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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Doesn't liver contain toxins, making it bad for you?

I'm a rare child who loved liver (beef) & onions. During my adult life I learned more about how our food is grown and distributed. I became a vegetarian more than 40 years ago.

It is my understanding that the liver accumulates all the toxins the animal (including human) ingests with feed (including other parts of animals - many diseased, antibiotics, etc.) and environmental pollution. I don't understand why you would eat or recommend eating any animal's liver today. Unless the meat animal were raised organically and fed their species' real food, it should be on the inedible list. Regardless of whether the diner is vegetarian or not.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Liver and onions

Livers do not accumulate toxins in the way that you think.

One of the main functions of the liver is to produce enzymes that are used in the body to break down chemicals. Those substances can be anything from medications to alcohol to the chemicals that are in many of the processed foods on the market today.

The liver does not work like an oil filter, capturing and holding all of those impurities. The enzymes break down the chemicals which are then eliminated from the body.

I do agree with you about making better choices when it comes to selecting meats. There is now good evidence that consuming grass fed beef is better for you than those fattened on corn, for example. Avoiding meats that are treated with antibiotics and hormones is an excellent idea.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet