to neutralize it all, and just can’t keep up. They may have plenty of those poisonous things stuck inside at the time of slaughter.
While I’m sure liver from factory-farmed animals still has significant nutritional value, I am not convinced it outweighs the toxins that are sure to be present in it.
But a grass-fed animal raised on pasture? Their livers are full of all those nutrients, without a big load of toxins, and are very healthy to eat. The animals themselves are healthy, because they’re eating a biologically-appropriate diet and are kept in a natural environment — not knee-deep in their own feces in a concrete cage like those in a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). Grass-fed livers are clean, healthy, and packed with nutrition.
Don’t have access to grass-fed liver? You can get desiccated (dehydrated) grass-fed liver in powder or capsule form from a trusted source I highly recommend here.
Health Benefits of Eating Liver
Many of the nutrients found in liver can’t be found anywhere else in such high amounts. Liver actually contains, gram-for-gram, more nutrients than any other food! It’s a truly potent nutritional powerhouse. Here are just some of the benefits liver boasts.
- Nature’s most-concentrated source of vitamin A and B12, and rich in all other B vitamins
- Great source of folate (folic acid is the synthetic stuff found in vitamin pills)
- Rich in copper, zinc, and chromium
- Co-Q10 for heart health and antioxidant benefits
- High-quality protein
- Contains an “anti-fatigue” factor scientists have discovered
- High in purines, which are nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as a precursor to the formation of DNA and RNA
You can learn more about the health benefits of eating liver here.
What about vitamin A toxicity?
There are some concerns with overdosing on vitamin A, plenty of which is found in liver. But, these concerns all originate from studies that showed certain doses of synthetic vitamin A caused health problems and even contributed to birth defects.
Naturally-occurring vitamin A, like the kind found in liver and other natural foods, has not been shown to cause problems except in extremely large amounts. It was reported in the Merck Manual that arctic explorers who ingested several million units of vitamin A from seal and polar bear liver.
But even then, the symptoms were mild—like drowsiness, headaches, joint pain, and vomiting—the kind that go away relatively quickly on their own after stopping consumption of the food that caused them. And unless you’re an arctic explorer subsisting on nothing but polar bear liver, you’re very unlikely to experience those symptoms from getting too much vitamin A.
Even toxicity from synthetic vitamin A is hard to come by. You’d have to take over 100,000 IU for many months to get to the point of toxicity, and most people aren’t in danger of that even if they do take synthetic vitamins. Which I don’t generally recommend. Liver is the only multivitamin I need!
Safe to eat while pregnant?
Some people wonder whether or not it’s okay to eat liver during pregnancy — probably because of the information out there about the vitamin A toxicity causing birth defects.
But again, that’s only for synthetic vitamin A. Yet another reason to get your prenatal nutrition from real, whole foods — not vitamin pills! If you’re pregnant or planning to conceive, and want to learn how to optimize your diet for the health of your pregnancy and baby, check out the online nutrition course by Kristen Michaelis from Food Renegade. Right now, you can get the course (normally $199) for FREE when you pre-order the new paperback book, Beautiful Babies.
Liver is a superfood for pregnant women, and should definitely be included in both a preconception and prenatal diet, as well as for nursing mothers. The vitamins found in liver are critical for a developing baby. A 3-4 ounce serving of liver from grass-fed beef, lamb, bison, or duck, one to two times a week, is recommended. A serving provides about 50,000 IU of vitamin A. You can eat chicken liver, which contains less vitamin A, more frequently.
As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t have access to farm-fresh, grass-fed liver, I recommend taking desiccated grass-fed liver available here.
Do you eat liver?
Tell us about your experiences with this weird and slimy, but ultra-nutritious food. How do you eat it, and why?