I have a very tumultuous relationship with this food. I'm in love with all the wonderful nutrition that it provides--but not in love with the sight, taste, texture, or smell.
I genuinely hate the battle that goes on in my head at the butcher counter. My last run at it went something like this:
me: "one pound of chicken liver please"
butcher: "uhh, do you eat it?!"
in my head: no, I buy it for giggles.
me: "ha. yea."
in my head: I mean, 50/50 chance that I work up the guts to actually eat it before it "accidentally goes bad."
me: "It's just so good for us!"
him: "Well, it's good & bad for you."
in my head: It's soooo good, so many vitamins, a ton of nutrients we need for healthy babies, & people have eaten it for centuries, &...ugh, not worth it.
me: "ha. yea."
in my head: Stop putting your liver issues onto others, lady! Just eat the liver already. // But I don't like it. // Well you're going to have to get over it-it's for the babies. // sad face. ok. If it's for the babies.
why eat liver?
I'm going to keep this short & sweet. Liver is filled with nutrients, especially those needed for baby makin'! It's high up on my list of reproductive health & prenatal nutrition foods.
a few of my favorite baby-building nutrients found in liver:
- para-amino benzoic acid
- pantothenic acid
- vitamin A
Unfortunately, few other foods that contain the same variety & potency of nutrients as liver (& other organ meats). Take a look at this chart from the book Deep Nutrition, by Dr. Shanahan showing the difference between fruit, veggies, & organ meats:
|100 gm portion||apple (fruit)||liver (organ)||broccoli (veggie)|
*Retinol equivalents. Only animal products contain true vitamin A; fruits & vegetables contain carotenoids & retinoids, which must be converted in the digestive tract. The conversion factor used has overestimated the value of fruits and vegetables by a factor of four. These data have been revised to reflect the current knowledge, but the nutrition labels on grocery store goods have not and thus exaggerate the true amount of vitamin A.1
isn't liver toxic?
The two primary concerns when is comes to liver are:
- it must be dirty/toxic since its job is to filter toxins
- it contains overdose-inducing amounts of vitamin A
let's myth bust.
1. it must be dirty/toxic since its job is to filter toxins
It's true that our liver is responsible for detoxing our bodies. The problem comes with the word filter.
When we think of a filter, it's easy to imagine something that looks like a tap water faucet filter. A mesh weaved thing--a--ma--jig with some other doo--dads that catch & store the "bad stuff" until it's time to replace the filter. By the time you replace that water filter, you can sometimes see build up of the concentrated toxins.
This is not how our livers work.
The liver is much more complicated than a faucet filter, to say the least.
This powerful organ helps to rid our bodies of internal toxins (like waste byproducts from performing everyday activities such as sugar, protein, & fat burning) & external toxins (like preservatives, artificial colors & flavors, medications, VOC's, alcohol, air pollution, drugs, pesticides, etc.) ew, right?! Anyhow, most of the external toxins enter our bodies in a fat-soluble form, which is much harder to break down than water-soluble. Part of the livers job is to turn these fat soluble toxins into water-soluble toxins that can be sent to the kidneys & eliminated from the body through our urine.2
The other functions of the livers' detoxification ability include:
- filtering the blood of larger toxic particles (but wait, it doesn't keep those toxins--it takes further steps to allow the body to get rid of them)
- creating & ridding itself of fat-soluble toxin & cholesterol containing bile
- creating & using enzymes to neutralize chemical-based toxins so that they can be safely eliminated from our bodies
So you see, the liver does an incredible job of keeping our bodies clean, but is not a storage device for toxins. It is rather a factory for creating neutralizing components & protective enzymes.
So where are toxins stored, you ask? As I mentioned earlier, most toxins are fat-soluble which means that they are stored in our fat.
We do store some things in our liver though...vitamins & minerals. So many of these important nutrients are crucial to the livers ability to neutralize & help eliminate toxins that they must be easily accessible.
2. it contains an overdose-inducing amount of vitamin A
One of my favorite things about liver is that it's a great source of vitamin A. The benefits of vitamin A are nearly endless & it's particularly important to fertility & pregnancy. It plays a part in the healthy development of the eyes, skin, hair, mucus membranes, digestion, red & white blood cells, teeth, & even male reproductive hormones. Vitamin A helps to differentiate the pattern of all cells (telling our bodies which cells become which organ & such) & facilitates communication between the organs.34
See, it's kinda' important.
There is some debate over the safety/toxicity of vitamin A. Unfortunately, the only research that can be performed on vitamin A toxicity is done with mega-doses of concentrated vitamin A supplements. Therefore, it's hard to make an assumption about how the body reacts to vitamin A in addition to the other vitamins & minerals that are consumed along with it when in whole food form. The perfectly nature-created mixture of nutrients in food is shown to have a very symbiotic relationship, perfectly suited for consumption. For example, studies show that there is an interdependent relationship between vitamins A & D, & that when both are taken simultaneously it reduces the risk of excessive amounts of either.
One well-known "real food" overdose example was written about in the Merck Manual (a manual written by Merck Pharmaceutical Company & the go-to guides for a range of medical topics--used by medical professionals for education & reference) vitamin A toxicity was reported in Arctic explorers who consumed polar bear & seal liver, containing millions of IU(international units-a global measurement) of vitamin A. The symptoms of vitamin A toxicity subsided once the explores stopped eating the dense livers. To give some perspective, one 100 gram serving of beef liver contains about 33,000IU of vitamin A, & one 100 gram serving of duck liver contains about 40,000IU of vitamin A--far from the millions in the arctic animals, & far from typical. 5
According to the work of Dr. Weston Price, who spent ten years traveling to isolated parts of the world studying the health of people living primitively, a healthy primal diet contained an average of 50,000IU of food-based vitamin A a day.
As it pertains to pregnancy, a 1999 study monitored over 400 pregnant women taking between 10,000IU-300,000IU of Vitamin A daily. Not one case of congenital malformation was reported in the 120 infants born to mothers who were taking 50,000IU or more of Vitamin A daily. 6
Another study monitored the level of vitamin A metabolites in the blood of women given 30,000IU of supplemental vitamin A/day for three weeks. The results showed normal, or just above normal levels of metabolites--nowhere near teratogenic (embryo-harming) levels. 7
Based off these studies I feel comfortable eating an average-sized portion of liver once or twice a week without concern of vitamin A overdose.
As you can tell from the lovely conversation above, it's not my favorite thing. The funny thing is, I don't thing that it's actually the taste, smell, or texture that bother me. In fact I'm pretty sure I've eaten weirder tasting, looking, & smelling things. It's just a lifetimes worth of conditioning. I've successfully been conditioned to think that liver is gross, dirty & certainly not food.
The expression "What am I, chopped liver?" exists for a reason. We've been told that liver (& other organ meats) are the scraps meant to be tossed to the side. This couldn't be more historically incorrect. Back in the day (whatever that means) the organ meats were the good stuff. Their nutrient density was valued & saved for the powerful & wealthy while the muscle meat (what we eat today) was left for the poor & thrown to the dogs.
Because I know better, I'm constantly working on adjusting my mindset. It took years to get me here, it's going to take a bit to undo it. That's ok...at least I'm making progress!
so how should I eat it?
any way you want it, that's the way you need it, any way you want it (da nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh) I'm having way too much fun with this post. Infant induced sleep deprivation? maybe.
In all seriousness there are tons of ways to get liver into your diet:
- hide it by grinding it in with ground meats before cooking (think meatloaf, meatballs, stir fry)
- eat it raw & grated over any food*
- make live pâté (Google it. there are a ton of recipes!)
- cut it into pea-sized squares, freeze it, & take them like pills*
- dehydrate & encapsulate it (I'm working on a "recipe" now)
- cut it into chunks, freeze it & throw it into smoothies*
*As with all raw meats/organs pathogens may exist. The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends that you freeze liver for 14 days before consuming raw to kill these unwanted buggers off. The decision whether or not to eat liver raw should be based of your own research & comfort level. There are plenty of nutrients in cooked liver, as well.
The quality of our food is a direct reflection of the way that the food is raised, so buying organs from properly raised & treated animals is extremely important. Since liver is often eaten raw, it is even MORE important that only the cleanest organs make their way to your kitchen.
What does "good quality" even mean? Buy organs from animals like this:
- grass fed
- free range
- antibiotic free
- no added hormones
Be sure you can check a few things off on this list before purchasing organs. Finding a local farm that you trust (& will even let you visit) is ideal--for any of your meats & veggies, really!
to loving liver,
- Shanahan, Catherine, and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Lawai, HI: Big Box, 2009. Print. ↩
- What Processes Does The Liver Undergo To Remove Toxins? "Liver Detox." Evaluation of the Traits (n.d.): n. pag. Cornell College. Cornell College. Web. ↩
- Barnes, Belinda. Beautiful Babies, Fabulous Families, Wonderful World: For 30 Years, Restoring Natural Fertility and Creating Happy, Healthy Babies. S.l.: Foresight Association Promotion of Pre-conceptual Care, 2012. Print. ↩
- Fallon, Sally, and Thomas S. Cowan. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care. Washington, DC: New Trends, 2013. Print. ↩
- Razaitis, Lynn. "The Liver Files." Weston A Price. N.p., 29 July 2005. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. ↩
- Mastroiacovo, P., T. Mazzone, A. Addis, and E. Elephant et al. "Result Filters." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 1999. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. ↩
- Wiegand, U. W., S. Hartmann, and H. Hummler. "Result Filters." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1998. Web. ↩