Is liver and onions high in calories?

Liver and onions is a classic dish that has been popular for generations. Many people enjoy the unique flavor of liver cooked with onions, herbs, and spices. However, some are concerned about the calorie content of this dish. Liver has a reputation as being high in calories, which deters some people from eating it. This article will analyze the calorie content of liver and determine if it deserves its high-calorie reputation when served with onions.

Calories in Liver

Liver is often assumed to be very high in calories. This is partly true – liver is high in calories compared to many other meats and protein foods. A 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving of beef liver contains:

  • Calories: 175
  • Protein: 21 grams
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Carbs: 6 grams

Beef liver contains more calories than the same portion size of foods like chicken breast (165 calories) and 90% lean ground beef (152 calories). However, it’s on par or even slightly lower in calories than fattier cuts of beef like chuck roast (176 calories) and ribeye steak (180 calories).

Some key factors that contribute to liver’s higher calorie content compared to other meats include:

  • It is higher in fat – about 26% of its calories come from fat, versus 10-15% for a lean protein like chicken breast.
  • It contains a type of iron called heme iron, which is denser in calories than non-heme iron found in plant foods.
  • It provides cholesterol, whereas many other meats do not naturally contain cholesterol.

So while liver is higher in calories than some select lean cuts of meat, it is not extremely higher in calories compared to beef and other animal proteins overall. Still, it packs more calories ounce-for-ounce than chicken, fish, beans, tofu, and other lean proteins.

Onions are Low in Calories

When considering the calorie content of liver and onions, it is also important to factor in the nutritional profile of onions. Onions are very low in calories – one whole medium onion contains only 44 calories.

The calories in onions come primarily from carbohydrates. A medium onion provides about 10 grams of carbs, 4 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and minimal protein and fat.

Onions are made up of over 90% water, making them low-energy-density foods. They provide few calories relative to their volume. Other nutrients found in onions include vitamin C, folate, and trace minerals.

Overall, onions are nutritious and provide few calories to a liver and onions dish. Their moisture and fiber content helps balance out the higher fat and calorie content of the liver.

Total Calories in Liver and Onions

When determining the total calorie content of a liver and onions meal, let’s look at a typical serving size – about 4 ounces of beef liver and 1/2 cup sliced onions:

Food Serving Size Calories
Beef Liver 4 ounces 140
Onions 1/2 cup 22
Total Calories 162

A typical 4 ounce serving of liver and onions provides about 162 calories. This is a moderate calorie count for a dinner entree. For comparison, here are the calories for 4 ounce servings of some other common proteins:

  • Chicken breast = 132 calories
  • Salmon = 180 calories
  • Ground beef (15% fat) = 185 calories
  • Steak (sirloin) = 200 calories

As you can see, liver and onions is moderately high in calories compared to chicken or fish, but similar to or lower than fattier cuts of beef. The onions help add nutrition with few extra calories.

Ways to Reduce Calories in Liver and Onions

If you want to decrease the calorie content of liver and onions, there are several preparation methods you can use:

  • Use a leaner liver – Chicken or turkey liver has slightly fewer calories than beef liver.
  • Cook without added fat – Saute onions in broth instead of oil. Bake, broil, or grill liver instead of pan frying.
  • Increase onions – Onions contain few calories per volume, so add extra onions to fill your plate.
  • Portion control – Stick to a 4 ounce serving of liver or less to control calories.
  • Substitute starchy sides – Rather than pairing liver with mashed potatoes or bread, opt for cauliflower rice or a salad.

With smart cooking methods and sides, you can enjoy the delicious flavor of liver and onions without overdoing the calorie count.

Health Benefits of Liver and Onions

Liver and onions provide some excellent health and nutritional benefits, despite being moderately high in calories. Here are some of the main benefits this dish offers:

  • High in B vitamins – Liver is one of the best sources of vitamin B12, riboflavin, niacin, and other B vitamins.
  • Good source of iron – Liver provides heme iron, the most easily absorbed form of iron for energy and oxygen transport.
  • High quality protein – Liver contains all essential amino acids required for muscle tissue, enzymes, and hormones.
  • Source of selenium – Liver provides selenium, a mineral with antioxidant effects that supports thyroid and immune health.
  • Contains choline – Liver is the richest source of choline, which is important for brain, liver, and nervous system function.

The combination of liver and onions also contains vitamin C, folate, zinc, copper, and a wide range of other nutrients. The calorie count is a fair tradeoff for the dense nutritional benefits.

Is Liver Good for Weight Loss?

Because liver is relatively high in calories and fat compared to other protein options, it may not be the best choice when following a calorie-restricted diet for weight loss.

However, as part of a healthy, balanced diet, liver can be incorporated in moderation along with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Here are some tips for enjoying liver as part of a weight loss regimen:

  • Eat smaller portions of 3-4 ounces max per serving
  • Limit to once a week or a few times per month
  • Pair with non-starchy vegetables and salad instead of breads or starchy sides
  • Choose lower-calorie cooking methods like baking instead of frying in oil
  • Watch overall calories, fat, and portions for rest of your diet

While liver shouldn’t be a staple in a low-calorie diet, it can add valuable nutrients and flavor when consumed occasionally in moderate portions.


Liver and onions deserves its reputation as a higher calorie dish due to the moderate fat and calorie content of liver. However, a typical 4-ounce serving of liver contains about 140-175 calories, which is similar to or lower than the calorie count of many beef dishes.

Onions add nutrition with very few extra calories, and there are several preparation techniques to reduce the calorie content of liver and onions. Consumed in moderate portions, this classic dish can be part of a healthy diet that offers substantial nutritional benefits. While liver may not be the best choice for strict weight loss diets, it provides protein, essential nutrients, and delicious flavor to meals when enjoyed occasionally as part of a varied, balanced diet.

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