Top 5 health benefits of liver
Once revered, liver is now unlikely to be top of your shopping list but should we reconsider our take on this nutrient-dense food? We asked registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens.
What is liver?
The largest organ in human and animal bodies, the liver is a crucial gland that plays an important role in key processes including digesting food, storing nutrients and filtering and detoxifying toxins. A staple in the diets of previous generations, organ meat, including liver, provided valuable nutritional benefits.
With many cuisines embracing dishes that showcase liver, it has more recently been viewed as a speciality ingredient, and one with some impressive health-boosting properties.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides and find out more about how to cook with offal. You can also check out some of our delicious liver recipes, from chicken livers on toast to sautéed liver & apple salad with blackberry dressing.
Nutritional benefits of liver
A 100g serving of beef liver (stewed) provides:
• 24.8g protein
• 9.5g fat
• 3.6g carbs
• 7.8mg iron
• 4.3mg zinc
• 17300mcg vitamin A (retinol)
• 1.1mcg vitamin D
• 290mcg folate
Chicken, pig, lamb, beef and duck liver are available from most supermarkets and butchers.
Top 5 health benefits of liver
1. It's nutrient dense
Rich in protein, low in calories and packed with essential vitamins and minerals, liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. What makes it even more of a ‘superfood’ is that the nutrients are easily accessible by the body.
2. Rich source of vitamin A
Liver and liver products such as pâté are a rich source of vitamin A in the form of retinol, which is the ‘active’ form. Muscle meat is not such an impressive source and plant sources have to be converted to the active form in the gut, so that the body can use them.
3. Valuable dietary source of vitamin D
There are a limited number of food sources of vitamin D, with liver being one. Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, is typically formed by the action of sunlight on the skin and is difficult to obtain in adequate amounts from our diets. With low levels of sun light during the autumn and winter months, it’s common for levels to be low.
The form of vitamin D supplied by liver is D3, the more ‘active’ form, which once again is found in much lower levels in muscle meat.
4. Useful source of B vitamins
Liver is an impressive source of B vitamins including folate, choline and vitamin B12. These nutrients are needed for a number of functions in the body and especially for metabolism.
5. Valuable source of iron
Rich in iron, liver supplies the form known as haem, which is especially helpful for supporting adequate iron stores. Maintaining these levels is particularly relevant for menstruating women who are commonly low in this important mineral.
Is liver safe for everyone?
Like other organ meats, liver supplies fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Despite concerns over these nutrients, eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet, they help support a number of functions and aid the uptake of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D.
Other concerns surrounding the consumption of liver rests on the fact that one of its key roles is the processing of toxins. The liver does this by filtering toxins and parcelling them up to be excreted from the body. For this reason, it may be wise to select organ meats, like liver, from animals which have been subjected to higher welfare standards and, if your budget permits, free-range or organically reared.
The nutrient density of liver means there are some individuals who should minimise how much they eat. One of the reasons being its high vitamin A content. In this respect, pregnant women should avoid liver and liver products during their pregnancy because too much vitamin A may cause birth defects, especially during the first trimester. Furthermore, research suggests there may be a link between high vitamin A intake, over multiple years, and fracture risk in post-menopausal women and older men. For this reason, this age group should limit liver and liver products to no more than once a week, or have smaller portions.
Liver, like other organ meats, contains high levels of naturally occurring compounds called purines. Individuals who suffer from gout have problems metabolising these compounds and are advised to minimise their intake.
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Children have a reduced nutritional need and for this reason the high-nutrient density of liver suggests consumption for this age group should be limited to once per week.
If you or a family member falls into one of the categories who should minimise their consumption of organ meats, refer to your GP or registered dietician before making any significant dietary changes. When eaten in moderation and as part of a varied, balanced diet, liver may make a valuable nutritional contribution.
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This article was reviewed on 23rd February 2022 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our terms and conditions for more information.
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