You probably think about liver in terms of whether or not you enjoy eating it; however there are also benefits and dangers of eating liver that you should be aware of. Despite the fact that it's very nutritious, eating animal liver, like beef or chicken liver, has disadvantages as well.
Rich in Nutrients
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics refers to liver as "nature's multivitamin" because it is extremely nutritious. Like the human liver, animals' livers also store several different micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Additionally, it performs a number of vital functions. As a result, you get a pretty concentrated dose of nutrition when you eat liver.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, liver is a rich source of iron, copper, zinc, selenium, vitamin A and B vitamins like choline and biotin. The quantity of these nutrients in a single 3.5-ounce serving of liver far surpasses that in most plant-based foods.
In fact, given how nutrient-dense liver is, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that certain groups of people add it to their diet to help them meet their micronutrient needs if they are unable to meet them through their regular diet or if their ability to absorb nutrition is impaired.
These groups include women who are of child-bearing age, athletes who train intensely and people who have digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome. Liver can also be a good addition to your diet if you primarily eat whole foods and plant-based foods, since it can help raise your nutrient intake substantially.
The Dangers of Eating Liver
As nutritious as liver is, there are some dangers of eating liver. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that liver is very high in cholesterol and vitamin A, so even if you enjoy eating it, you need to limit your intake to small amounts. Eating large portions of liver or consuming it every day is not recommended. Instead, it's best that you limit your portions to 3 ounces and eat liver only a couple of times a week.
For children, there is another side effect of eating chicken liver, or any type of animal liver for that matter. Since liver is a concentrated source of metals (minerals), it can pose a health risk to children, according to a February 2019 study published in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. The authors of the study therefore advise against giving children liver more than once a week.
The study found that this particular side effect of eating chicken liver, or other animal livers, does not apply to adults; however, adults still need to limit their consumption of liver because of its cholesterol and vitamin A content. Here's why.
Cholesterol Content in Liver
Liver is a significant source of cholesterol, and one of the side effects of eating chicken liver, beef liver or other types of liver is that it could raise your blood cholesterol levels. Per the USDA, the relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol is complex and requires more research; however, eating patterns with low cholesterol are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that cholesterol is a waxy substance that is similar to fat in its consistency. Your body naturally produces as much as it needs and uses it to make vitamin D, hormones and certain substances that facilitate digestion. Cholesterol is also used to build cells and is found in every cell in your body.
While you need some cholesterol, having too much cholesterol in your blood can lead to health issues. If your cholesterol is high, the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends limiting your intake of dietary cholesterol to a maximum of 200 milligrams per day. According to the USDA, a 3.5-ounce serving of beef liver contains 393 milligrams of cholesterol. A similar portion of chicken liver contains 558 milligrams of cholesterol.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine says excess cholesterol combines with other substances in your blood and forms a substance known as plaque, which sticks to the walls of your arteries, causing them to become narrower or get blocked altogether. Known as atherosclerosis, this buildup of plaque can lead to coronary artery disease.
Vitamin A Toxicity
Another disadvantage of animal liver, like beef or chicken liver's is that it is very rich in vitamin A. When it comes to vitamin A, too much of a good thing is definitely a bad thing, because this nutrient can be toxic if consumed in high doses.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), vitamin A is a group of fat-soluble substances that are important for healthy vision and the reproductive process. Vitamin A also plays a vital role in the functioning of organs like the heart, kidneys and lungs, among others. A September 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine notes that vitamin A also promotes immunity.
Read more: A List of Vitamins and Their Uses
So what's the problem? Well, unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A are stored in your body, instead of being flushed out of your system every day. The UK's National Health Service (NHS) explains that any excess vitamin A that you consume is stored in your liver for future use. If you regularly consume a lot of liver, or liver products like liver sausage or pâté, a harmful amount of vitamin A can build up in your body.
Like humans, animals also store vitamin A in their livers, which is why animal livers are a rich source of vitamin A. Per the ODS, a single 3-ounce serving of beef liver has 444 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin A.
According to the NHS, the rich vitamin A content in animal liver, like beef or chicken liver, has disadvantages that can be quite severe. Regularly consuming too much vitamin A can make your bones more susceptible to fractures when you're older. Excess vitamin A is also harmful to fetuses, so pregnant women are advised to avoid eating liver.
According to the American International Medical University, vitamin A toxicity, also known as hypervitaminosis A, can also be fatal in extreme cases. Symptoms of hypervitaminosis A include irritability, headaches, double vision, vomiting, anorexia, coarse hair, swollen bones and alopecia.
Is This an Emergency?
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Why Liver Earns the Nickname “Nature’s Multivitamin””
- Environmental Monitoring and Assessment: “Micro- and Macro-Element Contents in the Liver of Farm and Wild Animals and the Health Risks Involved in Liver Consumption”
- USDA: “Nutrients and Health Benefits”
- USDA: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Cholesterol”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “How to Lower Cholesterol with Diet”
- USDA: “Beef Liver, Braised”
- USDA: “Chicken Liver, Braised”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin A”
- National Health Service: “Meat in Your Diet”
- Journal of Clinical Medicine: “Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System”
- American International Medical University: “Hypervitaminosis A: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Management”