What to know about beef liver
Medically reviewed by Lisa Hodgson, RDN, CDN, CDCES — Written by Caitlin Geng on May 25, 2021
Beef liver is a nutritious food item that is naturally high in protein, vitamins, nutrients, and minerals. Despite its many benefits and the fact that people regularly consume beef products, beef liver is not a popular choice.
Beef liver is a cheap and readily available meat known for being healthy and nourishing.
However, it can also carry some health risks. People may also not enjoy its unique flavor, but they can prepare certain dishes to help disguise its flavor.
This article will discuss the nutritional information of beef liver, its health benefits and risks, and some recipes for people to consider.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central databaseTrusted Source, per 100 grams (g), beef liver contains:
20.35 g of protein
4.78 milligrams (mg) of iron
16,814 international units of vitamin A
1.1 mg of vitamin C total ascorbic acid
274 mg of cholesterol
A small amount of beef liver can provide more than the Daily Value for many essential nutrients and typically contains more vitamins than many fruits and vegetables.
It is also rich in high quality protein and low in calories.
What is beef liver?
Beef liver is an organ meat from cows. Some people may also refer to it as offal or variety meats.
These terms typically refer to the internal organs and entrails of animals that a butcher may discard after preparing them. Offal can also include the heart, kidneys, and tongue.
Some cultures may not eat offal, while others consume it regularly and may consider it a delicacy.
Similar to human liver, beef liver is an essential organ for the cow, and it performs multiple important functions. Some of these vital functions involveTrusted Source metabolism, detoxification, and the storage of vitamins and minerals, which is why liver is so nutrient dense.
Among organ meats, animal livers typically contain the highest protein content and best amino acid profile. They are also great sources of vitamin A and B vitamins.
In fact, due to its nutritional benefits, some people may refer to beef liver as a superfood.
Health benefits of eating beef liver
Beef liver is nutrient dense and has numerous health benefits. In addition to their good vitamin profile, animal livers such as beef liver are also rich in minerals, including zinc, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and copper.
These minerals are good for the body in the following ways:
Zinc supports the immune system.
Iron is essential for proper hemoglobin production.
Phosphorus aids bone and tooth health.
Selenium plays an important role in metabolism.
Copper is vital for energy production.
Meat products are also good sources of complete protein, as they contain all the essential amino acids. Liver has the highest protein content of all organ meats.
Therefore, eating a balanced diet that contains beef liver can provide many health benefits and help support the immune system, the nervous system, growth, development, and reproductive health.
The recommended amount of liver consumption is in the range of 100–250 gTrusted Source per week, depending on a person’s age and sex.
The risks associated with eating beef liver include consuming too much vitamin A, ingesting copper, and absorbing antibiotics present in the liver.
Beef liver is a good source of vitamin A. Although vitamin A is essential for good health, a person can consume too muchTrusted Source of it and risk vitamin A toxicityTrusted Source, or hypervitaminosis A.
Vitamin A toxicity can result in:
pressure on the brain
Beef liver is also rich in copper. Again, although it is important for health, consuming too much copper can result in copper toxicity.
Too much copper can have severe health effects, such asTrusted Source:
loss of red blood cells
One 2017 article notes that beef liver may sometimes contain detectable levels of antibiotics, which could be hazardous to human health. This could be due to animals receiving antibiotics close to the time of their slaughter.
Antibiotic residues present in food may result in antibiotic resistance and cause:
disruptions in embryo development
certain types of cancer
Concerns about beef liver
Many people may avoid eating beef liver due to health concerns, including cholesterol, toxicity, and an overload of iron.
However, the potential health benefits of consuming beef liver typically outweigh these concerns.
Due to the liver naturally producing cholesterol, beef liver contains roughly 274 mgTrusted Source of cholesterol per 100 g, making it a high cholesterol food. Due to this, many people may wish to avoid eating it.
However, there is little evidenceTrusted Source to suggest that dietary cholesterol can cause heart disease. For many people, it may be more important to cut down on saturated fats rather than just cholesterol.
When a person eats it in moderation, they can still enjoy beef liver.
Some people may wish to avoid eating liver due to the role it plays in a living organism: detoxification.
Although it is true that the liver has an important function in filtering toxins, it does not store them. Instead, the liver stores many important nutrients, which can actually help the body remove toxins.
However, people should try to eat beef liver in moderation, as consuming too much of it could result in vitamin A and copper toxicity.
Who should avoid beef liver?
Certain people may wish to consider avoiding or minimizing their consumption of beef liver, as it may interact with other health factors or issues they have.
Liver contains large amounts of vitamin A. Although this vitamin is important for fetal development, high doses of vitamin A can have adverse effectsTrusted Source. This is primarily a concern for pregnant people in developed countries, who generally have higher vitamin A intakes.
An excess of vitamin A can have teratogenic effects, such as malformation in the nervous and cardiovascular systems of the fetus, as well as spontaneous abortion.
Therefore, it is advisable for pregnant people to limit or avoid foods high in vitamin A, such as beef liver.
People with gout
The Arthritis Foundation suggests that people with gout limit or avoid organ meats, including liver.
This is because liver is high in purines, which break down into uric acid. Having high levels of uric acid can cause a gout episode.
People can prepare beef liver in a number of ways. For example, people can use it like other cuts of beef but include flavors that may help disguise the liver’s unique taste.
Liver and onions
Marinate sliced liver in red wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons of honey for about 1 hour.
Slice one or two onions and fry until brown.
Remove the onions and toss in the liver with some of the vinegar and honey mixture.
Fry quickly, turning frequently, and ensure that the beef liver is no longer raw.
Serve the liver and onions with red wine vinegar sauce.
Marinate slices of liver in the refrigerator overnight in lemon juice or water with vinegar, garlic, and a bay laurel leaf.
After marinating, pat dry and fry in olive oil, lard, or butter until well done.
Eat as-is or add to a dish.
Saute chopped onions in butter or coconut oil, then toss the liver through, cut into chunks.
Cook for several minutes, until the beef liver is no longer raw.
Process the onions and liver in a food processor until just minced.
Use as a substitute for minced beef, such as in a burger patty or a spaghetti sauce.
Beef liver supplements
If a person does not wish to consume beef liver directly but would like to include it in their diet, they can consider taking beef liver supplements.
These are typically available in capsule form, and they may provide a convenient way for people to include beef liver in their diet.
Beef liver is a nutrient dense food that is also high in protein and low in calories. As a result, it may provide a number of potential health benefits, such as supporting the immune and nervous systems.
However, because it is so rich in certain vitamins, people may experience toxicity if they eat too much of it. It may not also be suitable for pregnant people or those with gout.
Therefore, if people do decide to eat beef liver, it is advisable that they eat it in moderation.
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