Liver is a commonly eaten organ meat from cows and chickens, especially in many European countries. Compared to steak, which is muscle tissue from cows, beef liver has a more delicate texture and bolder flavor that tends to be an acquired taste for Americans. As a food source, liver has a number of advantages over other cuts of meat and poultry, mainly due to its rich concentration of certain nutrients. On the other hand, liver is relatively high in cholesterol and purines, so eating it in moderation is probably the best idea.
High in Vitamin A
All types of liver, including beef, chicken and fish varieties, are especially rich in vitamin A because that’s where the fat-soluble vitamin is stored and processed in mammals. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that contributes to strong immunity and is required for healthy bones and eye sight. A typical 3-ounce cut of beef liver contains between 500 and 600 percent above recommended daily allowances for adults, which is much more than other animal-based protein sources. Beef liver is also richer in vitamin A than other commonly eaten livers. However, because high levels of vitamin A accumulate in the body and may lead to tissue toxicity, do not eat liver frequently or in large portions. Liver contains a variety of other vitamins too, including B-vitamins and vitamin D.
High in Iron
All forms of meat are good sources of iron, but beef liver is especially high in the mineral. For example, a 3-ounce portion of liver contains between 6 and 8 milligrams of iron or about 35 percent of the RDA, which makes it the second-highest source of all meat products. Interestingly, the highest source is chicken liver. Iron is essential for hemoglobin formation and oxygen transport in the blood, as well as strong bones. A lack of iron leads to anemia, which involves severe fatigue and pale skin. Liver also contains numerous other minerals in smaller amounts, especially calcium.
Relatively Low in Calories
Compared to other cuts of meat, liver is relatively low in calories. For example, a 3-ounce serving of grilled beef liver contains about 150 calories, which is less than equivalent cuts of steak and dark meat from poultry, and just a little more than lean cuts of skinless chicken breast. Chicken liver has slightly fewer calories than beef liver, but chicken liver contains a bit more saturated fat and cholesterol. All types of liver contain more cholesterol than their muscle-tissue counterparts because livers are used for storing and processing cholesterol. Cholesterol is needed to make cell walls and many hormones in your body, but too much is linked to cardiovascular diseases.
Liver and other organ meats are high in purines, compounds that get broken down into uric acid within your body. When uric acid builds up in the blood, it precipitates into sharp crystals and gets deposited in joints and other tissues, which is a painful condition called gout. A high-purine diet also increases your risk of kidney stone formation. While shopping for beef liver, choose fresh cuts that are uniformly pale pink and unblemished. Select chicken liver that's not too yellowed due to high fat content. In terms of potential contamination, beef liver is safer than many other meats because it highly scrutinized by food inspection agencies.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.