By Beth Martin, NTP
Not many people *want* to eat liver. I get it. There are nutrient dense foods that taste delicious, like salmon. And there are nutrient dense foods that have a decent reputation, like kale. And then there’s liver.
Despite its unpopularity, I am all about getting people to eat liver. Because it’s just that beneficial to our health. It’s one of my favorite first foods for babies, and it is an excellent fertility food. While it’s great for those trying to conceive, pregnant women, and growing infants and children, liver is one of the most nutrient rich foods for everyone. I make sure my family gets a bit of it each week, and have come up with several ways to consume it that don’t make us cringe.
But first, let’s talk about why you would even want to eat liver in the first place.
Reasons to Eat Liver
To put it simply, liver is a nutrient powerhouse. It’s probably the most nutrient dense food per serving. It’s great for fertility, growth and development, and an excellent food for boosting energy. And who doesn’t need more energy? Right.
If this satisfies your curiosity, skip on down to my suggested ways to eat liver without gagging. If not, here’s the skinny on why liver is so darn good for you. And your kiddos. And your neighbor. And even your dog.
Liver provides the largest and most varied dose of vitamins of any food. Vitamins are vital for growth, vitality and health. Because most vitamins cannot be made in the body, we must get them from food sources. I’ve seen liver referred to as ‘nature’s multivitamin’, and for good reason:
- It is the richest source of vitamin A, the catalyst of many, many biochemical processes. In fact, the body is unable to use protein, minerals, or water-soluble vitamins without vitamin A. Animal products contain vitamin A (retinol), versus the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, which is in plant sources. Many people, including infants and children, have a difficult time converting beta-carotene to retinol in the small intestine; only retinol can kick off the many processes that the body relies on for optimal health. Beta-carotene is important as an antioxidant, but it is not a reliable source of Vitamin A.
- We need vitamin D for growth and bone and teeth health, vitamin E for deactivating free radicals, circulation, and healing, and vitamin K for blood clotting and bone formation. And guess what – liver’s got ’em all, and a lot of them. Eating natural sources of fat-soluble vitamins, rather than supplementing with synthetic ones, helps to ensure that the ratios we consume are not toxic.
- In addition to fat-soluble vitamins, liver is a great source of all the B vitamins, including both B12 and naturally occurring folate (B9). B12, which the body can not make and must be obtained from animal sources, is crucial to fertility, growth and development, energy, and mental health. Folate is important for fertility and fetal health, and obtaining it from food sources is one way to avoid synthetic B9, folic acid, which has been linked to cancer. Liver is also the best source of choline, which is a water soluble nutrient often grouped with B vitamins. It is required for almost all basic body functions, including fetal development of the brain and nervous system, building cellular structures, and detoxification.
- To round out the vitamin talk, liver contains more vitamin C than apples or carrots, and is one of the best sources of the heart-healthy antioxident CoQ10, sometimes referred to as ‘vitamin Q’ because it is quite similar to a vitamin.
And Protein and Minerals, Too
Proteins are the building blocks of the body, and liver is an excellent source of high-quality protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. Protein is important for more reasons than can be listed, but did you know adequate protein is required for lactating moms to produce breastmilk? It’s not hard to understand why liver is a traditional fertility food in many cultures.
Liver is an excellent source of easily-digestible iron, as well as zinc. Both of these minerals are important for infants once they reach six months of age. I talk about why heme (animal) iron specifically is important for infants (and really, everyone), in my article about rethinking rice cereal. Liver is the best food source of copper, which is important for maintaining adequate magnesium levels in the blood.
But Doesn’t Liver Contain Toxins?
One objection to eating liver is that it is full of toxins. The liver performs many functions (over 500 of them!), and yes, one is detoxification. It works to neutralize toxins and send them out of the body through elimination pathways. But toxins that the body is not able to eliminate are not stored in the liver – they are most often stored in fatty tissue. What is stored in the liver are all the amazing nutrients I mentioned above, which allow it to perform it’s 500+ functions, day in and day out.
Tasty Ways to Eat Liver
So now that we know many of the benefits of liver, let’s talk about how to actually eat it. Because liver is so nutrient dense, a lot goes a long way. You do not need to eat it multiple times a week (though feel free to) or have a giant plate of liver and onions to achieve the benefits. A quarter pound per week is a great goal, but any liver is better than no liver. For infants and small children, it’s suggested not to exceed more than one ounce every other day.
Start with Chicken Liver
If you are a big fan of a different source of liver, or have easier access to quality liver from another animal, by all means go for it. For my family, I choose chicken liver mostly out of convenience and taste.
- Chicken liver has the mildest taste of the various livers I have tried. I find it easier to eat than beef liver, and significantly easier to eat than pork liver (which I will likely never try again). Also, chicken livers are small and not intimidating to cook.
- Thanks to our current distaste for organ meats, liver is often inexpensive. I’m able to find organic chicken liver more easily than beef, and it’s rarely more than $3.50 per pound. It’s one way you can feed your family high quality, nutrient dense food on a budget. You can find organic and pastured (the best of the best) through a local farmer or at grasslandbeef.com.
- While it is difficult to get vitamin A toxicity from food sources, if you are concerned, poultry liver is lower in vitamin A and the risks of toxicity are even lower.
My two favorite ways to eat liver are as a pate or mixed in with one of our favorite ground meat meals.
Chicken Liver Pate
Liver pate is my favorite way to eat chicken liver. I make this recipe every few weeks, and I snack on a tablespoon or two a few afternoons a week, usually on rice crackers or with sliced raw veggies. Pate is liver combined with fat (I use grass-fed butter), plus seasonings. All the amazing fat-soluble vitamins available in liver are consumed with a good dose of healthy fat to ensure they are assimilated and put to good use. It’s the perfect synergy, and tasty thanks to butter, salt, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice.
Liver taste rating: 5
(My very scientific liver tasting rating scale is a scale of 0-10, in which plain liver (say sautéed with onions) rates a 10 for tasting like liver.)
50/50 Chicken Liver and Ground Meat
Because chicken liver is quite mild, it’s very easy to mix into your favorite ground meat recipes. I double recipes that use one pound of ground meat and do half ground muscle meat (usually beef) and half chicken liver. This works well in any dish that is heavy in seasoning, like chili, tacos, shepherds pie, and meat sauce. If you use beef liver, I suggest a 2:1 ratio between ground beef and beef liver as it’s much stronger tasting.
To grind chicken liver, I use either a grinder on my stand mixer or a food processor (good for small amounts). If you purchase your liver in store, ask to have it ground for you and save yourself a few dirty dishes.
Liver taste rating: 2
Or Try These Convenient Options for Adding Liver
If you aren’t interested in sourcing quality liver and cooking it, there are still ways to add liver to your diet. You’ll pay for the convenience, so they aren’t as economical, but they are just as beneficial to your health.
Beef Liver Bites
Beef Liver Bites are probably the most expensive way to consume liver. However, they are one of the most convenient. There’s no need to source quality liver, grind it, cook it, etc. The bites are small pieces of jerky, and very easy to snack on here and there. They are a great option for traveling or for someone who doesn’t want to cook liver. Because the bites are made with beef liver, they have a stronger liver taste. They are a seasonal product and can be found at www.epicbar.com when available.
Liver taste rating: 6
Desiccated Liver Pills
For those who really don’t want to eat liver, desiccated liver pills are a great option. These pills are powdered beef liver in a capsule. There is a slight taste, but since you swallow them as you would swallow any capsule, it’s short lived. I like the pills from both Perfect Supplements and Vital Proteins. Both are made with 100% grass-fed beef and available for online purchase.
Liver taste rating: 3
About the Author
Beth Martin is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), the owner of Small Bites Wellness, and a Feed Your Fertile BodyTM instructor. She is passionate about nutrition and wellness for moms and children and believes that ANY change you make in the pursuit of your health, or your child’s, is worthy. Health is a journey, not a destination.