Organ meats, including liver, are considered one of nature’s most powerful superfoods. Why exactly is liver good for you? Liver— including beef liver, chicken liver and duck liver — is very high in many essential nutrients. This usually surprises people, since an animal’s organs — including the liver, spleen, brain and kidneys — are usually discarded in favor of muscle meat.
When we typically think of superfoods, we think of things like green leafy vegetables, berries from the Amazon, cocoa, green tea or and other plant foods. However, certain animal foods are also highly valuable due to their rich nutrient content, especially organ meats (also called offal), which is exactly why they have been included in traditional diets for thousands of years.
The University of California’s Berkeley Wellness website states, “Ounce for ounce, liver is probably more nutritious than any other food.” Even though you may never have thought of liver as being on par with foods like fruits and veggies, so why liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, packed with vitamin A, iron, B vitamins (especially B12) and much more.
So, indeed, the answer to the question is liver good for you is a resounding yes, as it’s been shown to help prevent anemia, support fertility, aid detoxification and more.
9 Benefits of Eating Liver
Liver is an organ found in the abdominal cavity of both humans and many animals, specifically all vertebrates. Chicken liver and beef/calf liver are the two most widely available types of liver in many countries. Throughout history, people living all over the world have highly regarded organ meats, such as liver, for helping with fertility, growth and development, maintaining high energy levels, mental health, and more.
Not only does liver provide a very high dose of iron and vitamin A, but it’s also one of the best sources of many B vitamins, phosphorous and magnesium. In fact, liver is hands down your greatest source of vitamin B12. If you compare the overall nutrient density of liver to other healthy foods like spinach, carrots or apples, liver outperforms all of them due to how many vitamins and minerals it packs per calorie. However, the key to getting all of these benefits from liver is consuming the right kind: liver derived from organic, grass-fed or pasture-raised animals. I recommend that you avoid eating the organs of animals who were not free-range and appropriately fed.
Below is more about some of the main benefits of eating liver:
1. Loaded with Vitamin B12
The No. 1 benefit of consuming liver is that it’s very high in vitamin B12. We know that vitamin B12 benefits red blood cell formation and improves cellular function. Eating foods that are high in vitamin B12 helps prevent prevent B12 deficiency, which can cause symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, brain fog and mood changes. We also need vitamin B12 for nervous system function, supporting our metabolism and for brain health.
2. Great Source of Active Vitamin A
Liver is one of nature’s most concentrated sources of vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts like an antioxidant, helping reduce inflammation through fighting free radical damage. It’s needed for vision and eye health, skin health, thyroid health, building strong bones, regulating gene regulation, facilitating cell differentiation, and supporting immune function.
What’s important about the vitamin A found in liver is that it’s the active form (also called retinol), which only comes from animal-derived foods. Active, or preformed, vitamin A can be used directly by the body and does not need to first be converted like plant-based vitamin A (called carotenoids).
3. Very High in Iron, Helping with Anemia Prevention
If you struggle with any type of anemia, which is often tied to iron deficiency, then liver is one of the best foods to consume. It contains a powerful combination of folate, iron and vitamin B12. These are three vitamins and minerals you need in order to overcome anemia naturally and prevent or treat symptoms like low energy, fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles or neurological issues. Menstruating females, pregnant women, nursing mothers and vegetarians/vegans should be especially careful to get enough iron from their diets.
4. High in Vitamin B6, Biotin and Folate
In addition to vitamin B12, liver is high in vitamin B6, biotin and folate. These B vitamins, especially folate, help your body with something called methylation as well as cellular function. An important folate-dependent reaction in the body is the conversion of the methylation of deoxyuridylate to thymidylate in the formation of DNA, which is required for proper cell division.When this process is impaired, this initiates megaloblastic anemia, one of the hallmarks of folate deficiency.
Liver also supplies smaller amounts of nutrients, including copper, zinc, chromium and selenium, which have far-reaching benefits for your metabolism, central nervous system and endocrine systems.
5. Great Food for Fertility and During Pregnancy
Liver is practically the perfect food for pregnancy, providing protein, B12, iron, folate and other key nutrients for reproductive health and fetal development. Pregnant women, or women who are nursing, need even more B12 than normal to help with growth and development of their babies, including the brain and organs. Folate is also especially important during pregnancy because it helps prevent birth defects. Folate (the natural form, as opposed to synthetic folic acid) aids in prevention of neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord.
Pregnant women are at higher risk of iron deficiency due to the increase of iron demand, making iron-rich foods essential since iron plays a role in the transfer of oxygen to tissues, including the placenta. Liver and other grass-fed organ meats are also a good source of protein during pregnancy. Pregnant women should aim to eat at least three servings, or 75 grams, of protein per day.
Liver also provides activated vitamin A for pregnant women that helps with reducing oxidative stress. The Baby Center website states that for pregnant women over the age of 19, “The USDA recommends getting no more than 10,000 IU of preformed vitamin A from supplements, animal sources, and fortified foods – combined – each day,” so it’s best to consume liver in small amounts only several times weekly.
6. Helps with Detoxification and Supporting Liver Function
One of the questions I often get asked is, “Isn’t your liver toxic; doesn’t your liver deal with toxins?’’ Actually, toxins are cleaned by your liver, but they are not stored in your liver. Your liver helps filter waste and toxins from your blood so they can be removed from your body, but it requires essential nutrients to work properly. Your liver is also responsible for metabolizing drugs, hormones and medications, plus helping make proteins that are needed for blood clotting.
B vitamins that are found in liver, especially folate, help with cellular functions, so they help support your body’s detoxification pathways. This means that consuming liver actually helps your own liver function better. In fact, consuming liver is actually an effective liver cleanse, especially when it’s part of an overall healthy diet, because it provides your body and liver with all the nutrients you need in order to eliminate waste from your system.
7. Good Source of Protein
Eating between one to three ounces of liver provides about seven to 21 grams of quality protein. The macronutrient protein helps with dozens of functions in the body, including maintenance of muscle mass, which is especially important as we age. We also need enough protein to help with tissue repair, recovery from exercise, for growth and development during childhood, for controlling our appetite, producing hormones, forming our skin and hair, and for many more bodily processes.
8. Plays a Prominent Role in Disease-Fighting Gerson Therapy
Liver has actually been used extensively by doctors of natural medicine for years. In fact, German scientist Dr. Max Gerson created something called the Gerson Protocol, or Gerson Therapy, that involved the use of liver. Gerson Therapy was a natural cancer treatment protocol that was used for every type of disease as well as digestive disorders, tuberculosis and heart disease.
Gerson had his patients drink 13 glasses of vegetable juice a day, eat raw veggies, and have beef liver or liver juice (he also recommended performing coffee enema). Beef liver was part of his primary protocol in helping his patients heal due to how many important vitamins and minerals it provides. According to the Gerson Institute, Gerson Therapy helps regenerate health by supporting metabolic functions, reducing oxygen deficiency in the blood, and supporting the thyroid by increasing antioxidant intake and cutting out heavy animal fats, excess protein, sodium and other toxins.
9. Provides CoQ10
Both beef liver and beef heart have been found to be rich sources of CoQ10.
CoQ10, which is often taken in supplement form, is found in the greatest concentration in the mitochondria of cells, also called the cell’s “powerhouse” because it helps produce energy. CoQ10 is associated with cardiovascular health, improved blood pressure and vascular health, improvements in sperm and egg quality, enhanced endurance, reduced inflammation, and much more. Animals’ organs are where the greatest supply of CoQ10 can be found, although muscle meat and even some plant foods also contain smaller amounts.
Since our CoQ10 supplies decrease with age, eating liver and other organ meats is a great way to keep your levels up, helping decrease the effects of free radical damage and stress.
Types of Liver to Eat
Livers from different animals were believed to have somewhat different properties, although for the most part liver from various animals provide similar nutritional benefits. Below are different types of edible livers that you can look for in grocery stores, at farmer’s markets, at local butcher’s shops or even online:
- Chicken liver — Chicken liverhas the mildest taste of most livers, so it’s a good choice for organ meat “beginners.” It’s the type of liver used in most liver spreads and recipes served at restaurants or prepared at home. Chicken liver has more fat, folate and iron than beef liver.
- Beef/calf liver — Compared to chicken liver, beef livercontains a bit more calories, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin A, zinc and phosphorus. Many people find that beef liver doesn’t quite taste as appealing as chicken liver. You can find beef liver at some farmer’s markets, but if possible it’s best to purchase calf liver over liver from adult cows, since this reduces the chance that you’ll consume hormones and antibiotics given to cows.
- Fish liver (such as cod liver, or cod liver oil) — Cod liver is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D.
- If you can find them, you can also try mutton liver, lamb liver, goat liver, duck liver or goose liver. Your best bet for finding these types of livers is asking your local butcher, or if you’re a hunter, then gathering and preparing the liver yourself.
- I don’t, however, recommend eating pork liver, due to how pork products tend to come from unhealthy/dirty pigs. Pigs are typically are raised in factory-farm conditions and treated with hormones or other chemicals.
Liver Nutrition Facts
Liver from different animal sources will provide varying levels of micronutrients. According to the USDA, one ounce of cooked chicken liver contains about:
- 49 calories
- 7 grams protein
- 2 grams of fat
- 6 micrograms vitamin B12 (79 percent DV)
- 4,076 international units vitamin A (75 percent DV)
- 162 micrograms folate (40 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligram vitamin B2/riboflavin (33 percent DV)
- 23 milligrams selenium (33 percent DV)
- 1.9 milligrams vitamin B5/pantothenic Aaid (19 percent)
- 3.6 milligrams iron (18 percent DV)
- 3.9 milligrams vitamin B3/niacin (15 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (11 percent DV)
- 125 milligrams phosphorus (11 percent DV)
Are you curious about whether liver is fattening, and if so, is the fat content something to worry about? Liver is overall not very high in fat when compared to other animal products, such as beef, butter, dark meat poultry or full-fat dairy. One ounce of liver only has about two grams of fat.
This is not to suggest that fat from quality animal products is bad for you. Getting some saturated fat from animal foods can actually be very healthy. Healthy fats help with neurological function, hormone production and reproductive health, for example. In certain animal studies, adding chicken liver to rats’ diets has been shown to help alleviate oxidative stress and improve serum lipid profile, despite the rats being fed a high-fat diet.