By Jennifer Restuccio a Recent ASU Nutrition Student
When we think of superfoods we usually think of foods like acai berries, goji berries, cacao, green tea, or spirulina. There is one superfood that was extremely popular many years ago but has disappeared from Americans’ plates for many years.
The superfood I am thinking of is…. Liver. Some people cringe from simply hearing the word “liver” mentioned as part of a meal.
Liver is part of a category known as offal. Offal is “parts of a meat animal which are used as food, but which are not skeletal muscle.” Offal can be heart, liver, tongue, lung, tails, feet, brains or giblets just to name a few.
If you’re getting a bit squeamish at the thought of eating those things… you’re not alone. Most Americans can’t stand the thought of consuming offal.
The American History Behind Organ Meats
The history behind the liver is complex, to say the least. Historically, eating liver and other organ meats have been associated with being poor. Eating liver was often seen as a sign of low social status or a poor upbringing.
Organ meats were seen as scraps and nothing more. As a matter of fact, when slavery was present in the United States, slave owners and their families ate the steak while the organ meats were given to the slaves.
During World War II, the National Research Council created the Committee on Food Habits to address the meat shortage. At the time, most meats was going to soldiers overseas, and the remainder was not enough to sustain the American public’s appetite for meat.
They decided the best way to get Americans eating organ meats was to advertise it as a way to add variety to their diets. They said, “Just try it for variety.” And so, organ meats were then called “variety meats”. Surprisingly, the campaign worked, but as soon as the war ended, Americans went back to shunning organ meats.
What’s the Problem?
A common barrier for eating organ meats is often simply not knowing how to cook them, and more importantly, make them taste good.
Another barrier could possibly be that if you see a cow’s liver, you are seeing an obvious body part which might look more like an autopsy than what you’d like to call dinner.
A common misconception about the liver is that toxins are stored there and therefore liver is unhealthy to eat. However, this is not true. The liver processes toxins and removes them from the body. The liver is not full of toxins. Therefore, it is more than safe to eat.
Many cultures outside of America consume organ meats on a weekly basis and it is a normal part of their life.
Now that you have a little background history on organ meats and why Americans don’t enjoy them, let’s dive into why we should change this outdated way of thinking and get on board with organ meats, the liver in particular!
What’s So Great About the Liver?
The liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods that one can consume.
Remember all those superfoods that I mentioned at the beginning of this article? The liver is more nutrient-dense than all of them. Liver is high in vitamin B12, preformed vitamin A, riboflavin, folate, heme iron, copper, and choline. The liver is high in protein and low in calories.
Vitamin A is essential for eye, skin, and reproductive health. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in red blood cell production and brain function. The liver is an excellent source of both of these vital nutrients.
Compared to muscle meats, liver could be considered the superior choice. Liver is lower in calories and fat and yet still much higher in vitamins and minerals.
Liver and other organ meats are often much cheaper than muscle meat because they are less popular. We can help reduce food waste by consuming liver instead of letting it be thrown away.
I’m not saying you should give up meat. Along with liver, meat provides us with all essential amino acids we need to survive.
However, what I am suggesting is incorporating liver into your diet for some much-needed nutrients.
Why Liver Might Not Be For You
If you are sensitive to the cholesterol you should avoid liver, as it is high in cholesterol. However, for most people, liver is a healthy choice regardless of its cholesterol content.
For the average person, the popular saying “everything in moderation” comes to mind.
Liver is very high in preformed vitamin A, so pregnant women should be very careful if they choose to add liver to their diet. Too much-preformed vitamin A might increase the risk of your baby developing birth defects.
One ounce of beef liver (30 grams) reaches the tolerable upper intake level for vitamin A during pregnancy. Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to consume small amounts of liver during pregnancy.
If you have gout, you probably shouldn’t consume liver because it is high in purines which the body turns into uric acid and is problematic for those with gout. If you don’t have gout, you have no reason to worry, as liver will not cause gout.
How to Consume Liver
If you dislike the taste of beef liver but want to incorporate it into your diet you can: Cut up liver into small pieces and mix it in with your ground beef, chicken, pork or turkey.
– Bolognese sauce – mix liver in with ground meat to make a Bolognese sauce for pasta.
– Burgers – mix liver in with ground meat to make tasty burgers!
You can also add lots of spices to disguise the taste, or before cooking, soak the liver in lemon juice or milk.
Lamb, calf, and chicken liver have a much milder taste than beef liver, so those are both good options too.
If you don’t mind the taste of liver you can fry up liver by itself or with some onions, just be sure not to overcook it.
This recipe is sure to delight the pickiest of eaters.
If you don’t want to cook liver at all but still want to benefit from consuming it, there are many liver supplements out there that you might like. This supplement is a personal favorite.
While Americans have resisted consuming liver and other offal in the past, there is no reason why we should let that scare us away from trying liver now.
Liver is a high protein, low calorie, food that is high in preformed vitamin A, heme iron, B vitamins, copper, choline. The average person could benefit greatly by adding a small amount of liver to their diet.
If you are pregnant or suffer from gout, ask your doctor before you think about adding liver to your diet.
The taste of liver can be masked by soaking it in milk, lemon juice, or cooking it with onions. Liver can also be combined with ground meats.
If you like eating meat, try adding some liver to your diet. Along with consuming one of the world’s most underrated superfoods, you’ll save money and help reduce food waste in the process.
Looking for more fun articles? Check out the Fill Your Plate blog for new articles every week. For fun recipes to cook with the family, be sure to check out the Fill Your Plate recipe section.