Liver: Is It Good for You?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on December 22, 2022
5 min read

Liver has a strong flavor and unique texture that can be polarizing. Some people love it while others hate it. The 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, fishmonger, or grocery store. 

While liver has some significant health benefits, 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 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 livers. You’ll find deep-fried chicken livers 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, made from the livers 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. 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). 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. 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. 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. A serving of chicken livers (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. 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. 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.

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.

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.

Medication interactions. Some medications are known to interact with vitamin A. Since 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.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: beyhanyazar / Getty Images


Associated Medical Schools of New York: “Liver diet as a cure for pernicious anemia.”

BBC News: “Vitamin warning for liver lovers.”

Clinical Microbiology Reviews: “Effects of vitamin A supplementation on immune responses and correlation with clinical outcomes.”

ESHA Research Inc.

FoodData Central: “Beef liver sliced,” “Group raised calf liver slices,” “Pork liver,” “Lamb, New Zealand, imported, liver, raw,” “Chicken livers,” “Goose, liver, raw,” “Cod liver.”

National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin A,” “Vitamin K.”

Nutrients: “Vitamin A and Pregnancy: A Narrative Review.”

Cleveland Clinic: “The Pros and Cons of Eating Organ Meat."

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