Because of their strong flavors, liver and kidneys fall into the "love it or hate it" category for many people. If you're never cooked with these organ meats, consider giving them a shot. Their rich nutrient profile -- which includes essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need for healthy tissue -- makes them a worthwhile addition to your diet.
Liver and kidney meats serve as rich sources of protein. Getting enough protein in your diet promotes tissue health, because your tissues rely on a constant supply of amino acids -- the nutrients found in protein -- to maintain themselves. Protein contributes to strong bones, helps transport oxygen to your tissues and maintains healthy skin. Your protein intake requirements depend on your weight -- the average 135-pound adult needs 54 grams of protein daily, while the average 180-pound individual needs 72 grams, according to guidelines reported by Iowa State University. A 3-ounce portion of beef liver provides 17 grams of protein, while an equivalent serving of beef kidney contains 15 grams.
Iron and Zinc
Liver and kidney meats also provide you with essential minerals, including iron and zinc. Consuming 3 ounces of beef liver provides you with 4.2 milligrams of iron and 3.4 milligrams of zinc, while beef kidneys contain 4 milligrams and 1.6 milligrams of iron and zinc, respectively. Both contribute a significant amount to your recommended daily intake, set by the Institute of Medicine -- 8 milligrams of iron and 11 milligrams of zinc for men, and 18 milligrams of iron and 8 milligrams of zinc for women. Iron fights off fatigue -- it helps your cells produce energy, and also supplies your tissues with oxygen throughout the day. Zinc supports healthy thyroid gland function, promotes wound healing and supports your senses of taste and touch.
Copper and Selenium
Liver and kidney also help you consume more copper and selenium. Both minerals act as antioxidants and protect your cells from damage caused by exposure to environmental toxins and free radicals. Copper also helps you absorb iron and strengthens your connective tissue, while selenium boosts your immune system. A 3-ounce portion of beef liver contains all the copper you need in a day, and an equivalent serving of beef kidney meat provides all the selenium you need. Liver also contains 62 percent of the daily recommended selenium intake set by the Institute of Medicine, while an equivalent serving of kidney provides 40 percent of your daily recommended copper intake.
Vitamin B-12 and Folate
Kidney and liver meats also offer health benefits due to their vitamin content, providing you with vitamin B-12 and folate. Both nutrients control the amount of homocysteine, an amino acid, in your bloodstream. High blood homocysteine levels mark an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and vitamin B-12 and folate might offer cardiovascular benefits by lowering your homocysteine levels. Folate and vitamin B-12 also nourish your nervous system and promote healthy brain function. A serving of beef liver or kidney meat provides your entire daily recommended intake of vitamin B-12, set by the Institute of Medicine. Liver also contains 62 percent of your daily folate requirements per serving, and kidney contains 28 percent.
Preparation and Cooking Tips
Prepare liver meat for cooking by slicing it into thin strips. Saute the sliced liver in olive oil with onions and sage, or try seasoning it in garlic, olive oil and fresh rosemary. Prepare kidneys by soaking them in salt water for a few hours and then cutting each kidney in half and removing any visible fatty tissue. Cook them in a skillet with shallots, chopped carrots and mushrooms.
- Franklin Institute: Healthy Hearts
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beef, Variety Meats and By-Products, Liver, Raw
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beef, Variety Meats and By-Products, Kidneys, Raw
- Iowa State University: Protein
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Zinc
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Copper
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Selenium
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B-12 (Cobalamin)
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B-9 (Folic Acid)
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