When I first read Nourishing Traditions, I was a little shocked and definitely grossed out at the strong suggestion to put offal (such as liver, sweetbreads, and kidney) back on our table. I was sure that wasn’t going to happen. But two things changed my mind. First, I read the work that inspired Nourishing Traditions, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price. This convinced me that not only was this a traditional practice but that it had significant nutritional benefits that weren’t too be ignored simply because I was squeamish. The second thing that happened to me was having children. I cared about giving them the best nutritional boost I could, and feeding them liver was a wonderful way to do it.
Liver is a superfood (some even call it the ultimate superfood) with many important nutrients. As you will remember from my post on supplements, I am not personally opposed to taking supplements, though there are some cautions there. But primarily we should be concerned with the nutrition in our food, not in our vitamins. For those wanting to eat a traditional diet, eating liver can be an important part of it. In fact, it can offer you many nutrients that we typically look to supplement pills to fill.
If eating liver grosses you out as much as it did me, don’t worry. It can be easier and more enjoyable than you think.
Why Liver is Important
If you remember from my previous writings, Dr. Price was a dentist who studied 14 people groups consuming traditional foods. He found that they had superior general and dental health. When he sent food back to the lab for a nutritional analysis, he found that their diets were higher in many important nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, and K2.
In fact, on average, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2 were ten times higher in their diets! Liver happens to be an excellent source of vitamin A.
According to Mary Enig and Sally Fallon “Vitamin A: This all-important vitamin is a catalyst on which innumerable biochemical processes depend. According to Dr. Price, neither protein, minerals nor water-soluble vitamins can be utilized by the body without vitamin A from animal sources.6 Vitamin A also acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body against pollutants and free radicals, hence against cancer. Vitamin A stimulates the secretion of gastric juices needed for protein digestion, plays a vital role in building strong bones and rich blood, contributes to the production of RNA and is needed for the formation of visual purple. Sources of preformed vitamin A (called retinol) include butterfat, egg yolks, liver and other organ meats, seafood and fish liver oils.” (If you have read about the toxic effects of too high of vitamin A, it is their position that this only refers to synthetic vitamin A.) Source
It’s important to note that this is vitamin from animal sources, called retinal – not the weaker beta-carotene that is converted to vitamin A in the body (not everybody can make that conversion easily).
Liver is an important source of MANY important nutrients
But liver isn’t just high in vitamin A, as great as that is. It’s also high in calcium, phosphorus, selenium, the vitamin B complex, and iron. To check out the nutritional facts of liver, check out Chris’s comparison chart of beef liver to other food items, and be impressed.
What about toxins since liver is the cleansing organ of the body? Chris answers that issue well when he says, “While it is true that one of the liver’s role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems. On the other hand, the liver is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.” However, all recommend buying liver from organic or grassfed animals for better nutrition and less chance of any toxins.
To get that beautiful synergy of nutrition into our diet, we need good food sources of important nutrients like vitamin A, and liver is a great way to get it(with a beneficial boost of other important nutrients along with it).
Tips and Recipes for Enjoying Liver
But I know the question many have is how in the world to serve it. For years, I tried to serve liver on a consistent basis. I got to the point of being able to bear it. But enjoy it? It was rare. That is, until I was able to discover some recipes and tips that really helped me enjoy it thoroughly.
Fresh, fresh, fresh is best:Liver that has been hanging out behind the butcher counter is going to taste a lot stronger. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s just true. Getting the freshest liver possible is best for taste (frozen is fine, as long as it was frozen very quickly after butchering).
Soaking in lemon water: It helps the texture and taste. I do this when making liver and onions, which leaves the liver not much to hide behind.
Use strong flavors: Liver is a strong flavor, so cooking it in dishes with other strong flavors will really mellow it out. Think garlic, rosemary, wine, etc. My husband has found memories of his mom’s sautéed chicken livers with garlic, for example.
Liver pate: This is what first helped me enjoy eating liver. Served with yummy crackers (and homemade pickled onions), this is enjoyed not only by myself, but my children as well. This is a great way to enjoy chicken liver, which has it’s own benefits, slightly different than beef.
Grind-and-hide method: This is certainly one of the grossest things I do in my kitchen, but I promise it’s worth it! I cut up my huge beef liver into big chunks and drop it in my food processor. I then grind it until it’s chopped into small pieces (while staring at the ceiling and avoiding looking at the food processor). Once it’s ground, I can mix it with my grassfed ground beef, and no one knows the difference. (If you are really sensitive to the taste, start small, and work yourself up – we do ¼ pound of liver to one pound of ground beef). I freeze any leftovers in an ice cube tray, then pop them out, and put them in a freezer baggie. I just pull out so many cubes to defrost as needed.
Suddenly your Mini Meatloaves, Paleo Italian Meatballs, Mexican Quinoa bowls, your Paleo Seven Layer Dip, and any other recipes you use ground beef, have a lot more nutritional oomph to them! I do find that flavoring your beef well helps hide that liver flavor even more. I went over this method step-by-step, plus shared the pasta sauce featured in the photo above (really, there is liver there!), and a very nutrient-dense, liver-hiding, lip-licking, Paleo Chili recipe here. My kids don’t even know that there is any liver in these recipes and my liver-hating sister actually enjoys these dishes!
Consider using liver powder: If grinding beef liver is just a little out of your comfort zone still, you can buy a dried liver powder. I recommend buying ones specifically from 100% grassfed cows. I’ve been using this recently, with happy results. The first thing we noticed is that it has an almost faint seaweed-like smell, which is really interested, as we know that grassfed beef has a higher omega-3 fatty acid ratio. I wondered if there could be a connection there. Regardless, it seems pretty concentrated, and I use only a small amount as it can overwhelm other flavors quickly. Truthfully, the nondried form is an easier taste to hide in ground beef, but the powder can be used in gravies, soups, and other dishes easily, which the regular ground liver can’t do. I love the convenience of having it on hand dried, so I use both. I definitely recommend starting small though when experimenting with adding it.
The wimp-out/heavy hitter option: For those wanting to get a lot of liver (to restore iron levels, for example) without having to eat it all the time, this same liver power in capsule form is an excellent option. I’ve been taking them myself. For those who just (literally) can’t stomach liver, this is also a great option. Most of us can swallow capsules, and this allows us to get the benefits in an easy, painless way. I’ve heard that these are really popular in some bodybuilding circles!
I got my liver capsules and powder here, an affiliate, as it’s a really good brand and is at a great price right now.
My only caution with liver is that anything can be overdone, even food. Liver should probably be part of most of our diets, but that doesn’t mean we should be gorging ourselves on it everyday or taking tons of liver pills for long lengths of time, as we can imbalance our diets. And of course, taking to your health care provider about any dietary concerns is your responsibility. Many of our great grandmothers were fed liver once a week. That is a pretty good blueprint for us to follow.
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Okay, so while reading about putting a liver in the processor, an involuntary back twist overcame me with a sudden jolt!
I guess I am not the only one. But what I want to know is this. Is it possible to drain a liver of its blood? I don’t eat blood.
Sorry about the back twist! I definitely understand the feeling. 😉
As far as blood and liver (and someone correct me if I’m wrong), my understanding is that as long as the animal was butchered correctly the meat shouldn’t contain much blood. If you see any on the surface of the liver, you can also rinse and pat dry. Perhaps buying a Kosher liver would be best?
I was definitely with you on the “no blood” path, wanting any red meat to be cooked to a crisp. I was a vegetarian for many years so any seemingly “raw” meat seemed incredibly disgusting. However, I somewhat recently learned that the red juices that ooze from meats is a protein solution, not blood as is commonly thought. As Kimi mentioned, a properly (and potentially improperly) butchered animal will not contain blood. While it may be a bit gruesome for some, I highly recommend seeing or taking part in the humane butcher of an animal. It will provide more insight into what you are eating and how it is prepared.
What we have done, that is a little cumbersome but effective is we take small chunks frozen and just swallow them like pills. We have tried cooked lives with onions with tons of butter and it was tough. We have been able to be consistent with dinner taking the small chunks and chopping them smaller and swallowing them. They are raw but frozen. It has worked for us. I will try the lemon juice however because I could see how that would help. Thanks for your post.
I’ve heard great things about swallowing raw “liver pills”. Thanks for sharing!
I have been eating raw liver for a month now and have experienced a tremendous boost in energy. My naturopath prescribed 1 oz 5 times per week. Still deal with squeemishness but it is worth the effort to have the added energy. I need much less sleep and wake refreshed.
Liver is a great energizer! I’ve really experienced that from the liver pills I’ve been taking. It makes sense considering how nutrient dense it is. Do you also freeze and swallow raw liver, or how do you get it down?
Wow, thanks for posting this. You don’t see much info about liver. I’ve been trying to get more in our diet. Both my son and I are low on iron. I love the “grind and hide” method. This is what I do most of the time.
When I do liver, I fry a lb. of bacon and use the fat for browning the flour dredged liver until browned and then layering stewed tomatoes on top then onions and then bacon in several layers and simmering a couple of hr.s on the stove or I suppose you could use a crock pot to finish. It is heavenly and I have had people eat it that thought it was round steak instead of liver. It has wonderful sweet, yet smoky taste because of the bacon. The longer cook with the acid tomatoes helps to tenderize it a bit as well.
Wow, Cindy, I’ve never heard of slow cooking it like that! Thanks for sharing. I’m sure the bacon is a wonderful complementing flavor.
I laughed at the “look at the ceiling while I grind it” comment – I’ve done the same thing! I (re)discovered liver when I was a fitness competitor, while I mostly consume it in the treat form of pate these days I can’t deny it seems to make a difference. Great idea to hide it in a sauce for noodles!
Haha, yes, I felt I should mention that grinding liver isn’t pretty. 😉
If I were to take liver caps instead of eating the liver, how much per week is a sufficient dose? Thank you for this post!
Truthfully, I’m not sure. I know that those using pills to rebuild iron levels, for example, will take 6 capsules a day (this is what I’m currently doing, but will probably cut down to a smaller dose after my iron levels are checked).
Is there any information or comparison chart with organic chicken livers? I’d like to know how they compare to beef liver.
I’ve been making a chicken liver pate about monthly.
I’d like to know that as well. I can’t find anything either
You made me laugh out loud with your “while staring at the ceiling” comment! Thanks for sharing your tips. I like pate a lot (especially Micky of autoimmunepaleo.com’s recipe) but otherwise am *really* struggling with the whole liver thing. I’m going to order capsules tonight to get me started.
I love making liver canederli (liver bread dumplings) in chicken broth Kimi! So good!
If you don’t like chicken liver, you might consider trying the livers of pastured roosters. They are very different than hen livers. They are a rich red color, have a dry surface, and just need a touch of frying on both sides. http://wp.me/p44c6k-4V
I enjoyed your article. Thank you.
What ratio of liver powder to ground beef would you recommend meatloaf or meatballs ?
I wouldn’t add too much, as it would flavor it too much, as well as potentially adding in too much vitamin A into your diet. I use probably a couple of teaspoons per pound. 🙂
Am struggling with my iron levels for almo 3years what can I do ? It’s goes up and goes down.
I know how that is I’m struggling to, but I love lover I love it Cooked or fried like chicken!
I must be a freak. I absolutely love liver. Especially chicken liver. Even as a kid. I can eat a pound of it if I’m not careful. I mix it in with baked California blend vegetables with a little bit of sea salt. You can really stuff yourself and still keep your calories reasonably low.