Beef Liver Benefits + How To Prepare It, According To Nutritionists
If beef liver is high on your list of unappetizing-sounding foods, we don't blame you. But try not to think about the name (or the fact that it's classified as an organ meat), and instead consider some of the nutrients beef liver may have to offer.
Beef liver nutrition.
Celebrity nutritionist and mbg Collective member Kelly LeVeque includes beef liver capsules in her daily postpartum routine—but she's not the only one touting the benefits. When sharing her daily diet with mbg, functional medicine doctor Terry Wahls, M.D., said she generally follows the Wahls Protocol: a nutrient-rich paleo diet, including organ meats, like beef liver.
So, what's the deal? Is beef liver really all that healthy, and should you be eating it? Here's what registered dietitians and functional medicine doctors have to say about the surprising superfood.
These nutrition values are based on 1 ounce of cooked beef liver1, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food database:
- Calories: 53.6
- Protein: 8.18 g
- Total fat: 1.48 g
- Carbohydrate: 1.44 g
- Calcium: 1.7 mg
- Iron: 1.84 mg
- Magnesium: 5.95 mg
- Phosphorus: 140 mg
- Potassium: 98.9 mg
- Selenium: 10.1 µg
- Folate: 71.2 µg
- Retinol: 2650 µg
Beef liver benefits.
According to Wahls, beef liver is an excellent source of B vitamins, including folate, riboflavin, niacin, and cobalamin (B12). In fact, she says it's superior to greens when it comes to B12, which is not readily available in plants.
Beef liver also contains one of the highest sources of nonsynthetic, preformed vitamin A (aka retinol)2. "Three ounces of this organ meat provides around 7,900 micrograms of vitamin A, equaling about 883% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)," registered dietitian Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN, tells mbg. This essential micronutrient is critical for immune functioning3 and difficult to find in most foods. "It's different from beta-carotene, which is what most vitamins/prenatals use," LeVeque explains in her Instagram caption.
In addition to its vitamins and minerals, beef liver "is a great source of high-quality protein to boost the metabolism while also being a good low-calorie and low-carb option," says dietitian Priscilla Blevins, M.S., R.D., L.D. Beef liver is, therefore, a good option for anyone following the keto diet or another protein-rich lifestyle.
What are some of the main concerns with eating liver?
Beef liver contains a significant amount of cholesterol (111 mg), which has often been associated with heart disease. "However, this shouldn't be a concern for most people because it is now known that dietary cholesterol isn't as problematic to serum cholesterol levels4 as much as it once believed," Knudsen says. "Saturated fat is the main instigator of higher serum cholesterol levels."
Because the liver is responsible for detoxifying the body, many people believe beef liver contains toxins. "But that's not the case," Knudsen assures us. "The liver doesn't store toxins, but rather it helps eliminate toxins."
Who should try beef liver, and who should skip it?
Because of its high nutritional value and superfood status, nearly anyone would benefit from eating beef liver.
However, since beef liver is such a concentrated source of vitamin A (one 3-ounce serving of it exceeds the recommended daily maximum), Knudsen discourages pregnant moms from consuming it, in food or supplement form.
"Too much vitamin A may be a cause of birth defects5, especially if it's excessively consumed in the first two months of the pregnancy," she says. "Sweet potatoes, spinach, and carrots are all also great sources of vitamin A that would be better choices than beef liver during pregnancy."
Additionally, anyone following a vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diet would want to steer clear, for obvious reasons.
How to use liver in your diet.
Compared to, say, a chicken breast, organ meats may not be quite so familiar or approachable for most people to cook. "Beef liver sounds gross, slimy, and even chewy (but maybe that's just meat)," Knudsen says.
To help you get started, she provides these tips for cooking beef liver:
- Cut into thin slices.
- Cut out/around the connective tissue.
- Many recipes recommend soaking liver slices in a white vinegar and milk bath for at least 30 minutes before cooking. This helps keep the meat tender and less bitter. (Just remove the liver slices from the bath and pat dry before cooking.)
For the highest-quality meat option, Wahls suggests buying organic and sticking with 6 to 8 ounces per week. Here are her favorite ways to enjoy it:
- Cook the liver slowly with onions, leaving it medium-rare. ("If it is cooked all the way through it will be dry, tough, and not very tasty," she explains.)
- Blend it with olive oil to make a pâté. This can be served on a sandwich, with crackers, toast, or stuffed into veggies.
If you're having a hard time stomaching beef liver (literally or figuratively), it's also available in supplement form. If capsules seem like a more approachable way to consume the nutrient-rich food, seek out a trusted supplement brand for this option. We're fans of Allergy Research Group's liver beef vegicaps.
Beef liver might not sound like the most appetizing dish, but it's an excellent source of vitamins and protein. If you eat meat, it may be worth adding this nutrient-rich food to your diet.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.