If you’re a fan of eating liver (or considering trying it for the first time), here are some of the pros and cons of this organ meat.
Good news: Ounce for ounce, liver is probably more nutritious than any other food. A 3.5-ounce serving of cooked beef or chicken liver supplies more than your daily requirement of vitamin B12 and large amounts of other B vitamins. It is also rich in protein, zinc, copper, iron, and even vitamin C, with only about 180 calories and 6 grams of fat.
Bad news: Liver is extremely rich in vitamin A. Over time a high intake of this vitamin may increases the risk of fractures, some research suggests (this is not true of beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A as needed). And a 3.5-ounce serving averages about 500 milligrams of cholesterol—more than in two large eggs. (While the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans no longer put a daily limit on dietary cholesterol, some experts still caution that it may have adverse effects in some people, notably those with diabetes.) Half of the 6 grams of fat in that portion of liver are saturated. In addition, people usually fry liver in oil or butter (and often garnish it with bacon), which can double the calories.
Another potential problem: Liver is more likely than other meat products to contain high levels of pesticides (from animal feed), as well as antibiotics and other drugs that the animals may have been given. Though the USDA has found that the residues are below toxic levels, frequent consumption might be a problem.
Bottom line: It’s okay to eat small portions of liver on occasion.
What about other organ meats?
Like liver, many are quite nutritious, relatively low in saturated fat, but high in cholesterol. Tongue, heart, and tripe have no more cholesterol than regular meat does. But sweetbreads, gizzard, and spleen have as much cholesterol as liver; kidney has twice as much; and brains ten times as much. That dietary cholesterol shouldn’t scare you away from organ meats, but as always moderation is wise.
Also see The Role of Dietary Cholesterol.