What’s More Healthy: An Apple, Or Liver?

which is healthier an apple or liver

Before you answer, think. So many of us a programmed with knee-jerk, conditioned responses to questions like these. On the one hand, you’ll hear doctors or other “experts” tell you that liver is bad for a number of reasons. The organ’s job is to help detoxify your body, so it’s naturally full of toxins. It’s too high in dangerous vitamin A. It’s the red meat of red meats. On the other hand, you’ll hear those who argue that liver is the most nutrient-dense food on the planet, so it will beat out an apple hands-down in any contest fair and square.

Which side of the fence do you fall on? Do you believe the apple must be healthier because it’s a colorful plant food, full of important and necessary vitamins and minerals? Or do you believe the liver is healthier because it’s packed with more nutrients per gram than just about any other food on the planet?

I choose liver, particularly liver from pasture-fed ruminant animals like the cow. And here’s why. It’s more nutrient dense.

Nutrient-density isn’t rocket science.

You can go on any nutrition data website and find out exactly how many nutrients are in 100g of raw, skin-on apples vs. 100g of pan-seared beef liver. I did it and found out these basics:

apple vs. liver nutrient density

These bare bones nutrition labels are revealing. For the same volume of food, liver beats an apple in just about every major category. It has more:

  • Calories
  • Total Fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Vitamin A
  • Iron

The apple beats the liver only in density of carbohydrates (mostly sugars), and vitamin C.

Yet I wanted to know more, so I read beyond the bare bones standard nutrition label and opted to see how the two compare on all the major vitamins and minerals. What I found was so overwhelming and suggestive that I thought a visual representation was the only way to do it justice. So, I created this interactive infographic for you:

Click on the vitamin or mineral to see how apples and beef liver stack up against each other.

That, my friends, is what I call nutrient density.

What about all that saturated fat?

Recently, a number of meta-analysis studies have been released in which scientists combed all the data from all the studies that have ever been done which contained information regarding dietary intake of saturated fat and incidence of heart disease. When scientists do a meta-analysis, it is usually in the hope of finding a statistically significant pool of information to help prove their hypothesis. For example, pretend that 10 studies had been done on diet and incidence of heart disease. Each study only had 100 participants, so any conclusion about diet and heart disease from that study might be statistically insignificant. But if you pool the results from all ten studies in a meta-analysis, you might be able to demonstrate some statistically significant results.

So, what have the recent meta-analysis studies discovered? That there is no link between dietary intake of saturated fat and incidence of heart disease. Of the recent meta-analysis studies, the two most famous ones were published in prominent journals. The first, titled “A Systematic Review of the Evidence Supporting a Causal Link Between Dietary Factors and Coronary Heart Disease” was published in the 2009 Archive of Internal Medicine. The second, titled “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease” was published in the January 2010 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Dr. Ronald Krauss, the second study’s principal investigator and director of atherosclerosis research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, said,

It’s time to turn the page on how we perceive saturated fats in relation to risk for heart disease. It’s the wrong message that saturated fats are artery-clogging or evil.

Krauss says any dietary recommendations to further reduce saturated fat would be of no benefit. Americans, he says, shouldn’t be avoiding all forms of saturated fats and it’s erroneous to focus on saturated fat out of context from the whole diet.

If you want to read more about how the scientific tide is turning in favor of eating more saturated fat, check out my post on A Tax On Saturated Fat.

But liver is red meat. Have you read The China Study?

Why yes, I have. And I’m proud to say that The China Study has been thoroughly debunked to my satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with eating red meat, even the reddest of red meats — liver.

Why does nutrient-density matter?

Maybe I’ve convinced you that liver is more nutrient-dense than apples. So what?

Does this mean I don’t want you to eat apples? No. Does this mean I want you to gorge yourself on liver? Not really.

I’m all in favor of well-rounded diets filled with simple culinary delights like apples and Edible Aria’s Not Your Average Liver & Onions (seen above).

But I’m tired of seeing nutrient-poor foods displace nutrient-dense foods in the average diet. Here’s the deal. You can only eat so much. Then you get full. If you eat a lot of calorie-rich but nutrient-poor food, you’ll become what I call nutrient starved.

A nutrient starved person may eat plenty of food, but because they’re not getting the nutrients their body needs to function optimally, they suffer. Maybe they eat even more empty calories, so gain weight. Maybe they feel lethargic or suffer from some systemic body imbalance. Maybe their sex drive plummets, or they start having troubles sleeping well.

If you want to avoid nutrient starvation, you need to eat more nutrient-dense foods, period.

So, let’s test your new-found knowledge.

Are apples nutritious? YES.

Are apples nutrient-dense? NO.

Capice?


(top photo of Not Your Average Liver and Onions by Ren at Edible Aria)

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Comments

  1. Wandrin Lloyd says

    So glad my liver and onions dish always includes a diced apple. Provides a little crunch and interesting flavor. And nutrients!! Thanks for the corroboration.

  2. Katherine says

    I saw the China Study at my library this weekend. I thought about checking it out, but decided I already knew I wouldn’t believe it. This is a timely reminder to eat more organ meats now that comfort food season is here. Thanks.

  3. Tere Yons says

    What about beef liver paté? I looooove liver paté, but I know it’s more processed than simple pan seared liver… Mmmmm paté. Can this be a reason for me to eat more liver paté?

  4. DLefebvre says

    I say that eating liver is NOT more healthy to the animal who had to die so that you may eat his or her liver – especially when, as a human, you have the unique position of choosing from an incredible variety foods that don’t involve death to another one of Earth’s inhabitants.

      • says

        Death is the nature of living, it’s true. But exploitation (of other species and of the earth) does not have to be the nature of living. I am a vegan because of these reasons, not because of a misunderstanding of life/death, nor because of personal health. I tend toward believing that the planet’s longevity, which includes the longevity of all its species, not just humans, is more important than my own.

        • KristenM says

          I agree that we shouldn’t exploit the earth or the creatures that live in it. I don’t see what that has to do with being vegan, though. Just because I eat meat and other animal products doesn’t mean that I exploit animals. Does a mother cat exploit the animals she preys on to feed her children?

          We’re omnivores. We do best eating both animal and plant life. That said, as omnivore’s we have a responsibility to eat as conscientiously as possible — to opt out of the industrialized food system and the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals.

          In any case, I think this should be the last we post on this comment thread, as we’re getting pretty off topic for this post.

    • says

      Funny you should share this comment. I just got a similar email from one of my blog subscribers who unsubscribed because he disliked the fact that my family spent last weekend butchering our goats. He had some childish comment about how we’d face bad karma and that eating meat was worse than video games for children.

      Isn’t it amazing that we live in a country with so much plenty some people can afford to feel self-righteous about eating meat. Go to anywhere else in the world and eating meat is seen as a rare luxury and treat. If you were hungry you’d think the same. BTW, as a farmer, I know for a fact raising meat as part of a farming system is the most ecologically sound and efficient way to produce food. Meat is perhaps the most nutrient dense form of food.

      Thank you for the nutrition info, Kristen. And a new liver recipe I’ll have to try.

  5. Grace says

    Ha! I win!

    There’s liver pâté and apples in my snack bag right now! ;)

    So, um, with fewer !!, if you can’t stomach liver get some nice grass-fed beef liver, freeze it and cut it into small chunks you can swallow whole like a pill. Just pull one out of the freezer in the morning send it down your gullett. It’s the only way I can get liver into my husband.

  6. says

    I think it’s a bit unfair to compare these two foods. They are so incredibly different, and you could very well send the wrong message to people who AREN’T WAPFers. But that’s just my opinion!

    • KristenM says

      Why is it unfair?

      When people say that a comparison is illogical because it’s comparing “apples and oranges,” they mean that the comparison is as misleading and nonsensical as asking “how many reds are in a mile?”

      Those sorts of questions and comparisons truly are unfair, and should be avoided.

      But in this case, I’m not making a false or unfair comparison. That’s what would happen if I compared the nutrients contained in 1000g of apples to those contained in 1g of liver.

      Rather, I’m comparing the nutrients in 100g of one food source the nutrients contained in 100g of a different food source to see which food source contains — gram for gram — more nutrients. That’s it. AND, that’s the definition of nutrient-density.

      Since the whole point of this post is to get people to start thinking in terms of nutrient-density, I don’t think I’m sending the wrong message at all.

      After all, I clearly stated that both apples AND liver have a place in a good diet.

      I’m just tired of people telling me that an apple is “nutrient-dense” when it simply isn’t. It’s really not a “good source” of much of anything besides water, sugar, and plant cellulose.

  7. Sarah W says

    Wow, you have answered every question with such grace. Being married to a USAF officer/engineer type, I can appreciate your clear logic in your answers. While I am not “married” to any particular food movement, I do better on a high protein low carb diet with my Type 1 diabetes. I am learning more and more each day and you are a good teacher. Thank you

  8. says

    I love this! The interactive graphic is great. I recently counseled my own mother on nutrition while she underwent chemotherapy and discussed the value of liver. She said she had been craving it and denied herself the indulgence because she believed it was bad for her! Such a shame. I do tend to think all wholesome foods have their place in the diet, although some may be more appropriate than others at certain times. Apples have value that can’t necessarily be measured according to our typical standards of measuring nutritional data. For example, they are rich in malic acid, which is helpful for the mitochondrial dysfunction we see in autism, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, etc. I hesitate to agree that I think liver is more nutritious than apples because nutrition is such a fledgling science. Anyhow, this was a great read and I am glad you got people thinking beyond the conventional wisdom that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. You might want to add a little liver to the menu. ;)

    • KristenM says

      I agree that whole foods have a lot more to contribute than our ability to measure or determine based on nutrients alone. I’ve written about it quite extensively in the past, starting with a post on how Food, Not Nutrients, Is The Fundamental Unit In Nutrition.

      In that sense, it’s always a bit ironic when I write posts that talk about nutrition in terms of nutrients!

      But, I fail to see how I can do otherwise. This is the language of nutrition right now, so we’ve got to speak it in order to communicate.

      That said, I always try to keep a balance in my own mind when making dietary choices, placing primacy on food traditions rather than a science that’s still in its infancy. And, I encourage others to do likewise. If I use the language of nutrients, it’s usually in support or defense of food traditions. (I guess you could say it’s a servant, not a master.)

      In this particular example, I’m using the language of nutrients to get people to think outside the box. I want to re-frame the discussion so that people don’t shy away from embracing nutrient-dense foods, particularly in an era when so many of us are nutrient-starved.

  9. RJ says

    For those of us that can’t stomach the thought of eating liver an apple isn’t too bad of choice though. I tried doing liver, once, when I found out my baby was having iron issues, but I tossed my cookies. Couldn’t do it.

    • KristenM says

      I understand that many just don’t like the taste of liver. (I’m one of those people who do.) If you ever want to try it again, there are plenty of ways to “sneak” it into your diet.

      For example, you can usually use up to 20% ground (or grated when slightly frozen) liver in recipes that call for ground beef — particularly recipes with strong, flavorful sauces like a pasta sauce. Any more than that, and sensitive people will start tasting it. But keep it under that, and you’ll find that people who hate the flavor of liver do quite well eating it.

      Also, just remember that even if you don’t “do liver,” there are plenty of other foods out there that are more nutrient-dense than apples.

      The goal here is not to say apples=bad, liver=good. It’s to say, “pay attention to the nutrient-density of your food, particularly if you have reason to believe you’re nutrient starved.”

  10. Gracie says

    Kristen, you handle contentious comments with such poise! The graph is a fantastic illustration, thank you. I have never had any organ meats but am completely sold now that I know how much more nutrient dense they are. Fingers crossed that I like it on the first try. Honestly I’d rather just eat a serving of liver to make sure I’m getting what I need instead of packing my body full of filling but non-nutritive alternatives. Thank you for breaking this down so clearly!

    • KristenM says

      A good introduction to liver for many is pate. Others prefer an organ meat sausage like braunsweiger (it’s like liverwurst, but with bacon added!). And, if you find you just don’t like the flavor but want the nutrients, you can always resort to “hiding” it in your ground beef recipes. It really works!

      • Gracie says

        Those are great suggestions, thank you! And thanks for putting forth so much effort to this site; I appreciate you taking your time to respond to my comment :)

  11. says

    Love this post! Are chicken livers just as nutrient dense? We don’t eat beef. (Former vegetarian now eating poultry, fish and pork) :-)

    What fruit is the most nutrient dense? Avocado? Mango? banana?

    Thanks for this post!

    • KristenM says

      Chicken livers are quite nutrient dense, although not quite as high as beef liver. Still an excellent choice, though. Plus, they taste a little more mild so the flavor is more palatable to many.

      I think most fruit is best at cleaning out our bodies and our detox pathways, so really we don’t eat fruits for nutrient-density. Each fruit variety has its nutritional strengths (like the vitamin C common to citrus) as well as other important micro-nutrients. The most important thing is to eat the fruit!

  12. Treasure says

    Can’t stand liver and will never eat it. But I do eat an apple just about every day. That’s just my preference. I appreciate this whole food revolution that is happening. But I also feel that moderation in everything is the key. So while I try to eat lots of real/whole/organic foods and I exercise regularly, I still have the occasional snack and I like to eat out with friends/family.

  13. says

    Hi Kristen,

    I love the chart comparing the vitamins and minerals!

    When I was pregnant with my son I would keep track of all my food with fitday.com. I was making green smoothies at the time to add extra nutrients into my diet. I was very disappointed at how little nutrition the smoothies really were! I switched from drinking green smoothies to making raw milk smoothies with added egg yolks and salmon roe.

    Sounds gross, but I could add up to a tablespoon of roe to my smoothie before it tasted fishy. I posted a chart showing the difference in the two smoothies here – http://thecoconutmama.com/2011/12/my-pregnancy-super-food-smoothie-with-salmon-roe/

    Organ meats are truly the most nutritiousness foods we can eat! I add chicken livers to my kids homemade chicken nuggets and add ground beef liver to our chili and casseroles. It not hard to hide it in food if you don’t like the taste :)

  14. Scott says

    Great article! Gives me extra motivation to get that grass-fed liver out of the freezer and put it to use!

    I know there isn’t much you could do to not get complaints from the veg side, as seen above (mild, though they are). I checked Dr. Fuhrman’s nutrient density scale (http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/andi-food-scores.aspx) and found the apple at a lowly 53. Maybe adding tomato (the highest listed fruit, at 186) would be interesting, though I question his scales and what it really measures. Fuhrman, for example, has kale, collard & mustard greens, and watercress at 1000, apparently the maximum, but do they really have 100% of all nutrients to get that score? And how can the highest non-veg food, salmon, only have an index of 34??

    I’m still waiting to see Mat LaLonde’s AHS 2012 talk about his Nutrient Density Index.

  15. Beccolina says

    This is a related question. I know you recommend liver and heart, but when you say organ meat, do you also include the kidneys? And what about tripe?

    • KristenM says

      Yes. We should try, as much as possible, to consume the WHOLE animal (as our ancestors did). So that means we need to experiment with all the traditionally prepared parts of the animal — sweetbreads, brains, tripe, kidneys, feet, knuckles, tails, cheeks, fat, and even bones & cartilage (which can be boiled to make mineral-rich broths).

      Am I good at routinely eating this way? Not really. But I do buy my cows whole and get whole hogs from hunting, so I also pay a local processor to butcher them and request they keep these bits for me. I’ve got a freezer full of all these miscellaneous organs for when I want to experiment! I’ve done *some* experimenting, but the most palatable “odd parts” to me are bone broths, liver, heart, and tongue.

      • Beccolina says

        I was thinking that kidneys could be ground up and added to home made sausage. I’m not sure what I would do with sweet breads or brains. Gotta get over the *ick* factor.

      • Nicole says

        If you soak, rinse, and strain the kidneys several times and add some lemon juice on them after the last session, they won’t taste foul.

        I got this tip from a family friend’s mom, who’s British, and does this to her kidneys every time she makes her homemade steak and kidney pie.

        Does it work? Yes, I can say it does, as I’ve also made steak and kidney pie.

        Regarding liver, I prefer pork liver to beef, and my favourite way of eating it is as pate.

        Don’t forget the tongue and tail! Oxtail soup! MMM.

  16. says

    “You can only eat so much. Then you get full.”
    This is the point of the post for me. As I learn about my nutrient needs (RDA amounts & more) and what is in the highest nutrient density foods, I see how hard it can be to get your nutrient needs taken care of by food alone. It really means you have to eat the most nutrient dense food you can. For me there isn’t room in my stomach for non nutrient-dense foods. I just can’t eat that much. Thanks for the eye opener.

  17. says

    I cringe at the thought of eating liver, but your interactive graphic has really made me stop to reconsider. Thank you for taking the time to put this together!

  18. says

    Great post! I got so fed up with attempts to find a commercial source of good, nutritious liver pate that I decided to make my own. After freezing the liver for 14 days I ferment it like I would sauerkraut. I can’t say, in all honesty, that I can’t wait to have my daily portion, but I am much more comfortable with it than at first bite. Allowing all the enzymes, naturally associated with liver’s excellent nutrient density, to remain alive makes for a powerful, healthy,inexpensive daily vitamin!

  19. Dee Sallows says

    Interesting debates.
    Your point was, perhaps to get people thinking, which is always good.
    Personally, I can’t do meat.
    Visit a slaughter house.
    We are omnivores and can choose.

    Good luck. I love this page.
    ;-)

    • KristenM says

      I have no desire to visit a slaughter house. They’re grotesque. And I won’t eat meat that was processed in a slaughterhouse, either.

      This entire site is dedicated to getting people the information they need to opt out of the industrial food system — including opting out of industrial meats.

      That said, I have hunted, killed, and field dressed animals before and I have zero problem doing it. They were clean and humane kills where the animal’s life was honored and received with thanksgiving — a world apart from the mechanized kills of sick, sad animals that our giant slaughterhouses propogate.

  20. Beth says

    I just love it when trad foodies spend lots of time on super fun graphics! :-)

    Also, I was interested to learn from Sally Fallon’s DVD presentation that raw liver is surprisingly high in vitamin C. Alas, it goes away when cooked because it’s sensitive to heat. But if you eat it raw or lightly cooked, it retains this vitamin. I like to keep small chopped bite-size bits of raw liver, pre-soaked in lemon water, between sheets of parchment paper in a Pyrex bowl in the freezer. It’s super easy to thaw partly and take like a vitamin pill, or share with my appreciative cat!

    • KristenM says

      That’s actually something I recommend to pregnant and nursing mommas as a way for them to get liver in their diet! I’m glad you shared it here.

      • Beth says

        That’s great!

        Perhaps you could add a little addendum to your post about the vitamin C being present if it’s raw?

        Another suggestion for readers is to make pate with plenty of herbs, butter and perhaps mushrooms, bacon and/or bacon grease. Staunch liver haters like my husband really seem to like this type of pate.

  21. Mel says

    I was hoping you’d address dessicated liver tablets (from pasture feed beef) – a way people can get liver without hopefully tossing their cookies? I have toyed with the idea for awhile but still can’t take the plunge. There’s a beef vs. pork vs. ___ graphic waiting for you there…

    • KristenM says

      I’ve written about them before at this post on superfoods.

      They’re a good option for many.

      If you’ve got a source of grass-fed liver, though, I often recommend doing what Beth suggests above and freezing your own homemade liver “pills” to take. It’s cheaper than buying the capsules, but goes down as easily if you cut them into pill-sized portions.

  22. amber says

    my only problem is that liver is nasty . its chewy and gross . apples on the other hand is not there crunchy juicy and Delicious.

  23. Leah G says

    Thanks for the post Kristen. I wish everyone would wake up to the health benefits our creator provided us. Its all here in the food. One version will make you sick and kill you. The other will nourish you and make you thrive. Everyone wants to act superior and too good to eat the “odd bits” thats just social programming. Hello its only weird until you try it. I keep serving up the weird to my unsuspecting extended family and then dropping the bomb on them that it has marrow, heart, liver, kidney, etc, in it. we pasture raise our own animals and hunt as well. it is celebrating the animals life by utilizing the whole animal. Keep up the excellent posts! Happy Thanksgiving!

  24. Joy says

    I fixed liver once… more than thirty years ago. I had a recipe that guaranteed that even those who don’t like liver would love. Our girls were young at the time. I told my husband this was a fool proof recipe. He bet me $5 that the girls wouldn’t like it. The more adventurous younger one said “Mmmm, this is good.” Husband started laughing and passed me $5 under the table. I don’t remember the exact details but supper did end up with a lot of laughter and daughter rethinking her opinion. At that point Friend Hubby banned liver from the house.

    Daughter did try it again in her late teens just to gain an educated opinion. She doesn’t eat it either.

    So, I guess, for us apples are better than liver…. any day. ;)

  25. Elle says

    I love how you created that “interactive infographic” – really cool – can you tell me how you did it?

  26. Misty says

    I don’t like liver. I grew up in the south and my grandparents would tell me was steak. It’s like telling a child beets are cranberry sauce. However– I finally made myself liver and I ate it like I hadn’t eaten in days. :)

  27. says

    Thank you for another great article…Growing up fruit was a luxury in our house. My father, who was raised by his grandparents, made us eat organ meats regularly, whether we liked it or not. Funny how the generations that consumed every bit of the animal and had very little fruits and vegetables, seemed to live well into their 90’s compared to today’s standards.

  28. Julia says

    Wtf what kind of comparison is a fruit to meat? It’s comparing two different things. You could eat all the liver OR apples you want but as a modern omnivore we need nutrients from both. All those dessert-garbage type foods you post are as as nutrient dense as an apple stem. Food Renegade go eat some nutrient dense attic seal liver.

    • says

      I think I made that point already in the post, didn’t I? I wrote:

      “Does this mean I don’t want you to eat apples? No. Does this mean I want you to gorge yourself on liver? Not really.

      I’m all in favor of well-rounded diets filled with simple culinary delights like apples and Edible Aria’s Not Your Average Liver & Onions (seen above).

      But I’m tired of seeing nutrient-poor foods displace nutrient-dense foods in the average diet. Here’s the deal. You can only eat so much. Then you get full. If you eat a lot of calorie-rich but nutrient-poor food, you’ll become what I call nutrient starved.”

  29. Meredith says

    Can you comment on the concern that liver is naturally high in toxins? We eat a lot of liver because we value it’s nutrient density, but many acquaintances have chastised me for eating liver because it is “packed with toxins.” I’m afraid I don’t have an evidence-based comeback.

  30. says

    It’s a matter of marginal utility. If you currently eat beef, chicken and eggs but have no plant foods in your diet the apple is better, but if you live on fruit and salad now, the liver is better, because it fills a gap.

  31. Cindy Redskins Newman via Facebook says

    I’m not a big fan of apples, unless it’s my homemade applesauce, so I say, LIVER!

  32. Crystal Red via Facebook says

    I can only eat liver pate and only in small amounts it’s just the liver is too rich for my stomach to keep down. Maybe I should do the pills lol

  33. Marz Attacks via Facebook says

    Liver without a doubt. I can not express the profound effect on my health that including in my daily diet has had enough.
    I hate the taste so I cut it up, freeze it in little bits and take them raw with meals.

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