I recently sat across a restaurant table from an individual who ordered liver and onions. As a kid I was required to eat liver because it was good for me, but I recently heard a famous TV doctor advise liver avoidance. So what’s the answer? Should humans consume pÃ¢té, foie gras, liverwurst, chopped liver, or liver and onions.
Consider beef liver. A 3 1/2 oz. serving has about 150 calories and more than 20 grams of protein. Being a good source of lean protein makes liver an attractive option to anyone watching his or her weight. Liver might also prevent anemia because a serving can have more than a quarter of the daily amount of iron humans require, and a whopping 988 percent of our daily value of Vitamin B-12. Iron-deficiency anemia is a risk for women of childbearing age, children and adolescents, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia is also a risk for some people. Both interfere with the production of red blood cells and can cause weakness and fatigue.
Lean protein, iron, and Vitamin B-12 are benefits of liver, but it has a downside too. Too much iron, for example, can be harmful. Plus, liver may increase levels of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood.
Liver is also rich in Vitamin A, and while some Vitamin A is good, too much liver, or liver consumed by someone already taking Vitamin A supplements, might lead to Vitamin A toxicity. Effects of Vitamin A toxicity can include osteoporosis and drug interactions. (The form of Vitamin A in fruits and vegetables does not cause toxic symptoms, however.)
So, while acknowledging that liver can be a good source of nutrients, TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz has said he doesn’t recommend its consumption because it contains too many toxins. That’s because an animal’s liver serves as a filter, and when it encounters chemicals it can’t process, it stores them. PCBs and other toxins animals are exposed to are stored in their livers. Finally, organic compounds called purines are found in liver and can cause gout or kidney stones in people prone to those conditions.
What is the answer? For liver lovers, it’s all about moderation. Those who take supplemental Vitamin A should be wary of eating more than one serving of liver per week. And anyone who craves liver might be wise to buy organic if possible to reduce the hormones and toxins consumed along with its nutrition.
Of course, if you hate liver, you can use toxins and pruines as justification for never touching the stuff again. Instead, get your protein, iron, and Vitamin A from foods you actually enjoy eating.