I can hear some of you already - liver!! Organ meats!! Offal!! Gross!! And I totally hear ya. I used to be exactly the same! Remember my hardcore vegan days? Some of you were even around then. And they weren't all that long ago. I suppose we learn what we are to learn in any given circumstance, and I know that a raw vegan diet did not help my chronic fatigue. Organ meats though (and bone broth perhaps more so) most definitely did.
And I'm going to see if I can sway a few of you to the liver eating clan...
A popular objection to eating liver is the belief that the liver is a storage organ for toxins in the body. 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 (this was a biggie for me a long while back and I never touched it for this exact reason! Turns out I was wrong). 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) which provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins. Clever body of ours.
Now for all you nutrient nerds...
Here's some factoids from Chris Kresser - my go to guy on all things Functional Medicine.
Liver is an important source of retinol, which is pre-formed vitamin A. Just three ounces of beef liver contains 26,973 IU of vitamin A, while pork liver and chicken liver contain 15,306 IU and 11,335 IU, respectively. If you aren’t supplementing with cod liver oil, you’ll probably want to eat liver a couple times a week to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin A, especially if you have skin problems.
Folate, choline, and vitamin B12 are three more nutrients that are found abundantly in liver, and they can be especially important in the context of a Paleo diet. Two Paleo staples – muscle meat and eggs – contain a high proportion of the amino acid methionine, and higher intakes of methionine increase homocysteine production. This increases the need for vitamins B6, B12, folate, betaine, and choline, which recycle homocysteine.
Although all meats contain some amount of vitamin B12, liver (especially beef liver) blows everything else out of the water, with almost three times as much B12 as kidney, seven times as much as heart, and about 17 times as much as tongue or ground beef. Choline is concentrated mainly in egg yolks and liver, so if you aren’t eating egg yolks it’s important to get some liver into your diet. And as Chris Masterjohn points out, it can be difficult to get enough folate on a Paleo diet without including liver, because other than liver, beans are actually one of the best sources of folate. This is especially true if you eat lots of muscle meat and not enough folate-rich greens.
One of the main nutritional differences among the livers of different animals is copper content. Beef liver contains 14.3mg of copper per 100g, while chicken and pork livers contain less than 1mg. Thus, beef liver is a great choice if you tend towards copper deficiency, but as I mentioned in this podcast, copper excess can also be a problem. Luckily the choline, zinc, and B vitamins in liver significantly reduce the risk of copper toxicity, but if you need to limit copper in your diet, you can always opt for chicken or pork liver instead.
Of all organ meats (I've written more on a few of them and their benefits over here) liver is by far the most important organ meat you should be eating. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence, and contains many nutrients that are difficult to get elsewhere.
But how do we make it palatable? I've got a few tips:
1. Fry liver with plenty of garlic, onions and tomatoes to mask the flavour somewhat
2. Blend the raw liver with a bunch of fresh herbs (coriander is great), season, and fry as meat patties
3. Or make this pate below. It. Is. So. Damn. Good. And let it be said that this is not actually my recipe. I have no idea who's it is. It was given to me by a girlfriend on a piece of paper with no names. Regardless, here it is to share.
>> The Best Liver Pate. Ever. <<
500g organic livers
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, for frying
2 brown onions, chopped
2 small garlic cloves, chopped
4 rashers bacon, rind removed, chopped
Handful button mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp thyme leaves
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
170g chilled organic butter (cubed) + 80g melted and cooled
Place livers in a bowl and cover with milk. Pop this in the fridge whilst we prep the rest.
Heat 2 Tbsp of butter in a frypan and add onion, garlic and bacon. Cook this until the onion is translucent - it;s likely to be 10-15 minutes. Now add sliced mushrooms and saute til soft.
Mix in the thyme, then 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp of water to deglaze the pan. Transfer all this into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Wipe the pan clean (I never bother though) and add the remaining butter for frying. Start adding livers whilst not overloading the pan, and cook until brown and crispy on both sides, and transfer to the bowl sitting aside with the onion mix. Continue cooking all liver until they are all cooked and into the onion bowl. Season well with salt and pepper.
Deglaze the pan now with the remaining balsamic vinegar and pour these pan juices into the mixture as well.
Puree the mixture in a food processor with the chilled butter cubes until smooth and creamy.
Smooth the pate into ramekin dishes or small bowls and cover with melted butter. Keep in your fridge, covered, for about 5 days, or in the freezer until you're ready for them as I do. Alternatively, invite some friends over to share your delicious pate with you, some flax crackers and raw veggies.