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Is it Safe to Eat Liver? Doesn’t it Store Toxins? (Plus Favorite Blogger Liver Recipes!)

Recently a close friend said she used to LOVE liver and onions, but stopped eating it years ago after hearing that it’s not safe, because it’s the organ that filters toxins from our bodies and we are then ingesting those toxins.

How sad!  Not only because that’s not even true, but also, anyone who is lucky enough to love it should eat this superfood as much as possible!

So what makes liver so wonderful?

Quite simply, it contains more nutrients, gram for gram, than any other food. In summary, liver provides:

  • An excellent source of high-quality protein
  • Nature’s most concentrated source of vitamin A
  • All the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12
  • One of our best sources of folic acid
  • A highly usable form of iron
  • Trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium; liver is our best source of copper
  • An unidentified anti-fatigue factor
  • CoQ10, a nutrient that is especially important for cardio-vascular function
  • A good source of purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA.

Is liver dangerous?

In spite of widespread tradition and abundant scientific evidence on the health benefits of liver, conventional nutritionists and government agencies now warn against its consumption. The putative dangers of eating liver stem from two concerns–the assumption that liver contains many toxins and the high level of vitamin A that it provides.

One of the roles of the liver is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons); but the liver does not store toxins. Poisonous compounds that the body cannot neutralize and eliminate are likely to lodge in the fatty tissues and the nervous system. The liver is not a storage organ for toxins but it 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.

Of course, we should consume liver from healthy animals–cattle, lamb, buffalo, hogs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. The best choice is liver from animals that spend their lives outdoors and on pasture. If such a premier food is not available, the next choice is organic chicken, beef and calves liver. If supermarket liver is your only option, the best choice is calves liver, as in the U.S. beef cattle do spend their first months on pasture. Beef liver is more problematical as beef cattle are finished in feed lots. Livers from conventionally raised chicken and hogs are not recommended.

As for concerns about vitamin A, these stem from studies in which moderate doses of synthetic vitamin A were found to cause problems and even contribute to birth defects. But natural vitamin A found in liver is an extremely important nutrient for human health and does not cause problems except in extremely large amounts.

Source

What if you’re NOT lucky enough to love it, though?

Well you could try this recipe where my family ate it and had no clue:  I ate liver and loved it, oh yes I did! 

But we don’t eat that recipe or any liver recipes like we should, soooooooo…

We make sure to get in loads of fermented cod liver oil and dessicated liver capsules.  (Here’s where you can buy good brands of both.)  This is very important, especially if you’re not eating liver a couple times a week.

Someone asked in the comments “how much is ‘loads’?” 

Here is my post with information on cod liver oil amounts to take.  Our problem around here is remembering to be consistent.  For the liver caps, just take whatever it recommends on the bottle.  But remember that with both of these, they are not pharmaceuticals, they are food supplements, so taking more isn’t going to hurt you, and it’s actually good to get in more if you’re sick or trying to heal from something.

I thought I’d share more recipes with you from the Real Food Media bloggers:

Add your favorite liver tricks, tips or recipes in the comments!

Photo at right from Nourished Kitchen, photo at top from Food Renegade.

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Comments

  1. says

    I still don’t love liver, but I eat it somewhat regularly for all the reasons you mentioned. I will also add that in Scandinavia, pork liver is also consumed, in the form of pate. It’s pretty good! Actually, pate is a great way to get in liver if you’re not too thrilled with the taste on its own.

  2. liver lover says

    hi kelly, i have a question regarding the recommendation to eat liver a couple of times a week. i wonder where, traditionally, we would have gotten that much liver. after all, there is only 1 per animal.

    • KitchenKop says

      Good question! I’m just going by the recommendation in the WAPF article I linked to above. But remember that you’re not eating a *whole* liver once-twice a week, just a serving.

      Kelly

      • says

        @Liver Lover, that is a good question, and I agree with Kelly: you’re only eating a serving. We butcher many animals many times a month and from one beef, the liver is sliced into pieces and packaged into about one pound packages. This gives us plenty of liver to go around for us and our customers. Livers on a beef are huge! My recommendation is find a farmer in your area growing grass-fed animals; they should have plenty on hand at all times.

  3. says

    I never ate liver growing up, so it took some adjustments to be able to eat it. I found that pastured chicken livers are so much more mild than conventional, and onions really do help.

    My current way of eating them is sautéed in lots of grass fed butter, and adding lots of Indian spices (super foods on their own) for a great meal :)

  4. JMR says

    I do like eating liver, but I don’t like cooking it since raw liver is repulsive. I’ve been trying to overcome my aversion. Thank you for the recipe links. I needed some new recipes.

  5. Bevie says

    I find it amusing that this popped up in my e-mail just as I was finishing a generous plate full of fried chicken livers for my breakfast. I have found recently that eating liver in the morning keeps me alert and active for a full day of work, even when things get crazy, whereas I previously would run down about mid-day and drag myself to the espresso counter. I usually fry it in butter or lard with a few onions and top with a fried egg with a really gooey yolk. Dark green leafy things go well with it too, in my opinion.

  6. Connie says

    I am currently pregnant with our 12th child and as I entered the 3rd trimester I found myself VERY anemic (even though I have a very healthy traditional maternity diet). I have a wonderful dr. and he agreed to an eating plan that included whole foods liver capsules and LOTS of beef liver from our pastured calf (as well as lots of other high iron foods and beet kvass).

    I cook 1 pound of bacon and then 1 pound of liver in the bacon fat. I chopped up the bacon and liver and mixed them together and divided them into 12 paper muffin liners to be stored in the freezer. I eat one of these every day – mixed with softly scrambled eggs or in a bowl of beans or in a ground beef casserole or in a bowl of soup. My dr. was NOT al all concerned about Vit A toxicity in whole foods nor was he concerned about toxins from our pastured beef. Six weeks later I am more than 1/2 way to where I need to be without iron shots or prescribed iron supplements (my other options according to the dr.). I must also add that even though the dr. agreed to my plan, he and the nurse nutritionist were very skeptical that it would work. My progress has become a testimony to the power of God to heal through whole foods. I do occasionally get tired of liver, as I never really liked it before. But I know that it is the most concentrated and absorbable source of iron in my diet, so I persevere (allowing myself to skip 1 day each week). This is like a mini vacation for me and my pound of liver lasts 2 weeks. I like it best when it is lightly cooked – not dry and pasty.

    As for the amount of liver in 1 beef. Our healthy 800 pound grass raised beef liver totaled over 10 pounds – it was HUGE!!!! Traditionally speaking, with a fairly steady supply of meat, you could easily average that 2 servings/week (or even more) even though you might get it in larger quantities only 2 or 3 times/month.

    – Connie

  7. Pavil, the Uber Noob says

    I keep liver and organ sausage around as a snack and for meat on Fridays. Since Vatican II, we have some latitude on penitential foods. It used to be fish for Fridays, but today the only penitential about fish is chocking down the price. So, on Fridays, we forego muscle meats and focus on organ meats. Usually either liver or a sausage from organ meats.
    As a result, I have developed an affinity for uncooked braunschweiger – exotic and tasty. (I may have to rethink my penance :)).

    Ciao, Pavil

  8. says

    Last weekend I roasted an organic bird. A wild urge came out in me as I scooped out the innards. These usually discarded parts suddenly seemed so incredibly enticing. I took the liver and one or two other unknown organs, very lightly dredged them, and fried them in ghee in a cast iron skillet. While my family waited for their tidy and conservative roast chicken supper, I secretly relished each bite of this organ-snack. Some pepper, a bit of sea salt, pure simplicity. I didn’t know I liked liver; now I know I LOVE liver! :)

  9. karen says

    I read in a blogger’s post recently that she puts raw liver in the food processor, processes until smooth, then puts it in ice cube trays. Then she pops out one or two cubes and adds it to every ground meat meal. since it doesn’t add much liver to the overall meal, you can’t taste it, and since you’re adding it everywhere you can, you’re getting equal to 1-2 servings spread out over the week. Sounds like a plan to me! :-)

  10. says

    I have never been a fan of liver, and our two doctor friends clinched it with their warnings about the toxic organ, but, this was well before “grass fed” and organically raised was popular. If I were to eat liver, you bet I would want to know for certain how that liver was raised.

  11. says

    Thanks for debunking the myth that because liver neutralizes toxins it isn’t good for us. I hear that a lot that its full of toxin. I eat it and love it and continued to do so. I just never new how to convince others that had this as their objection. Now I know how to respond!

  12. Catherine says

    I always wondered about this and stopped eating all organs during the mad cow disease era. I loved to eat liver and so did my son until that time and it is unfortunate because he lost the taste for it. I am still suspicious of the liver of non grass fed animals though. We are back to eating liver regularly again. Thanks for clarifying this issue.

  13. says

    I tried liver for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t eat it! I’m normally quite open-minded about trying new foods, but I got one bite down and almost threw up. I think I need to find a source for chicken livers that I can trust and do what Karen does- blend it up and mix it with other foods. I really want to start including this in our diet, but if I can’t eat it, then there’s no use buying it!

  14. liver lover says

    does anyone have any tips for how to identify a good liver? my only option is grocery store liver (lamb, beef, or camel, i’ll stop buying chicken livers) and the ones i see range in color from nearly black to glistening red and dull brown. what should i be looking for in a healthy liver? what do yours, from pastured animals, look like? thanks for any help you can give me!

    • says

      Having recently butchered our first pig and a few months ago our first steer, I can tell you what their livers looked like. They are a very dark red-so much so that they appear brown. In fact, when I ground the steer liver it reminded me of chocolate pudding. Fresh, they are wet looking-even several days after butchering. Hope that helps some.

  15. says

    This year we have butchered our first ever grass fed steer and pastured pig. With the beef liver I ground it up and froze it, waiting until I have time to figure out what I want to do with it. We just recently did the pig and I mixed the ground liver and heart in with the ground pork at about a 4:1 ratio. For me, it’s a good way to eat it w/o the distasteful aspects.

  16. Bev Morgan says

    My Mom told me a trick in cooking liver and onions. I brown the liver coated in flour. After all of it is browned, I put in all in a skillet and cover it with milk. It makes it more tender, and takes the bitter taste away.

  17. Ashutosh Mahajan says

    Hi Kelly, Does eating broiler chicken liver provides the same quality nutrients as you mentioned? And another thing, Does eating broiler chicken liver imposes the risk of increasing LDL Cholesterol?

    • Jill says

      Hi, Ashutosh! Kelly asked me to respond for her, as she is visiting at the hospital again today.

      My guess is that the nutrient profile would be similar (vitamin A, D, for example), but that the fatty acid profile could be different, since there is a difference between chicken fat and beef fat–chicken fat is higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids, while beef fat is higher in saturated fatty acids. But that is just a guess. Either way, chicken liver is an extremely nutritious traditional food.

      As far as raising cholesterol goes, in general the body determines how high it wants it to be, pretty much regardless of how much cholesterol you eat–if you eat less cholesterol, your body just makes more and vice-versa. High LDL cholesterol, in my understanding, is associated with more inflammation in the body, or stress, or repair work going on, so eating nutritious, real, non-inflammatory type foods shouldn’t have a harmful effect on that. Eating french fries and potato chips fried in polyunsaturated vegetable oils on the other hand, would more likely raise your LDL Cholesterol because those are inflammatory foods (and polyunsaturated oils promote inflammation), which damages blood vessels, which require LDL Cholesterol to come to the rescue and do repair work.

      That explanation is different than what we typically hear, because we are made to believe that LDL Cholesterol is “bad”. But our body makes it and uses it for very important functions–such as repairing damage caused by chronic inflammation. And keep in mind that 8 out of 9 panel members who determined the most recent recommended levels of LDL Cholesterol had financial ties to drug companies that make Statins. LDL is not bad in itself, but the fact that the body needs to make huge amounts of it could mean trouble is brewing somewhere. And fixing that (underlying) problem makes a lot more sense than artificially interfering with our body’s natural repair system. Does that make sense?

      To complicate the matter some, there are different particle sizes of LDL Cholesterol, the larger, fluffy size actually considered harmless, while the dense, smaller size is considered a trouble maker. Interestingly, most doctors don’t test for it–they are trained to simply prescribe Statin drugs when levels reach a certain point (without consideration to varying LDL particle sizes), and now more recently, to prescribe it for several other factors too. I currently am reading Cholesterol Clarity: What the HDL Is Wrong With My Numbers? By Jimmy Moore. I’d highly recommend the book if you are looking to delve more deeply into the subject. Here’s a link: http://amzn.to/1alQFG7

  18. Jen Martinez says

    My store only has conventional liver, though it says American humane Association certified, It’s Foster Farms brand and it says 100% all-natural. I know all-natural often means diddly squat. But it’s all I can find without driving an hour into town. Should I not eat it? Why or why not? Thanks!!

    • KitchenKop says

      I’d say that this liver is better than no liver even if it’s not perfect, because it’s so nutrient-dense!

      Kelly

  19. Maureen says

    Is it safe to eat liver 2 times a week (4 ozs per sitting) if I am taking 2 teaspoons of fermented cod liver oil per day? I have 2 autoimmune diseases I am fighting and a vitamin d deficiency. I took fermented cod liver oil for approx. 3 mos. at at 1 tsp. and it didn’t make a dent in my number so I upped it to 2 tsp.

    • KitchenKop says

      Maureen, I’d guess yes, but I’m not a doctor or naturopath or anything, so you may want to consult with someone like that (or a homeopath) for more detailed help.

      Good luck with your healing!
      Kelly

  20. says

    Hi Kelly, I’m super impressed with your article on liver. Thank you for not only pulling together the information, but citing so clearly the Weston Price foundation as the source. It makes it easy to trust where you’re coming from. I was concerned about liver toxins and now can eat it with even more enthusiasm!

  21. Anastasia says

    Shame on you for copying VERBATIM the vitamin A information from the Weston A Price foundation ‘The Liver Files’ blog post! You could have at least given a link to that article, and credited it as your source! Makes me distrust everything you’ve written now, as I wonder how many other posts have been stolen from other websites! No, I don’t expect this will get past your filters and be published. But in the event that it does, kindly refer the reader to the ORIGINAL SOURCE of your information, which is this blog post:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/the-liver-files/

    • KitchenKop says

      Check the post again, see that word “source” after the quote? That’s been there all along and has a link to the original article.

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