Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Chicken Liver Bad For You?



Short answer

Chicken liver is a nutrient-rich food, loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals such as iron and selenium. It's especially high in Vitamin A and B12. However, it also contains a considerable amount of cholesterol and has been associated with the accumulation of toxins like heavy metals. While it can contribute valuable nutrients to the diet, it should be eaten in moderation to avoid potential risks like vitamin A toxicity, iron overload in susceptible individuals, and exposure to contaminants. Proper sourcing and cooking are essential.



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Long answer

Nutritional Profile of Chicken Liver

Chicken liver is a nutrient-dense food, favored for its high protein content and rich array of vitamins and minerals. It's particularly noteworthy for its high concentration of certain B vitamins and iron. While it can be an excellent addition to a balanced diet, moderation is key due to the presence of certain substances that can have adverse effects if consumed in large quantities. Below is an in-depth examination of the nutritional components found in chicken liver.

  • High-Quality Protein: Chicken liver provides a significant amount of protein, essential for muscle repair, immune function, and the production of enzymes and hormones. A 100-gram serving contains approximately 24 grams of protein.
  • Vitamins: It is incredibly rich in VitaminA, which is vital for vision, immune function, and skin health. You'll also find an abundant supply of B vitamins, including B12, which is crucial for nerve health and the formation of DNA, and Folate, key for DNA synthesis and repair.
    • Vitamin A: Around 800% of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) per 100 grams.
    • Vitamin B12: Over 1000% of the RDI per 100 grams.
    • Folate: About 65% of the RDI per 100 grams.
  • Minerals: It's a rich source of minerals like iron and selenium. Iron is known for its role in creating red blood cells and transporting oxygen throughout the body, while selenium is important for thyroid function and acts as a powerful antioxidant.
    • Iron: Approximately 50% of the RDI per 100 grams.
    • Selenium: Around 100% of the RDI per 100 grams.
  • Cholesterol and Saturated Fat: Chicken liver contains a relatively high amount of cholesterol and saturated fat. A 100-gram serving offers about 70% of the RDI for cholesterol and a moderate amount of saturated fat. It's essential for individuals, particularly those with existing heart conditions or high cholesterol, to consume it in moderation.
  • Choline: An essential nutrient that supports brain and liver health, which is abundant in chicken liver.
  • Toxins and Heavy Metals: As livers are detoxifying organs, there's the potential for accumulation of toxins and heavy metals. However, this largely depends on the bird's environment and diet.

A 2019 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology has shown that the consumption of poultry liver, including chicken liver, can at times pose a risk due to the accumulation of heavy metals, yet it remains a valuable source of micronutrients (DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2019.03.053). Consumers should source their chicken livers from reputable suppliers to minimize potential risks.

In summary, while chicken liver can be an extremely nourishing food, it's essential to consider its high cholesterol content and the possibility of pollutant accumulation. Eating chicken liver in moderation as part of a varied diet can help maximize its benefits while minimizing potential risks.

Cholesterol Content and Heart Health Implications

When discussing the health implications of chicken liver, a primary concern often raised pertains to its cholesterol content. Chicken liver, like other organ meats, is rich in cholesterol, which has historically been linked to heart disease. It's vital to understand how this could impact heart health to make informed dietary decisions.

One serving of chicken liver contains a significant amount of cholesterol. In fact, a 100-gram serving of chicken liver provides approximately 479 mg of cholesterol, which is more than the daily recommended limit advised by health organizations for people with normal LDL levels. It's important to note that these guidelines are shifting as new research unfolds.

Recent studies suggest that dietary cholesterol may have a less direct effect on blood cholesterol levels than once believed. The understanding of how cholesterol in food impacts heart health is evolving. The American Heart Association has even softened its stance on dietary cholesterol, acknowledging that it is not the sole factor in heart disease risk.

However, for some individuals, especially those with conditions like familial hypercholesterolemia or type 2 diabetes, consuming foods high in cholesterol could contribute to higher LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. It’s crucial for such individuals to monitor and manage their cholesterol intake carefully.

Evidence also indicates that other factors in one's diet and lifestyle have considerable influences on heart health. These factors include the types of fats consumed, the overall dietary pattern, physical activity levels, and smoking and drinking habits. A diet high in saturated and trans fats is more concerning regarding heart disease risk than high-cholesterol foods consumed in moderation within a balanced diet.

For those concerned about cardiovascular health, moderation is key. Including chicken liver as an occasional part of a diverse and balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, is a different scenario than regularly consuming high-cholesterol foods as part of a diet that lacks variety and is poor in other nutrients. A balanced dietary approach ensures that the benefits of the nutrients in chicken liver can be enjoyed without excessively increasing heart disease risk.

Lastly, for individuals with existing health conditions or concerns about heart health, it's advisable to consult healthcare professionals or registered dietitians who can provide personalized recommendations based on individual health status and risk factors.

Iron Overload and Hemochromatosis Risk

When we consider the safety and health implications of consuming chicken liver, it's essential to address the concerns associated with iron overload and its relationship with a condition known as hemochromatosis. Chicken liver is a rich source of heme iron, the form of iron more easily absorbed by our bodies compared to non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. This heme iron content, while beneficial for people with iron deficiencies, poses potential risks for individuals susceptible to iron overload or those with hemochromatosis.

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron from the food consumed. Over time, this excessive iron accumulates in various organs, potentially leading to liver disease, heart problems, and diabetes, among other health issues. For someone with this condition, consuming high-iron foods like chicken liver could exacerbate their risk of developing these complications.

Studies suggest that an unregulated intake of iron-rich foods can contribute to increased iron stores in the body, which can be particularly hazardous for those with hemochromatosis. A publication in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism highlights the importance of dietary regulation in managing iron levels for individuals with this disorder.

  • Iron Absorption: An adult body typically absorbs about 10%-15% of dietary iron, but this can be significantly higher in people with hemochromatosis, leading to a condition known as iron overload.
  • Recommended Intake: For the average person, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron varies by age and sex, but generally, men need about 8 mg/day, while women need 18 mg/day. Chicken liver contains an average of 9 mg of iron per ounce, making it very easy to exceed these recommendations with just a small portion.
  • Symptoms of Iron Overload: Early symptoms can include fatigue, joint pain, abdominal pain, and skin color changes. Over time, without management, it can lead to more severe health consequences.

It's crucial for individuals with hemochromatosis or a family history of the condition to monitor their iron intake carefully. Regular blood tests can help manage and prevent iron overload, as well as consulting a healthcare provider for personalized dietary advice. While chicken liver can be part of a balanced diet, moderation is key, and in the context of hemochromatosis or high iron levels, limiting foods high in heme iron may be necessary.

A balanced approach to diet that includes a variety of iron sources – both heme and non-heme – can help maintain healthy iron levels while minimizing the risk of iron overload. For those with concerns about iron intake due to hemochromatosis, consulting with a registered dietitian or health specialist is highly recommended to effectively manage their condition through diet and lifestyle choices.

Vitamin A Toxicity: When Healthy Nutrients Go Wrong

Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining vision, promoting growth and development, and supporting immune function. This essential nutrient, found in abundance in chicken liver, can paradoxically become harmful when consumed in excessive amounts. Here we explore the concept of hypervitaminosis A, or vitamin A toxicity, shedding light on its implications and how it's connected to chicken liver consumption.

First, let's understand the forms of Vitamin A. It comes primarily in two types: preformed Vitamin A (retinoids), found in animal products like chicken liver, and provitamin A (carotenoids), present in plant-based foods. The retinoids are more readily used by the body, which is why chicken liver is such a rich source of bioavailable Vitamin A.

  • RDA for Vitamin A: According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is approximately 700-900 micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) per day.
  • Vitamin A in Chicken Liver: A single serving (about 100 grams) of chicken liver can contain over 18,000 mcg of Vitamin A. This amount is well above the daily upper intake levels (UL), which is set at 3,000 mcg of preformed Vitamin A for adults to prevent toxicity.

While it's essential to get enough Vitamin A, exceeding the safety margin can lead to a host of health problems. Symptoms of acute vitamin A toxicity can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased pressure on the brain, particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women

Long-term or chronic vitamin A toxicity presents differently, with symptoms like:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Joint and bone pain
  • Frequent fractures
  • Hair loss
  • Liver damage

Given these potential risks, how should one approach consuming chicken liver to enjoy its benefits while avoiding toxicity? It's about balance and moderation. Health experts suggest limiting the intake of chicken liver to a few ounces per week, avoiding daily consumption to prevent an overdose of preformed Vitamin A. Additionally, pregnant women or individuals with liver concerns may need to be even more cautious due to their increased susceptibility to the adverse effects of excessive Vitamin A.

It's also worth noting that individuals with certain genetic variations may metabolize Vitamin A differently, potentially increasing their risk of toxicity at lower intake levels. Consulting with a healthcare provider for personalized advice based on one's health status and dietary needs is always recommended.

To mitigate the risk of vitamin A toxicity while enjoying chicken liver, consider the following tips:

  • Space out your consumption of chicken liver throughout the month, rather than consuming it frequently.
  • Pair chicken liver with foods rich in other nutrients to create a balanced meal without overloading on Vitamin A.
  • Be mindful of other sources of preformed Vitamin A in your diet, such as fortified foods and supplements, to ensure you're not exceeding recommended levels.

By approaching chicken liver consumption with a knowledgeable mindset and careful consideration of your overall diet, you can harness the benefits of this nutrient-dense food without falling into the trap of vitamin A toxicity.

Association with Contaminants and Bacterial Infection

When it comes to evaluating the safety of consuming chicken liver, one of the primary concerns is its potential association with contaminants and bacterial infection. As a highly vascular organ, the liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the bloodstream. Although it metabolizes and breaks down these toxins, it can accumulate certain harmful substances, including heavy metals and residues of medications that were given to the poultry during its lifetime.

Studies have identified varying levels of arsenic, lead, and cadmium in chicken livers, all of which pose significant health risks when consumed in excessive amounts. These risks can include neurological damage, kidney disease, and an increased risk of cancer. For example, a study published in the Journal of Food Protection revealed detectable levels of arsenic in chicken livers sourced from grocery stores in the United States.

  • Heavy Metals: Concerns about the presence of potentially harmful levels of heavy metals like arsenic, lead, or cadmium.
  • Antibiotic Residues: Chicken livers might retain some of the antibiotics used in poultry farming, which can contribute to antibiotic resistance.
  • Hormones: While the use of hormones in poultry raising is prohibited in many countries, illegal use could lead to hormone residues in chicken products.

Moreover, improperly handled or insufficiently cooked chicken liver can harbor dangerous bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella, which can cause foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill harmful germs. However, liver dishes, especially pâtés, are sometimes prepared undercooked, which could increase the risk of bacterial infection.

Addressing these concerns, regulatory bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) work to establish maximum residue limits for contaminants and provide guidelines for safe handling and consumption of poultry products, including liver.

Safety Recommendations for Chicken Liver Consumption
Concern Recommendations
Heavy Metals Choose organic or certified liver sources where possible, which may have lower levels of contaminants.
Antibiotic Residues Opt for products from farms that adhere to responsible use of antibiotics.
Bacterial Contamination Ensure thorough cooking (internal temperature of 165°F), and practice proper kitchen hygiene.

Consumers can reduce risks associated with contaminants by making informed choices and following recommended safety practices. It is also essential to be aware of recalls and public health warnings concerning chicken liver products to avoid potential exposure to dangerous levels of pathogens and residues.

Being sensible and discerning about where your chicken liver comes from, how it's raised, and how it's prepared can greatly mitigate these health concerns. However, the potential for exposure to contaminants and bacterial infection is a genuine issue to consider before including chicken liver as a regular part of your diet.

Balancing Benefits with Potential Risks: Serving Sizes and Frequency

When considering the intake of chicken liver, it is imperative to balance its nutritional benefits with potential health risks associated with overconsumption. Chicken liver is a powerhouse of nutrients, notably rich in vitamin A, iron, and protein, which can play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy body. However, because certain nutrients can accumulate in the body and lead to toxicity, proper portion control and frequency of consumption are key factors that must be considered.

Recommended Serving Sizes

  • For most adults, a healthy serving size of chicken liver is approximately 1 to 3 ounces (28 to 85 grams), which should not be exceeded in a single meal.
  • Pregnant women, in particular, should err on the side of caution and limit their serving size to the lower end of this range due to the high vitamin A content, which has been linked to birth defects in excessive amounts.
  • Children and adults over the age of 50 should also consider smaller servings, tailored to their specific dietary needs and health profiles.

Consumption Frequency

  • General dietary guidelines suggest that for the average person, having chicken liver once a week can be a healthy inclusion to the diet without risking vitamin A overload or cholesterol concerns.
  • Individuals with pre-existing health conditions such as high cholesterol or gout should consult with a healthcare provider to determine an appropriate frequency, as liver is high in cholesterol and purines.
  • Moreover, individuals with Iron Overload Disorders need to monitor their consumption closely, given the high iron content in chicken liver.

It is also worth noting that vitamin A accumulates in the liver, and consuming large amounts of liver frequently could lead to hypervitaminosis A, a condition characterized by excess vitamin A in the body. Symptoms can include nausea, headache, fatigue, and in severe cases, liver damage. Moderation in consumption paired with a diverse diet can prevent such complications.

One way to integrate chicken liver into a balanced diet is to regard it as a supplement to one's intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other protein sources. Instead of making liver a daily dietary staple, alternating it with other iron-rich foods, such as lentils, spinach, and lean meats, can provide a broad spectrum of nutrients while mitigating health risks.

Recent studies further suggest that consuming food rich in fiber and antioxidants alongside chicken liver may aid in mitigating some of the health risks. These foods include leafy greens and berries, which can help support the body's ability to process the nutrients more effectively and counteract potential negatives. The key is diversity and moderation in one's diet to ensure that the benefits of chicken liver can be enjoyed without incurring unwanted health risks.

It's important to acknowledge that recommended serving sizes and frequency of consumption may vary depending on individual health goals, nutritional requirements, and underlying health conditions. Always seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider or a registered dietitian when considering significant dietary changes, especially when incorporating organ meats like chicken liver into your diet.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, a diet rich in fiber can help mitigate some risks associated with chicken liver consumption. Fiber helps support digestion and can assist in the elimination of cholesterol and toxins from the body. Including a variety of fiber-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables alongside moderate chicken liver intake can contribute to a healthier digestive system and might ease the processing of its high nutrient content.

To minimize the risk of contaminants in chicken liver, opt for livers from organically raised, free-range chickens if available, as they are less likely to have been exposed to heavy metals and environmental toxins. Look for certifications or labels indicating ethical and safe farming practices. Additionally, purchasing chicken liver from local farmers or butchers who can provide information about the origin and diet of the chickens can offer more assurance about product quality.

Chicken liver can be included in a child's diet due to its high nutrient content, but it's important to serve it in moderation due to potential vitamin A toxicity and high cholesterol levels. For children, a small portion size of 1 to 2 ounces (28 to 56 grams), consumed occasionally within a varied diet, is appropriate. Always consult with a pediatrician or dietitian for personalized advice, especially for children with unique dietary needs or health conditions.

While people with high risk of heart disease should be mindful of foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, complete avoidance of chicken liver isn't necessary unless advised by a healthcare provider. When included in the diet, it should be consumed in small amounts (1 to 3 ounces) and infrequently (such as once a month), within the context of a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, to manage cholesterol levels effectively.

Ask a question about Chicken Liver and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • headaches
  • muscle weakness
  • dizziness
  • abdominal pain

Possible long-term side effects

  • dry, itchy skin
  • joint and bone pain
  • frequent fractures
  • hair loss
  • liver damage
  • neurological damage
  • kidney disease
  • increased risk of cancer

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high-quality protein
  • rich in vitamin a and b vitamins
  • contains essential minerals
  • supports brain and liver health

Healthier alternatives

  • organic chicken liver
  • foods rich in other nutrients
  • leafy greens
  • berries
  • variety of iron sources

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

McCormick Poultry Seasoning

  • No added MSG
  • Versatile seasoning
  • Robsut herbal flavor
  • Ideal for poultry
  • Large 12oz container
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-13-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-13-2024

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