Organ meat, and especially liver, is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Unfortunately, most people don’t consume nearly enough of this nutritional powerhouse because of its image, its taste, or its lack of availability.
In this article, I’ll explain the health benefits of consuming or supplementing with beef liver. I’ll also share a simple recipe for liver pâté that I use to turn raw liver into something I enjoy eating several times a week.
If you appreciate the benefits of making beef liver a part of your diet but can’t get over its taste or texture, I encourage you to check out my roundup of the best desiccated beef liver supplements. These supplements deliver freeze-dried and grass-fed beef liver powder in capsules that are tasteless and easy to swallow.
You may also want to read my list of the best organ meat supplements, which highlights products that combine multiple organs — such as heart and spleen — in a single capsule in order to try and achieve specific health outcomes. Liver should be your starting point, but these supplements can help you further optimize your nutrient intake.
Why Beef Liver Is Good For You
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that Americans get insufficient vitamins and minerals from their diet, due in large part to the fact that our society has replaced nutritious organ meats — something humans have eaten for millions of years — with factory-farmed meat products, highly-processed junk food (like breakfast cereals) and synthetic multivitamins.
But even plant-based foods have fewer nutrients than in the past, thanks to deteriorating soil quality, monocrops and the overuse of fertilizers and other chemicals.
Consuming beef liver is one of the easiest ways to add highly bioavailable micronutrients back into your diet.
For example, beef liver is jam-packed with valuable micronutrients like preformed vitamin A, vitamin B12 and iron (as well as many others). With over 25 nature-identical vitamins, minerals and cofactors, it’s nature’s ultimate multivitamin. In comparison, synthetic multivitamins offer high amounts of mostly lab-grown nutrients that the body can’t absorb and thus gets flushed out via urine.
It’s also worth noting that beef liver is a good source of essential amino acids. In fact, most of the calories in raw liver stem from protein.
Despite the obvious health benefits of beef liver, most people don’t recognize it as the nutritional powerhouse that it is. I’d even bet that if you asked 100 nutritionists to name their top 10 superfoods, few if any would mention it.
Instead, they’d probably talk primarily about plant-based foods, such as kale, spinach, spirulina, chia seeds and some of the other usual suspects. While all of these plants have varying amounts of micronutrients, they also contain chemical compounds called antinutrients that bind minerals and prevent the body from absorbing them.
Animals run away or fight, but plants use chemicals (and sometimes thorns) to defend themselves. That’s nature’s way of discouraging animals (including humans) from eating them.
Liver doesn’t have antinutrients or any other inflammatory compounds that you could be sensitive or allergic to. The only downside to liver is that it has carbs in the form of glycogen (the storage vehicle of glucose and water). But I’d argue that the micronutrients in liver far outweigh the cons of consuming a few extra carbs.
Related: Learn more about the health benefit of eating organ meat, including the specific nutrients contained in various organs.
Why Most People Don’t Eat (Enough) Beef Liver
Despite all the evidence that liver is a nutritional superfood, most people don’t eat liver on a regular basis — if they eat it at all.
The likely culprit for that is the smell and taste of this organ meat. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of how unseasoned, pan-fried beef liver tastes. Our youngest child even left the room the other day when my wife fried liver to use in meatballs.
So I get it! However, looking back at my eating habits over the past four decades, I can name several foods that I once wouldn’t touch but now eat like the proverbial candy. So I encourage you to keep trying different ways of preparing liver and to try and get used to the taste.
Personally, I’ve found two ways to truly enjoy liver: homemade pâté and meatballs. The latter even our six-year-old eats without hesitation.
Update: While writing this article, I’ve also started eating pan-fried liver with tons of camel fat* and seasoned with liberal amounts of salt and pepper.
If you haven’t yet found a beef liver recipe that you feel like you can handle on a regular basis, high-quality beef liver supplements may be the way to go. I use them on a regular basis instead of vitamin pills, despite the fact that I eat a spoonful of pâté almost daily.
Beef Liver Nutrition
Pound for pound, liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. While this article focuses on beef liver and beef liver supplements, you can obtain similar benefits from the livers of other animals, including chickens and ducks. In fact, I sometimes make liver pâté using chicken livers purchased at Whole Foods.
Because liver has such a diverse micronutrient profile, it effectively provides the building blocks to support many functions in the body, including your metabolism, immune system, skin, eyes, reproductive organs, mental health and even your own liver.
Additionally, its synergistic combination of vitamins and minerals can naturally boost your energy levels by supporting your mitochondria, which is the part of every cell responsible for energy production.
But that’s not all. Liver is also an abundant source of essential B vitamins that can improve your brain function by fighting fatigue and brain fog and supporting other neurological processes.
To learn more about the vitamin and mineral composition of liver and liver supplements, scroll down.
Detailed Nutrient Analysis of Beef Liver (Supplements)
Below is a list of most of the micronutrients you can find in beef liver (and beef liver supplements). All values are based on a one-ounce (28-gram) serving of raw beef liver.
Note that 28 grams of raw beef liver contains 19.8 grams of water. That’s why freeze-dried beef liver capsules have much less “volume” while offering similar amounts of micronutrients.
Vitamins in Beef Liver
The tables below give you an overview of the vitamins, minerals and co-factors found in liver. I’ll go into more detail about the nutrients that occur in higher amounts.
Keep in mind that the numbers below are based on a serving size of only one ounce. So you need very little of this nutritional powerhouse to fulfill your daily requirements of many micronutrients.
|Vitamin A (Retinol)||4,732 IU (1,385 mcg)||95%|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||0.1 mg||4%|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.8 mg||45%|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||3.7 mg||18%|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||2.0 mg||20%|
|Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)||0.3 mg||15%|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||81.2 mcg||20%|
|Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)||16.6 mcg||277%|
|Vitamin C||0.4 mg||1%|
|Vitamin D||4.5 IU||1%|
|Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)||0.1 mg||1%|
|Vitamin K||21 mcg||N/A|
Betaine: Betaine protects cells, proteins and enzymes from environmental stress (e.g., low water, high salinity or extreme temperature). It also plays an important role in liver metabolism and can reduce the risk of developing metabolic diseases.
Choline: Choline plays an important role in numerous bodily functions, including metabolism, cellular growth and maintaining strong cell membranes. Choline is an essential nutrient; while the body can make some of it, the majority must come from dietary sources.
Vitamin A and retinol (95% DV): Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that exists in different versions, including retinol (preformed vitamin A) and beta-carotene (provitamin A). The former is only found in animal sources (such as liver) and is much better absorbed than beta-carotene, which the body has to convert into retinol before it can be utilized. Almost 30% of the vitamin A in beef liver is retinol.
Vitamin B2 (45% DV): Riboflavin is one of the eight B vitamins and is responsible for cellular respiration (mitochondria), breaking down food components, absorbing nutrients and maintaining tissue.
Vitamin B3 (18% DV): Niacin is used by the body to turn food into energy. It also supports the body in maintaining the health of the nervous system, the digestive system and the skin.
Vitamin B5 (20% DV): Pantothenic acid is necessary for making blood cells, as well as for synthesizing coenzyme A — an important factor in fatty acid metabolism.
Vitamin B6 (15% DV): Pyridoxine is an important player involved in brain development and keeping the nervous and immune systems healthy.
Vitamin B9 (20% DV): Folate (also called folic acid) plays an important role in the creation of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. A deficiency in this essential vitamin can lead to anemia (low red blood cell count). Pregnant women often get folic acid supplements prescribed to ensure proper red blood cell counts as the body makes more blood to support the growth of the baby and to reduce the risk of birth defects.
Vitamin B12 (277% DV): Cobalamin plays an important role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and the production of DNA, according to the Mayo Clinic. Vitamin B12 deficiency, if left untreated, can lead to anemia, fatigue, muscle weakness, intestinal problems, nerve damage and mood disturbances.
Vitamin B12 is most prevalent in animal foods, which is why vitamin B12 deficiency is most prevalent among those who follow a pure plant-based diet (i.e., vegans and vegetarians).
Vitamin K2: Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth by supporting proper calcium partitioning. It’s also crucial for cardiac health. Beef liver is one of the few foods that contains the MK-4 version of vitamin K2 (which isn’t found in plant-based foods at all).
Minerals in Beef Liver
Copper (137% DV): Copper is an essential trace mineral and plays an important role in making red blood cells, as well as in supporting both nerve cells and the immune system. It helps the body form collagen to support skin, joints, hair and nail tissue, and it plays a role in energy production. Copper is also needed for enzymes like superoxide dismutase (SOD), which plays a critical role in managing and reducing oxidative stress.
Fluoride (16% DV): Fluoride is an important mineral in your bones and teeth. Specifically, fluoride helps with the formation of teeth and bones and in maintaining their structural integrity. But note that a study found that too much of it can increase your risk of bone fractures.
Iron (8% DV): Liver is one of the best sources of heme iron, a type of iron that is predominantly found in the bodies of humans and animals (more than 95% of the functional iron in the human body is heme). Heme iron is exceptionally well absorbed and thus much more bioavailable than the non-heme iron found in plants.
Phosphorus (11% DV): Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the human body (calcium is number one) and is present in every cell, as well as in bones and teeth. It also plays an important role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism, and is needed to make proteins for cell growth, cell maintenance, and cell repair.
Selenium (16% DV): Selenium acts as an antioxidant, helps fight free radicals and protects cells from damage. Additionally, selenium can help improve cognition, immune system function and fertility. Selenium also plays a key role in maintaining thyroid hormone metabolism and DNA synthesis. Studies have also shown that selenium is involved in the body’s detoxification process from heavy metals.
Zinc (7% DV): Zinc is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to supporting the body’s defenses and immune functions. It also plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing and carbohydrate metabolism. You also need zinc to smell and taste. In other words, these senses wouldn’t work correctly without the involvement of zinc.
Macros and Other Functional Nutrients
Besides vitamins and minerals, a one-ounce serving of beef liver provides the following functional nutrients:
Coenzyme Q10 (1 milligram): Organ meats are one of the most abundant sources of CoQ10, a micronutrient that helps generate energy in your cells. While your body can make its own CoQ10, production usually slows down as you age. Coincidentally, some metabolic diseases, such as brain disorders, diabetes and cancer, have been linked to low levels of CoQ10.
Carbohydrates (1.1 grams): Red meat is normally not a source of carbs, but liver is different because it stores glucose (sugar) in the form of glycogen. When a cow is butchered, all the glycogen in its muscle tissue gets released. That’s why you won’t find any carbs in a piece of steak. However, the liver retains all of its glycogen.
Protein (5.7 grams): Protein is one of the two essential macronutrients (fat is the other) humans need to get from food. The amino acids of liver protein help the body create and repair muscle tissue, make collagen and support the body’s immune function.
Health Benefits of Beef Liver
Beef liver is packed with bioavailable and highly-absorbable nutrients that many Americans are deficient in, including choline, copper, folic acid, iron, potassium, selenium, preformed vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and zinc.
Beef liver is also one of the few dietary sources of bioavailable vitamin K2 (not to be confused with K1, the much less bioavailable plant-based version) and hyaluronic acid. Getting sufficient amounts of vitamin K2 is important for calcium absorption, especially if you take calcium supplements.
Beef liver is also a rich source of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an important antioxidant that can help improve mitochondrial function, promote healthy aging and longevity, and improve brain and heart health.
- Eye health: The vitamin A (retinol) and B vitamins in liver play a crucial role in vision, helping to maintain a clear cornea (which is the outside covering of your eye).
- Energy and mood: Liver is an excellent source of vitamin B12, copper, heme-iron, CoQ10 and niacin, all of which are crucial for energy, optimal exercise performance, metabolism and mood.
- Immune system: Selenium is a cofactor for the body’s antioxidant defense (glutathione peroxidase, thioredoxin reductase) and (together with copper) supports optimal immune function.
- Skin health: The hyaluronic acid, copper, zinc and selenium in liver are crucial for maintaining healthy skin and connective tissue.
- Brain health and cognition: The highly absorbable B vitamins (riboflavin, folate and B12), amino acids (anserine, carnosine, taurine and l-carnitine), choline and zinc in liver are vital for brain health and cognition as well as neurotransmitter formation.
- Teeth and Bones: The vitamin K2 in liver is crucial for bone and tooth health because it supports remineralization and absorption of calcium.
Liver’s diverse micronutrient profile provides the building blocks for a wide range of bodily functions, supporting the metabolism, immune system, skin, eyes, reproductive organs, mental health and more.
Plus, its synergistic combination of vitamins and minerals can naturally boost energy levels by supporting mitochondria (the part of every cell responsible for energy production).
Best Ways to Eat Beef Liver
There are a variety of ways to eat beef liver, and they all have different nutritional benefits, including:
- Freeze-dried capsules or power.
- Hidden as part of pâté, liverwurst, meatballs, etc.
To obtain the most health benefits from beef liver, I recommend eating it raw, as nutrients can get destroyed or degraded through cooking and processing. Raw beef liver also has a less “strong” taste than cooked beef liver, and it’s easier to swallow. However, consuming raw or undercooked organ meat poses the risk of food-borne illnesses, so you really have to trust your source.
The next best option (from a nutritional perspective) is consuming freeze-dried liver, because only 3-5% of the nutrients get degraded during the freeze-drying process. In other words, supplementing with freeze-dried beef liver capsules gets you most of the nutrients contained in beef liver.
The clear advantage of leveraging beef liver pills is that they don’t taste like liver at all, so even kids can take them without issues. Our kids won’t eat raw or cooked liver on a regular basis but they have no problems swallowing a couple of capsules per day.
Cooked beef liver is a great option for those who genuinely like the taste, and I have to admit that if properly seasoned, it can be palatable. The downside to (over)cooking liver is that you destroy some of the heat-sensitive micronutrients, including vitamin C and most B vitamins.
If you like the idea of consuming fresh beef liver but can’t stomach its taste, turning liver into pâté or sneaking some of it into meatballs is an easy way to make it a part of your regular diet. While our kids don’t like pâté, we’ve had success with meatballs spiked with liver.
Frequently Asked Questions
Beef liver has ample amounts of cholesterol, as well as certain minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin A), which can become toxic (e.g., vitamin A toxicity) if ingested in excess amounts.
While it’s true in theory that you can have too much of these nutrients, I don’t see that as being an issue in real life. I don’t know anybody who consumes large amounts of liver every single day.
Doing so would also not mimic the eating habits of our ancestors, because they didn’t have access to fresh liver every day. Plus, they would have shared every killed animal among a tribe of up to 40 members.
Based on the scientific evidence that I’ve found, it’s perfectly safe to consume between four and eight ounces of liver per week.
Also, dietary cholesterol is not unhealthy and has no impact on blood cholesterol levels. I’ve said that numerous times before on this blog (here and here), but I feel like it’s worth repeating.
The best source of nutrients is fresh food. In the case of animal products, that means unprocessed liver sourced from grass-fed, pasture-raised and grass-finished cattle.
However, if you follow a healthy dietary lifestyle that has adequate amounts of healthy fats and is low in carbs (especially processed carbs), adding organ meats in the form of supplements is your second-best option.
I eat organ meats but probably not as much as I could. That’s why I supplement with beef liver and organ meat pills.
We buy a whole pasture-raised cow every year from a local farmer, and that’s how we get our beef liver. We also buy organic chicken livers at Whole Foods.
If you want to buy beef liver online, I recommend checking out White Oak Pastures. They offer a wide variety of different organ meats from grass-fed cows. We often buy their liver, heart, suet and other organs.
Absolutely! Organs are usually excellent sources of the nutrients those organs need to thrive. So eating liver supports your liver, eating heart is good for heart health, etc.
Eating nose-to-tail is arguably the most Paleolithic way of eating. So yes, beef liver is definitely paleo.
If you regularly consume sufficient amounts of organ meat, including beef liver, you’ll get all the nutrients your body requires. So there’s no need to worry about your veggie intake, in my opinion.
More important than getting the required amount of vital nutrients is getting the right and most-usable nutrients.
Organ meats contain heme iron and retinol (aka the real vitamin A). Plants contain the inferior non-heme iron and beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). Both are examples of nutrients found in plants that the body can’t absorb and use as well as their animal-based counterparts.
I’m not recommending avoiding seasonal fruits and certain veggies (I eat them), but I remain unconvinced as to their importance in the context of human evolution. You can learn more about the nutritional differences between meat and plants in this article.
Certain foods, such as aged cheese and (aged) liver, contain relatively high levels of tyramine, an amino acid that can cause migraines and high blood pressure in some people.
The issue is often exacerbated in people who are on certain antidepressants, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that breaks down excess tyramine in the body. If that process is inhibited by medication, you might end up with elevated levels of tyramine (leading to high blood pressure and migraines).
The good news is that, based on the latest scientific evidence, fresh or freeze-dried liver has relatively low levels of tyramine. Only aged liver has been shown to have high enough levels of tyramine to cause issues and interact negatively with MAOIs.
However, to be on the safe side, if you are taking MAOIs, I recommend having a discussion with a knowledgeable healthcare professional before consuming liver supplements.
I know that some muscle meat purists don’t care about organs, but I firmly believe that skipping organs deprives your body of the nutrients it needs to perform optimally. I regularly consume fresh organs but also take freeze-dried beef liver capsules every day.
I recommend consuming beef liver several times a week, but I realize how challenging that can be in terms of consuming fresh liver. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of freeze-dried beef liver capsules that have a long shelf-life and don’t require refrigeration.
The term desiccated means freeze-dried and refers to the gentle processing method of converting fresh liver into a tasteless powder. Freeze drying (as opposed to heat drying) preserves most of the micronutrients found in liver.
The liver of regeneratively-farmed cattle can contain residual amounts of environmental toxins (e.g., heavy metals). But it’s important to understand that the liver doesn’t store more of those toxins than regular muscle meat.
It’s true that the job of the liver (and the kidneys) is to filter out toxins from the bloodstream. But that doesn’t mean the toxins are stored in those organs. Instead, the liver chemically modifies those toxins (by rendering them harmless) before the cow excretes them via its natural detoxification pathways (e.g., the urine).
In other words, if you’re not concerned about the potential toxins in steak, you shouldn’t be concerned about the potential toxins in liver.
I launched a grass-fed beef liver supplement in 2021 and have sent samples of each production run to a third-party lab for testing. As you can see in the test report of a recent batch, the levels of heavy metals in liver is well within the allowed range.
Yes, consuming beef liver can positively affect your body’s ability to make certain hormones. For example, B vitamins, selenium and zinc are crucial for the production of hormones and a deficit in those micronutrients can negatively affect your hormone levels, leading to a range of issues including thyroid problems.
If you’re suffering from hormone imbalances, I highly recommend making beef liver a regular part of your diet to ensure your body gets all the essential nutrients it requires.
Wrap-Up: Eating More Beef Liver Is a Smart Idea
Organ meats have been an essential part of human nutrition for millions of years. Unfortunately, the combination of our modern lifestyles and the industrialization of food has removed these nutritional powerhouses from the plates of most people.
The results of our modern eating habits are a dramatic increase in metabolic disease and obesity rates, as well as widespread deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals. So it’s time to reverse that course and to start nourishing our bodies with the foods we are genetically primed to consume.
While I highly recommend trying to get pasture-raised organ meat (including liver) back on the dinner table, I also understand that this isn’t as easy for everyone as I might make it sound.
At the Kummer household, we started including beef liver in our diet a few years ago. But we still don’t consume the variety and amount of organ meat that we should.
That’s why I believe including the right supplements on top of a solid dietary framework — even if that doesn’t yet include the regular consumption of organ meat — is an excellent idea.
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