The liver is an organ of vertebrate animals, such as fish, birds and mammals, with many functions essential to life. It is also and has historically been part of the gastronomy of many cultures at a global level, since its preparation methods are varied.
Whether it’s a dish of your taste or quite the opposite, in this article we will talk about their nutritional propertiesas well as those cases in which it may not be healthy to eat liver.
The liver and its functions
The liver has functions within the digestive system, for example with the manufacture of bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder, necessary for digestion. It also has functions of storage of nutrients, such as glycogen, and excretion of hormones. It is currently believed that the liver has more than 500 functions, making it an organ of vital importance.
In humans, the liver is composed of four lobes and is located to our right in the abdominal cavity, under the last ribs, which protect it. About 15 cm long and 1.5 kg in weight, the liver is the largest gland in the human body.
To better understand its impact on nutrition, we need to contextualize the role of the liver. Being found in vertebrate animals, their functions can vary greatly depending on the evolutionary adaptations of different species. For example, sharks have a gigantic liver that can occupy up to 90% of their thoracic cavity. Being so large and storing a high fat content, the liver allows the shark to improve its buoyancy.
Other species, such as the pufferfish (specifically the Fugu), have livers that are not suitable for human consumption. In this case the liver would be loaded with tetrodotoxin, a highly neurotoxic molecule, which serves as a clear example that sometimes it is unhealthy to eat liver, depending on its origin.
Nutritional properties of liver
Even so, the liver we consume usually comes from farm animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, ducks or geese (the latter especially in the form of “foie”, in some cases enriched by the forced feeding of the animal for the accumulation of fat in the liver).
In this article we will focus on whether it is healthy to eat liver from those animals from which it is normally obtained in the Western diet, such as chicken or cows, but the nutritional values will vary according to the origin of this.
1. It’s rich in protein
This can be helpful when we are following a diet that needs a high amount of these. Diets rich in proteins help in weight loss processes, since foods with a high protein percentage give a greater feeling of satiety without having so many calories, which helps us eat less. Plus, protein-rich diets improve thermogenesis, the processes by which we generate heat. These processes help burn calories!
2. It’s rich in vitamins
Especially vitamin A (100 grams of liver give us more than 800% of the daily dose of vitamin A). It is also rich in other vitamins such as:
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B9
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
3. Rich in iron and other minerals
Some types of anemias or people with anemic tendency need an extra supply of iron outside the diet, but the liver can satisfy much of our need for iron. 100 grams of liver provide us with more than 65% of the daily dose of iron needed in men, and 30% of the recommended daily dose for women. If you are a person with high iron needs, surely eating liver is healthy for you.
Is it healthy to eat liver?
Not everything can be good in this life, so the liver couldn’t have just good things either. Regardless of its unpleasant taste or texture for many, the liver can have negative health effects in some specific cases.
For example in people who suffer from gout, those who consume foods rich in purines, such as liver or red meat, are discouraged. The purines consumed become uric acid when metabolized by our body, increasing the painful symptoms of this disease.
It is also not recommended if we follow a diet low in cholesterolas the liver contains a high amount. Still, the correlation between cholesterol intake and heart disease is under study and there is increasing evidence that so far we have blamed cholesterol more than we should.
So the answer to that question, like most answers in the field of nutrition, depends on your personal characteristics and needs. Even so, as a general answer, the liver is a very complete food that can complement our diet in a positive way in the vast majority of cases.
We couldn’t finish the article without mentioning this anecdote about liver consumption.
Earlier we mentioned that the liver has an incredible amount of vitamin A. Well, there is the possibility of suffering a type of poisoning called Hypervitaminosis A by consuming exaggerated amounts of this vitamin. Causes symptoms such as irritability, drowsiness, headache, vomiting, or liver growth.
This is a real problem in communities that come into contact with animals such as seals and polar bears, which have a much higher amount of vitamin A in their livers than most animals.so civilizations in contact with these species avoid consuming the liver in these cases. In fact, there are records of Arctic explorers from the early 20th century, detailing the unpleasant effects of vitamin A poisoning after consuming polar bear liver during an Arctic expedition.
So maybe eating liver is healthy, but not all livers.
- Halton, TL. (2004) The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
- Fuhrman, Joel. (2010) Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient diet. Nutrition Journal.
- Denise Carrington-Smith. (2005) Mawson and Mertz: a re-evaluation of their ill-fated mapping journey during the 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.