Hunter-gatherer societies valued organ meats over muscle meat, often reserving them for the pregnant and breastfeeding women of the tribe. Mature modern cultures with refined culinary traditions also praise the delicacy of organ meats. These preferences are driven by taste, but looking deeper, our evolutionary hardwiring carries a keen natural wisdom.
Science has validated the incredible nutrient-density of these sacred foods, beef liver for instance boasting up to seven times more B-vitamins than the same weight of ground beef. A weekly helping of liver is therefore a great food choice for those suffering from chronic stress, diabetes and nerve problems like neuropathy and carpal tunnel—essentially any disorder that can be caused or exacerbated by B-vitamin deficiency.
Despite claims that greens like spinach can provide all the iron our body needs, liver remains our best source of easily assimilated iron. Plant foods contain non-heme iron alongside certain anti-nutrients like oxalates and phytates that block mineral absorption.
The iron content of liver is a boon to a pregnant woman as the fetus draws a significant amount of the mineral from the mother to store in his or her liver to last the first six months of its life outside the womb. Weariness is common pregnancy but anemia must always be ruled out with prolonged periods of fatigue.
Liver also has vast amounts of retinol, the most easily assimilated form of vitamin A. The plant-derived precursor to retinol are carotenoids which are converted from a provitamin into true vitamin A after consumption. If that conversion is hampered, animal forms of retinol are the only workaround. Vitamin A plays many important roles in the body, including gene transcription. Clinical indications for vitamin A include eye and skin diseases (including acne), cancer prevention, and osteoporosis.
One argument against liver consumption is the concern of toxin exposure. This is a somewhat unfounded assumption. The key physiological distinction centers around the mammalian liver being a filter of toxins and will only become burdened with toxins in advanced disease states. If liver function is compromised, the hepatic cells will shunt partially-processed toxicants to fat cells and nerve cells (such as the case with heavy metal toxicity) to maintain homeostasis within this vital organ but at the expense of less-essential tissues. As the liver weakens (as in cirrhosis) the liver can become so overwhelmed that it becomes suffused with toxins. Purchasing liver from an animal that grazes on an unsprayed pasture dramatically reduces this risk.
A related concern is the presence of environmental toxins which tend to bioaccumulate up the food chain. This can be true, and for that reason it is important to choose liver from an animal low on the food chain. Cows eat grass; it’s pretty hard to get any lower on the food chain than that. Provided the pasture in which they graze is organic, beef liver is low risk compared to feedlot cattle fed grain that has been subjected to multiple pesticide applications. If the animal is unhealthy (as is typically the case with factory-farmed livestock), than their liver will be unhealthy.
Preparation of liver can be quick, easy, and delicious. Cut up fresh organic/pastured chicken or beef liver into small bite-sized pieces and add to a hot skillet of lard or bacon grease and minced garlic. Bacon grease is often preferred for its magical ability to soften more intense flavors, such as liver, but either bacon grease or lard are ideal as they are among the highest sources of vitamin D, balancing the vitamin A content of liver. Use butter or coconut oil if pork products are not an option. If the texture of liver is a turn-off, try soaking the liver overnight in water with lemon juice. Sautéing liver with onions is also a tried and true aromatic to balance the earthiness of the liver.
If liver remains unpalatable even after trying different preparations, you could consume it like a supplement by freezing tiny cut up pieces to be swallowed whole as a “pill”.