Is Eating Liver Good for You? Benefits and Risks

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on September 29, 2023
9 min read

Liver is an organ meat. It comes from the body's largest internal organ, found in the bellies of all animals with backbones. Among hundreds of other functions, the liver filters blood and removes toxins. It also makes bile, a substance that helps digest fats and get rid of waste.

Livers from many different animals are eaten around the world. You might find beef, calf, chicken, pork, lamb, goose, and cod livers in your local butcher shop, seafood store, or grocery store. Liver has a strong flavor and unique texture that can be polarizing. Some people love it, while others hate it.

Is liver good for you?

There are some significant health benefits to eating liver, but there are also some drawbacks you should consider before adding it to your diet.

Among some of the more commonly available types of liver are:

Beef liver. This intensely flavored variety is one of the most widely eaten types of liver in the U.S. It's often used in the classic liver-and-onions dish. It comes from cows that are over a year old.

Calf liver. Also called veal liver, it comes from young cows (under 1 year old). It's similar to beef liver and can be cooked in similar ways. But it has a more tender texture.

Pork liver. Some people find that this type of liver, which comes from pigs, has a more bitter flavor than beef liver. Pork liver is an ingredient in liverwurst in Germany and livermush in the American South. You'll also find it in Chinese cuisine.

Lamb liver. This is the liver of a sheep that is less than 1 year old. It may be eaten fried along with other organ meats (especially in New Zealand and Australia) and is featured in some Indian and Lebanese dishes.

Chicken liver. Chopped liver, a traditional Jewish dish, is made from chicken liver. You'll find deep-fried chicken liver in the Southern U.S. Their flavor is considered milder than that of beef or pork liver.

Goose liver. This type of liver is best known as an ingredient in the French dish foie gras, which is made from the liver of geese or ducks that have been fattened. You can also prepare it more simply by frying or pan-searing it.

Cod liver. Its claim to fame is as the main ingredient in the dietary supplement cod liver oil. You can eat it, too. Cod livers are sold canned, and many Europeans eat them spread on bread or crackers. You can cook fresh ones, too. (Even Martha Stewart has a recipe.)

All types of liver are richer in vitamins and minerals than muscle meats and many fruits and vegetables. They don't have fiber like produce does, though.

Liver contains plenty of protein, iron, and B vitamins. It's also one of the best animal-based sources of vitamin A. One serving of beef liver, for example, provides more than 100% of your daily vitamin A requirement. Getting enough vitamin A has been linked to a lower risk of conditions like cataracts and breast cancer.

Liver is also a good source of:

Beef liver nutrition. A 3-ounce serving of beef liver (4 ounces or 110 grams uncooked) contains:

  • Calories: 149
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Cholesterol: 310 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 4 grams
  • Sugars: Less than 1 gram

Calves liver (veal liver) nutrition. A 112-gram serving of calf liver (about 4 ounces uncooked) contains:

  • Calories: 130
  • Protein: 18 grams
  • Fat: 3.5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 284 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Sugars: 4 grams

Pork liver nutrition. A 113-gram serving of pork liver (around 4 ounces uncooked) contains:

  • Calories: 150
  • Protein: 24 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Cholesterol: 340 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 3 grams
  • Sugars: Less than 1 gram

Lamb liver nutrition. A 113-gram serving of lamb liver (4 ounces uncooked) contains:

  • Calories: 154
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Fat: 5.5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 436 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 2.5 grams
  • Sugars: Less than 1 gram

Chicken liver nutrition. A serving of chicken liver (4 ounces uncooked) contains:

  • Calories: 130
  • Protein: 19 grams
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 484 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: Less than 1 gram
  • Sugars: Less than 1 gram

Goose liver nutrition. One goose liver (about 3.3 ounces uncooked) contains:

  • Calories: 125
  • Protein: 15.5 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Cholesterol: 484 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams

Cod liver nutrition. One 2-ounce serving of canned cod liver contains:

  • Calories: 210
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Fat: 21 grams
  • Cholesterol: 79 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram
  • Sugars: Less than 1 gram

Research has found a number of potential health benefits to eating liver:

Rich source of nutrients. Liver is one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet, with significant amounts of iron, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, and copper. Eating a single serving of liver can help you meet your daily recommended amount of most of these vitamins and minerals, reducing your risk of nutrient deficiency.

Liver is also very high in protein, a nutrient that's essential for you to build and maintain healthy tissue, including muscle, skin, and bone. Foods that are high in protein also help you feel full longer after you eat them, which can help you stay at a healthy weight.

Lower risk of anemia. Iron is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the U.S. Iron deficiency can lead to certain types of anemia, resulting in fatigue, muscle weakness, and a lack of focus. Liver is an excellent source of both iron and vitamin B12, which work in combination to keep your blood cells in good working condition. In fact, one of the earliest treatments for pernicious anemia was to regularly eat beef liver. Today, adding a few servings of iron to your weekly diet can help ease or prevent anemia.

Improved bone health. Liver contains some vitamin K, which is critical to bone health. Vitamin K helps your body process calcium and add it to your bones. As a result, it helps maintain the strength of your skeletal system. Getting enough vitamin K in your diet has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic conditions such as osteoporosis. Vitamin K is also important to maintaining the health of your circulatory system.

Your daily value for vitamin K is 120 micrograms. A 3-ounce serving of beef liver has about 3 micrograms of vitamin K, and the same size serving of chicken liver has 3 micrograms.

Improved energy, brain function, and mood. Vitamin B12 is critical for the healthy function of your nervous system. If you don't get enough, you may feel tired all the time and not have enough energy for daily activities. You may also have problems with memory and understanding and feel depressed, confused, or irritable. Liver, especially beef and lamb liver, is one of the best sources of vitamin B12 of any food. A 3-ounce serving of beef liver has 59 micrograms, while 4 ounces of chicken liver has 18.8. This more than satisfies your daily value of 2.4 micrograms.

The same vitamins and minerals that make liver so nutritionally potent can create complications for people with certain medical conditions. That's why you should check with your doctor before you start eating a lot more of it.

Here are some possible drawbacks of eating large amounts of liver:

High cholesterol. Liver is high in dietary cholesterol. While many people can eat high-cholesterol foods without a problem, people trying to lower their cholesterol or who take cholesterol medications should watch their intake. Getting too much cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.

Vitamin A toxicity. It's possible, and dangerous, to get too much vitamin A. Eating large amounts of liver can lead to symptoms of vitamin A toxicity, which happens when your own liver can't process the excess vitamin A quickly enough. Most doctors recommend that people without vitamin deficiencies eat just one serving of liver per week.

Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include nausea and vomiting, headache, irritability, and sleepiness. Taking in high levels of vitamin A over time can also weaken your bones and make it more likely that you'll have a fracture.

Copper toxicity. Beef liver contains more copper than any other food. A 3-ounce serving has 12,400 micrograms or more than 1,300% of your recommended daily intake. Your body normally gets rid of excess copper you take in efficiently, so it's rare to have dangerous levels of this mineral in your body. But it can happen if:

  • You take in high amounts of it through food over time.
  • The pipes that supply your water leech copper into your drinking water.
  • You have a condition known as Wilson disease, in which your liver stores copper instead of releasing it.

Symptoms of copper toxicity include nausea, belly pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe cases can cause liver damage and death.

Because liver is so high in both vitamin A and copper, most doctors recommend that people without vitamin deficiencies eat just one serving per week.

Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. Different antibiotics are given to livestock animals to both treat and prevent bacterial infections. Although there are regulations that govern their use, some of these antibiotics can be taken in by humans when they eat the meat or eggs from these animals. Because the liver is the organ that filters and removes substances from the blood, the buildup of these drugs is likely to be higher in this type of meat.

Antibiotics present in food may cause:

  • Allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis
  • Heart problems
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Developmental issues in unborn babies

Medication interactions. Some medications are known to interact with vitamin A. Because liver is rich in vitamin A, anyone on medications such as orlistat or certain psoriasis medications should talk to their doctor before adding liver to their diet.

While liver is an excellent source of many nutrients, eating it can lead to health problems for certain people. Talk to your doctor before you add liver to your diet if you:

  • Are pregnant. Taking in very high levels of vitamin A during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects.
  • Have gout. Liver is high in purines, substances that can raise your levels of uric acid and cause gout.
  • Have Wilson disease. With this condition, your body can't get rid of excess copper, so it can build up to toxic levels quickly.
  • Have type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. Eating liver or other organ meats may raise your risk of fatty liver disease.

An easy way to mask the taste of liver is to cover it with milk in a bowl and let it soak for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. The milk proteins will draw out the bitterness for a milder flavor.

The classic way to serve liver is to pan-fry it with onions. Adding beef or chicken stock and letting it simmer add flavor to the dish, which will mask some of that meat's flavor if needed. And some bacon slices on top punch up the flavor profile even more.

Another way to add liver to your menu is to grind or puree it in a good processor. From here, you can make a spread to serve with crackers or bread or add it to ground beef for burgers or meatballs.

You can find liver supplements in capsule form in stores that carry vitamins and nutritional products. They're usually made from beef liver, but chicken liver supplements are available as well. If you want the benefits of eating liver without the need to prepare the meat or the taste, the benefits of liver supplements may be the solution for you.

All varieties of liver are loaded with protein, minerals, and vitamins combined with relatively low amounts of calories. But this type of meat does have high levels of cholesterol and fat. Some of these nutrients can cause health problems at very high levels, especially if you're pregnant or have certain health conditions. Check with your doctor before adding it to your diet and eat it in moderation.

What is the healthiest liver to eat?

Different types of liver vary in the amounts of specific nutrients each one offers. But beef liver benefits your diet with the highest levels of most vitamins and minerals overall.