Is raw beef liver good for you?

Raw beef liver is a very nutritious food that can offer many health benefits. However, there are also some potential risks to consider when consuming raw liver. Here is a look at the pros and cons of eating raw beef liver.

Nutritional profile of raw beef liver

Beef liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. A 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving of raw beef liver contains (1):

  • Vitamin B12: 1,176% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin A: 6,959% of the DV
  • Riboflavin (B2): 201% of the DV
  • Niacin (B3): 201% of the DV
  • Folate (B9): 190% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 51% of the DV
  • Iron: 80% of the DV
  • Copper: 1,620% of the DV
  • Zinc: 42% of the DV
  • Selenium: 173% of the DV

As you can see, beef liver contains extremely high amounts of vitamins A, B12, B2 and B3, folate, copper and selenium. It’s also a good source of iron and zinc.

In addition, beef liver provides (1):

  • High-quality protein: 17.5 grams in a 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving
  • All 9 essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own
  • Useful amounts of choline, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium
  • Traces of antioxidants like selenium, zinc, chromium and glutathione

Potential benefits of beef liver

Here are some of the top health benefits associated with consuming beef liver:

Excellent source of nutrients

As shown above, beef liver is packed with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are important for many bodily functions, including (2, 3):

  • Vitamin A: Immune function, vision, reproduction, growth and development
  • Vitamin B12: DNA production, brain function, nerve function and red blood cell formation
  • Folate: DNA synthesis and repair, cell division and growth
  • Iron: Oxygen transport and energy production
  • Copper: Iron metabolism, immune function, nervous system health
  • Zinc: Immune function, protein synthesis, DNA and cell division, growth and repair
  • Selenium: Antioxidant activity, thyroid hormone function, immune health

Consuming liver is an efficient way to obtain all of these nutrients in a single food.

May promote heart health

Beef liver is rich in folate, iron, copper, zinc and selenium, which may promote heart health in several ways.

First, getting adequate folate reduces levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to an increased risk of heart disease when elevated (4).

Second, the iron in beef liver helps form hemoglobin, allowing your red blood cells to carry oxygen efficiently to your tissues and organs (5).

Third, copper and zinc are needed to maintain the structure of arteries. The selenium in beef liver also protects against oxidative damage and inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis (6, 7, 8).

Supports your immune system

Beef liver is loaded with nutrients that play important roles in immune function:

  • Vitamin A: Helps form and maintain mucosal barriers that protect against infection (9).
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Supports antibody production and activity (10).
  • Vitamin B6: Promotes immune cell function (11).
  • Vitamin B12: Assists in immune response and production of immune cells (12).
  • Folate: Needed for healthy development of immune cells (13).
  • Copper: Helps form antibodies and immune cells (14).
  • Zinc: Regulates immune response (15).
  • Selenium: Stimulates immune response and antibody production (16).

Getting enough of these micronutrients can strengthen your immune defenses and lower your susceptibility to infections and disease.

Supports eye health

Beef liver is extremely rich in preformed vitamin A (retinol) — a single 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving packs over 800% of the RDI for this nutrient (1).

Vitamin A is essential for eye health. It’s used to form visual pigments in your retina needed for normal vision, especially seeing in low light (17).

Vitamin A deficiency can cause vision impairment and blindness. However, consuming foods rich in preformed vitamin A, like beef liver, helps ensure optimal eye health and vision (18).

Supports your brain

Beef liver contains several nutrients that play key roles in proper brain function, including:

  • Vitamin B12: Needed to make myelin, the protective coating on your neurons. B12 deficiency increases the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia (19).
  • Choline: Components of this compound, like phosphatidylcholine, make up your brain cell membranes. Choline is also needed to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory, mood and muscle control (20).
  • Iron: Required for creating neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Low iron levels may impair brain function (21).
  • Copper: Integral part of enzymes needed to synthesize and utilize neurotransmitters (22).
  • Zinc: Essential for neuron communication. Deficiency may lead to mental lethargy and impairments in brain function (23).

Consuming beef liver regularly helps prevent nutrient deficiencies that can negatively impact your brain and mental health.

High in protein and low in calories

Protein is incredibly important, given its role in building and repairing tissues, making enzymes and hormones and supporting a healthy immune system.

Beef liver is a high-protein food, providing 17.5 grams of protein in each 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, while containing only 175 calories (1).

Plus, beef liver contains all nine essential amino acids required for your body. It’s considered a complete, high-quality protein source.

Replacing some high-calorie, low-nutrient foods in your diet with beef liver is a smart way to boost your protein intake without increasing your calorie consumption.

Potential downsides of raw beef liver

While beef liver is extremely nutritious, there are a few downsides to consider:

High in vitamin A and copper

Although getting enough vitamin A and copper from your diet is important, getting too much can be problematic.

Consuming more than 10,000 IU (3,000 mcg) of preformed vitamin A per day for an extended time can lead to symptoms like headache, liver damage, bone fractures and vision disturbances (24).

Similarly, consistently exceeding the upper limit of 10 mg per day of copper from food and supplements may cause nausea, vomiting and other adverse effects (25).

Given the extremely high amounts in beef liver, eating more than 2–3 servings per week may put you at risk of toxicity over time if you’re otherwise eating a nutrient-rich diet.

Rich in purines

Purines are natural compounds that form uric acid as a byproduct when broken down. Excessive amounts may accumulate in your body when consuming high-purine foods, increasing the risk of gout in susceptible individuals (26).

While anyone can develop gout, having elevated uric acid levels makes this condition more likely. Those with a history of gout may want to moderate their beef liver intake.

High cholesterol

Beef liver is high in cholesterol, providing over 300 mg in each 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving — more than an entire day’s worth (27).

For most people, dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol levels. However, some people are sensitive to dietary cholesterol, so caution is advised (28).

Those with high cholesterol or heart disease should limit intake of high-cholesterol foods like beef liver. However, for most people, it can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

Risk of bacterial infection

There are several types of bacteria that may be found in raw liver, even from healthy livestock raised in sanitary conditions. These include (29):

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli).
  • Salmonella.
  • Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Clostridium perfringens.

While cooking liver to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) kills any harmful bacteria, consuming raw or undercooked beef liver poses a safety concern (30).

Pregnant women, elderly people, young children and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk of foodborne illnesses. Cooking beef liver eliminates this risk.

How to add raw beef liver to your diet

Here are some simple ways to incorporate raw beef liver into your routine:


Blend a small amount of raw, frozen liver into your smoothies. Start with about 1 ounce (30 grams) at a time.

Meatballs or burgers

Chop raw liver into ground meat mixes to increase the nutrient content of meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.

Omelets or scrambled eggs

Stir some chopped liver into your morning omelet or scrambled eggs.


Add a spoonful of chopped liver into pasta sauces, soups or stews for added nutrition.

Liver pâté

Blend raw liver, butter and spices in a food processor and serve it as a spread or dip.


Freeze, grate and fill capsules with raw liver pieces for an easy nutritional boost. Just be sure to start with small doses.

How to buy high-quality beef liver

When selecting beef liver, here are some tips for finding the highest quality product possible:

  • Choose liver from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows whenever possible, as it contains more omega-3 fats and antioxidants (31, 32).
  • Opt for liver from organically raised cows to minimize pesticide, hormone and antibiotic exposure.
  • Check that the liver is from a trusted local farmer or a reputable brand.
  • Look for vacuum-sealed packs without punctures, tears or foul odors.
  • Avoid pre-cut or pre-packaged liver, as it loses freshness quickly.
  • For optimal freshness, use liver within 1–2 days of purchase.
  • Store liver in the coldest section of your fridge for max shelf life.

Should you cook beef liver instead?

Cooking beef liver before eating it eliminates any risks from bacteria, viruses or other contaminants.

Gently cooking liver also breaks down its tough, fibrous texture, making it more tender and palatable.

However, cooking decreases the vitamin content of foods. According to one study in beef liver, cooking lead to significant losses of vitamin C, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5) and vitamin B12 (33).

Another study found that pan-frying beef liver resulted in greater losses of vitamin B12, folate and vitamin A compared to other cooking methods like boiling, simmering or stir-frying (34).

To maximize nutrition, consume a combination of raw and gently cooked beef liver.

How much liver should you eat?

Due to its extremely high vitamin A and copper content, it’s recommended to limit beef liver intake to avoid toxicity.

Most experts recommend restricting your intake of beef liver to once or twice per week at servings of around 2–3 ounces (50–100 grams).

Pregnant women and those with certain conditions like liver disease should be especially cautious with liver and limit intake to 2–3 ounces (50–100 grams) just 1–2 times per month (35).

Other organ meats to try

In addition to beef liver, other nutrient-dense organ meats can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a varied diet.

Some examples include:

  • Chicken liver: Also high in vitamin A, folate and copper.
  • Beef heart: Rich in selenium, zinc, iron and B vitamins.
  • Lamb kidneys: Contain high-quality protein, iron, selenium and B vitamins.
  • Beef tongue: High in protein with vitamin B12, zinc and selenium.

Adding a variety of organ meats to your diet a few times a month provides an easy way to boost your nutritional intake.

Who should avoid raw beef liver?

The following groups should avoid consuming raw beef liver:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women, who are advised to avoid (or thoroughly cook) raw meat to prevent bacterial infections that may harm the developing fetus or infant (36).
  • People with a weakened immune system, such as the elderly, very young children and HIV patients, who are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses from raw meats (37).
  • Individuals taking the medication isotretinoin (Accutane) for acne, as very high vitamin A intakes can cause severe side effects (38).
  • Those with gout or a history of kidney stones, due to liver’s high purine content (39).
  • People with liver disease or hemocromatosis, who may need to limit copper and iron intake (40).

Additionally, anyone with an allergy or sensitivity to beef liver or other beef products should avoid consumption.

The bottom line

Raw beef liver is incredibly nutritious and provides high amounts of vitamins A, B12, B2, B3, folate and more, as well as useful minerals like iron, copper and zinc.

Consuming raw or lightly cooked beef liver offers the most nutritional value. However, those at risk of foodborne illness should always cook liver thoroughly.

While very nutritious, raw beef liver may also contain bacteria and be overly high in vitamin A and copper if consumed in large amounts.

For optimal health, include small amounts of raw or gently cooked beef liver as part of a varied and balanced diet 1–2 times per week.

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