Deep Cuts: The Health Value of Beef Liver

Dr. Christopher McGowan
October 12, 2021

It is a common thing to be told to eat your veggies to get your vitamins and minerals, but what about liver? Though it is not eaten very often in the United States, beef liver is a surprisingly nutritious cut of meat that can add essential nutrients to your diet, but does come with some potential risks such as cardiovascular disease, liver damage, and even vision problems. 

Beef Liver Basics

All of the mammals we commonly eat for food have a liver, and just like your own liver, this organ is responsible for several essential metabolic functions and detoxification. These processes result in vitamins and minerals being stored in the tissues of the liver, making it one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat.  

Compared to steak or ground beef, beef liver has fallen out of favor in the American diet over the last several decades. Among other factors, the taste of liver can be unpleasant to some people. Though there are ways to prepare liver to disguise the taste, many people will opt for the simplicity and familiarity of throwing a steak on the grill. 

Recipes like liver and onions were popular in the early part of the 20th century as a way to disguise the taste of liver. The association of this recipe with poverty or lower socioeconomic status due to the lower cost of liver may have contributed to liver recipes falling out of favor over the last 100 years. 

For those looking to add liver to their diets, dishes that contain beef in part of a sauce, such as a spaghetti bolognese, are a great option. Cutting ground beef with a small amount of liver in hamburgers is another way to get liver into your diet without as much of the distinctive taste people often want to avoid. As an alternative, some people may find that lamb or even calf liver carries a less potent flavor, but still provides similar health benefits.

Is Eating Beef Liver Good for You?

Liver can be an extremely nutritious cut of meat. A single serving of beef liver can contain several times the recommended daily value of various vitamins, as well as being a good source of nutrients like potassium, which can be difficult to get enough of. In addition to being a great source of protein, liver has a high quality combination of essential amino acids. High concentrations of antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin C  as well as several B vitamins, including vitamin B12, vitamin B9 (folate), and vitamin B2n (riboflavin), top the list of nutrients found in liver tissue. This list also includes:

  • calcium
  • zinc
  • phosphorus
  • selenium
  • copper
  • iron
  • choline
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K

What Happens if You Eat Too Much Liver?

It is true that there are potential health benefits to eating beef liver, but there are certainly downsides as well. The phrase “too much of a good thing” can certainly apply here, given the extremely high levels of some nutrients found in liver. 

One concern often raised about beef liver is the high concentration of cholesterol. Nearly a quarter of the population have a sensitivity to dietary cholesterol that can make eating high cholesterol foods dangerous as it puts them at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Research increasingly suggests that reducing your intake of saturated fats has a larger effect on your risk of heart disease than the amount of cholesterol in your food. With dietary cholesterol, regardless of the source, you should still strive to stay within the FDA’s recommended daily intake (RDI) levels. 

Vitamin A toxicity is a serious health concern, which is one reason paying attention to serving size is important if you have made beef liver consumption part of your regular diet. Liver may technically reach superfood status, but that doesn’t mean more is always better. Getting too much vitamin A in your diet can lead to a host of problems such as pressure on the brain, bone pain, possible liver damage, and vision problems. 

One popular concern about liver is the belief that, due to its job in filtering out toxins and contaminants in the blood, eating it will expose you to these unhealthy compounds. Many of the natural compounds pulled out of the bloodstream by the liver are broken down, but it is possible for some compounds to remain in the tissue. This is true of some antibiotics and other chemicals. There is limited research that suggests the presence of antibiotics in beef liver may contribute to antibiotic resistance, allergic reactions, and could even help contribute to certain kinds of cancer. 

Beef liver can also be high in copper, which can present problems if you eat too much of it. Copper is essential for your health in small amounts, but ingesting too much of it can lead to copper toxicity. Severe health effects can arise from copper toxicity including:

  • liver disease
  • kidney failure
  • brain damage
  • death
  • loss of red blood cells

Women who are pregnant should avoid eating beef liver. In addition to the possibility of encountering contaminates like antibiotic residue, elevated levels of vitamin A could hamper the formation of nervous system or cardiovascular tissue in the fetus or even result in the spontaneous termination of a pregnancy. 

Another group of people who should exercise caution in eating beef liver are people at risk of suffering from gout. High levels of purines found in liver and other organ meats are broken down into uric acid in the body, and these elevated uric acid levels can trigger an episode of gout. 

Liver and Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, nutrient density is one of the most important considerations you can make. Keeping your calorie intake low while maintaining the nutrition you need is essential to staying healthy while preventing unintended weight gain. Another important component of weight loss is maintaining a high protein diet if you are attempting to exercise as part of your weight loss routine. This only becomes more important if you are doing strength training to build lean muscle mass. 

Anyone looking to lose weight needs to pay attention to their diet, but individuals who have undergone weight loss surgery such as a gastric bypass need to pay even greater attention to their caloric intake and the balance of individual nutrients in their diet. Most people who have undergone weight loss surgery or a procedure such as endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty will need to take nutritional supplements to complement the lack of nutrition they would have been getting from a non-calorically restricted diet. 

At True You Weight Loss, we understand the valuable role that nutrition plays in weight loss, and the crucial importance of maintaining your nutrient intake after a surgery or procedure. Getting the vitamins and minerals you need without taking in calories your body can’t burn is the essence of maintaining a healthy diet. This is why individuals who participate in our medical nutrition therapy program work with dietitians to create and maintain a unique nutrition plan to help our clients find the freedom they are looking for from excess body fat. If you are interested in learning what True You Weight Loss can offer in your path to a healthier lifestyle, request a consultation today. 

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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