Prenatal, functional R.D
The controversy of liver consumption during pregnancy was raised by a study that linked high doses of synthetic vitamin A to birth defects.[ref]
However we now know that naturally occurring vitamin A does not have a teratogenic effect, especially when consumed with adequate vitamin D and K2.[ref]
“ liver and supplements are not of equivalent teratogenic potential. Advice to pregnant women on the consumption of liver based on the reported teratogenicity of vitamin A supplements should be reconsidered.” [ref]
Yes. Liver is high in natural vitamin A called Beta carotene (as opposed to synthetic vitamin A in most supplements).
Screening studies have shown that ONE THIRD of pregnant women are borderline deficient in vitamin A despite having access to vitamin A rich foods [ref]
Plant sources (sweet potatoes and carrots and kale} contain whats called provitamin A that needs conversion to active vitamin A and the conversion of this is highly variable in individuals due to factors such as genetics and therefore plant sources are not a reliable source of vitamin A [ref], especially when facing a vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy.
“The American Pediatrics Association cites vitamin A as one of the most critical vitamins during pregnancy and the breastfeeding period, especially in terms of lung function and maturation. If the vitamin A supply of the mother is inadequate, her supply to the fetus will also be inadequate, as will later be her milk”[ref]
Other than Vitamin A, liver is also a great source of other crucial nutrients:
- Other than eggs, liver is the only other major source of choline, a nutrient that is in high demand in pregnancy for neurodevelopment of the fetus
‘Pregnancy and lactation are times when demand for choline is especially high; transport of choline from mother to fetus [ref] [ref]) depletes maternal plasma choline in humans (78). Thus, despite enhanced capacity to synthesize choline, the demand for this nutrient is so high that stores are depleted.”
- Liver contains iron in a very absorbable form (heme iron) that does not cause constipation.
Pregnancy calls for up to 60 mg of iron daily in late pregnancy. This is not an easy task to manage via diet alone if you look at a 300g steak supplying 7-10mg or iron, a 100g lamb chop providing 3.3mg and an egg providing 1.6 mg.
For provitamin A , 1 cup of cooked spinach providing 6.4mg, ½ cup cashews providing 6mg, ½ cup pumpkin seeds providing 1-15 mg.
With animal liver containing roughly 1.2 mg for every 10g of liver, 200-300g of liver spread through the week can help contribute to more bioavailable iron intake.
- Liver is one of the riches sources of natural folate and B 12 which is needed to prevent maternal anaemia. 50% of women are not able to convert synthetic “folic acid” found in supplements to active folate in the body. One way to bypass this is to either consume already active folate (called methyl folate) or to consume liver.
How often to consume liver?
If regular consumption of carotene rich vegetables are consumed, a 6 to 8 ounce portion of liver once or twice a week provides a huge contribution to prenatal nutrition.
Other dietary sources of animal derived vitamin A should be included as well such as
- Butter from grass fed animals
- Egg yolks from free range chickens
How to include liver in the diet if you don’t like the farm style pan fried liver with eggs?:)
Liver is easy to hide in other dishes like meatloaf , meatballs, shepherd’s pie, slow cooked carnitas or other slow cooked meats on the bone cooked or a simple liver pate.
Important to note: liver from organic grass fed/ pasture raised animals definitely are recommended above liver from grain fed/non free range animals.