I consider liver to be one of the most nutritious foods for women and recommend it at some point to most of my clients. This suggestion often comes as a shock to many - who have either understood liver as an unhealthy (maybe even toxic?) food or just plain don't like the idea (or taste). In this post, I'll share a little bit about my journey with this traditional food, the myriad of ways you can begin to include it in your wellness routine and why you'd want to.
Me + Liver
When I came off of ten years of vegetarianism - coupled with eight years on some form of hormonal birth control - my hormones, skin and digestive system were totally out of balance. While some folks can find vibrant health on a plant-based diet, that was not the case for me. The wisdom of Chinese Medicine taught me how to heal. With the right herbs, nutrition, acupuncture and lifestyle alterations my health started to improve.
But it wasn't until I began to incorporate organ meats like liver that I achieved the most dramatic results. I fell so head-over-heels for this nutrient dense food that I began to recommend it to my clients - further witnessing almost miraculous transformations in women suffering from a variety of imbalance. From stubborn weight gain, heavy menstrual bleeding, unexplained infertility, PMS, amenorrhea and resolving habitual miscarriage...I now relate to liver as a truly sacred food for women.
Most organ meats are more nutrient dense than animal muscle meats, and were once revered in traditional societies. And for good reason! Liver contains between 10-100x more nutrients (including vitamin C) than muscle-meat. This is great news for our unsung hero because it is often much easier (and more affordable) to source quality grass-fed organ meats like liver and a little goes a long way.
Liver is abundantly nutrient dense in soluble forms of Vitamins A and D - both difficult to find in food-sources. Vitamin A, in particular, is vital to many systems in the body - including thyroid function. It also supports brain function, eyesight and skin health. True Vitamin A (which is different from beta-carotene) is fat soluble, which means it must be consumed with a fat for proper absorption.
Liver is also a potent source of protein and contains all of the B vitamins, including B12 and folic acid in high amounts - all crucial for women's health. It also contains trace minerals, including an easily absorbed form of iron, essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and the powerful anti-oxidant CoQ10. It truly is natures multi-vitamin! No wonder it was such a common part of traditional diets, especially for women and children.
And lastly, according to Chinese Medicine, it's wise to include liver in your diet based on the Doctrine of Signatures (the idea that "like treats like"). This theory supposes that eating liver will benefit your liver. And, it will. The potent nutrients discussed above are exactly what's needed for proper detoxification in the body - one of the main roles of this organ. The liver stores these nutrients for that purpose, and when consumed, gives a boost to your own detoxification system. The liver organ is also an important modulator for endocrine metabolism and balance.
In Chinese Medicine we often speak about the importance of harmonizing the blood when it comes to women's health - both from a moving stagnation and nourishing deficiency standpoint. Both can be achieved through consuming one simple food: liver. I've seen unexplained (and explained) endocrine disorders completely reverse when nutritional changes were made that included this sacred food.
Common Concerns About Eating Liver
Many of my clients are concerned about the fat + cholesterol content of liver and the potential impact it might have on heart disease. We now know that dietary cholesterol does not have any impact on blood cholesterol and how important cholesterol is for hormone health. Cholesterol is the backbone to many systems in the body and we need it for not only abundant health, but survival. So, go ahead and enjoy your favorite liver recipe (along with some egg yolks!) in service of your hormones.
Another argument against liver is that it is a storage-organ for toxins. While, yes, it is true that liver processes and filters toxins in the body, it does not store them. What it stores are all the vital nutrients (discussed above) that are so important for the bodies detoxification process.
Some women wonder about the high vitamin A content and potential fetal-toxicity during pregnancy. Like anything, you'll have to tune-in to your mama-bear-wisdom (and that of your prenatal care provider) if you are expecting, but I can say with confidence that food-sourced vitamin A from organ meats do not pose the same threat of vitamin A toxicity as the synthetically derived form (like in a high-dosage vitamin).
Plus, the benefits of true Vitamin A to both maternal health and fetal development in utero are astounding - from immunologic effects to cell growth. It is also a great protector against post-partum mood changes. Like anything, be smart. Too much of a good thing applies to everything (including liver), but avoiding it completely during pregnancy is doing a disservice to all. More on that here.
Lastly, many folks don't eat liver because of the taste. And for that reason, I've got you covered below.
First Steps to Including
Now, I get that even just the idea of eating liver can make many-a-stomach turn. In truth, it still can have that effect on me. Here are my tried and true ways to begin your journey:
- Find A Buddy - most liver dishes are decadent appetizers or main courses, and great for sharing! I've always found it most nourishing - body, mind and soul - to enjoy nutrient dense foods like liver and other organ meats with friends.
- Locate A Restaurant - when you start eating a food like liver, don't over-complicate things by also trying to prepare it yourself. Develop your palate on a chef's culinary experience. Many farm-to-table restaurants are serving high quality liver courses, and most French restaurants will have at least one variety on their menu.
- Taste Test - when it comes to nutrition, liver is liver. Whether chicken, duck, lamb or beef - you'll get the same bang for your buck so taste around to see which flavor best suits you.
- Go Easy - Save the complicated liver recipes for the chef's. All you need to do at home is sear a thin slice of beef liver in some ghee until cooked through and serve over sauteed onions (or with zucchini - pictured above). Enjoy your grandmothers chopped liver at the family celebration. Whip up some easy pate (and freeze some for later).
- Last Resort - when all else fails, take a high quality liver supplement like this one. Or, simply have it on hand for those times when it just isn't convenient to source high quality liver.
The Best Taste
Want to learn (and feel) the health benefits of consuming liver on your life and hormonal balance? Then try it for yourself. You'll learn why traditional cultures worshiped this food (as did Marilyn Monroe). I recommend most women find a way to have a serving of liver once per month. Do that for six months and see for yourself.
If there is a therapeutic need that runs deeper than vibrant health maintenance, there might be a need for bi-monthly or even weekly consumption. If using the dessicated liver supplements, you'll need to take the recommended dose more regularly (3-5x/week).