A cow’s liver, much like a human’s, needs many vitamins and nutrients to help it function well. The liver is an organ that helps in the removal of harmful substances from the blood called toxins. It is also a gland that produces important proteins and hormones.
As organ meat, the low calorie and high nutrient content of liver qualify it as a superfood. In many ways, liver is better for you than the traditional muscle meats like steaks and hamburgers that most of us eat, says registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD. It has fewer calories and fat and has more vitamins and nutrients. Organ meat is also cheaper than red meat.
What are the Benefits of Beef Liver?
There are many health benefits of including organ meats (also called offal or variety meats) in your diet.
1. Iron for Healthy Blood
With 4 milligrams of iron in a 3-ounce serving, beef liver is one of the best sources of iron. One serving provides half the recommended daily amount of iron for men and persons assigned male at birth (AMAB) and one-fifth for women and persons assigned female at birth (AFAB). Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, the proteins in red blood cells that help carry oxygenated blood throughout the body. It also aids in muscle development. A low-iron diet can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which causes fatigue, heart arrhythmias and chest pain, adds Czerwony.
2. Protein for Strong Muscles
A 3-ounce serving of beef liver provides 17 grams of protein, making it an excellent source of protein. This nutrient is important for a child’s growth. Adults also need it to build, repair and maintain tissues such as muscles. It also helps with weight loss. High-protein foods keep you feeling full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat or reach for an unhealthy snack, says Czerwony.
Bodybuilders and powerlifters have been eating beef liver and taking beef liver supplements since at least the 1930s, when experts first touted the liver’s ability to promote muscle gains. Protein also supplies red blood cells with oxygen, giving you more energy when you exercise.
3. Vitamin A For Better Vision
You can meet your body’s daily vitamin A requirement by eating a 3-ounce serving of liver. One serving has more than 4,200 micrograms retinol activity equivalents (mcg RAE) of vitamin A. This vitamin promotes good vision, strengthens the immune system, and may even reduce the risk of cancer.
Organ meats like liver and foods like fish and eggs provide what’s known as preformed vitamin A (retinoid or retinol) that your body uses right away. Orange, yellow and green fruits and vegetables provide provitamin A carotenoids (beta-carotene) which your body converts into vitamin A.
Getting too much vitamin A from fruits and vegetables isn’t harmful, but too much preformed vitamin A from beef liver can be toxic. Eating beef liver every day can damage your eyesight and bones, warns Czerwony. Consuming too much vitamin A during pregnancy can also lead to birth defects. And in rare cases, vitamin A toxicity can be life-threatening.
4. B Vitamins for Energy and Healthy Development
Beef liver is rich in micronutrients such as these B vitamins:
- Folate (vitamin B9) for lowering blood pressure and healthy fetal development during pregnancy.
- Thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3) for energy and cellular function.
- Vitamin B12 for brain health, energy, and healthy nerves and blood.
Is Grass-Fed Beef Liver Better for me?
Studies suggest that grass-fed beef cattle liver has four times the phytonutrients of grain-fed beef cattle livers. Phytonutrients are powerful compounds produced by plants that help keep us healthy. You can get phytonutrients like antioxidants, flavonoids, anthocyanins and carotenoids in your diet by eating fruits and vegetables. You can also get them by consuming grass-fed meat or milk from animals. Other studies show that grass-fed beef is higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
A 2015 Consumer reports study also found less antibiotic-resistant bacteria in grass-fed meats. Though Czerwony notes that the term grass-fed doesn’t mean a meat or dairy product is free of antibiotics or growth hormones. Only the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Foods can make that claim, he clarifies.
Is it Safe to Eat raw Beef Liver?
Some people on the carnivore diet, as well as those looking to get the most nutrients and vitamins from their liver, choose to eat their meat raw. But Czerwony advises against it. Like all raw meat, liver can have Salmonella, Escherichia coli OR Campylobacteria bacteria that cause severe digestive infections. Eating undercooked or raw meat, including beef liver, increases your risk of life-threatening foodborne illness, she warns.
And freezing the liver before eating it raw won’t kill the bacteria. Cooking meat to a specific temperature is the only way to kill the bacteria that cause foodborne illness, she continues. The USDA recommends cooking beef liver to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or 71 degrees Celsius.
Should I Take Beef Liver Supplements?
Some people who don’t like the taste or texture of beef liver take beef liver supplements instead. But be careful not to overdo it. If you’re eating a healthy diet, as well as taking multivitamins and specific supplements like beef liver, you’re at risk of getting too much and harmful vitamins and minerals, says Czerwony. Getting nutrients through food is still the safest and healthiest approach to good nutrition.
How Should I Prepare Beef Liver?
To make the liver more palatable, try soaking it in a bowl of milk for 30-60 minutes. The casein proteins in the milk help draw out any residual blood and impurities in the liver, making the meat less metallic or bitter-tasting, says Czerwony. The calcium in milk also helps neutralize the acidity of the meat.
You can also add ground liver to ground beef to make burgers, or saute the liver in a pan with oil (or butter), onions, garlic, and bacon.
If you’ve never tried beef liver or haven’t eaten it since you were a kid, your taste buds might be in for a treat. Your local grocery store butcher can help you select the best cut of liver and offer cooking tips so your family can enjoy this nutritional powerhouse.
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