Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Old World Lamb Liver Pâté

What a wonderful three-day weekend full of old friends, new friends, and exciting memories! 
The annual Ski to Sea celebration occurred this weekend, changing Bellingham, the city of subdued excitement, to one bustling and exciting community. Everyone is out to race as part of a 7-leg relay race starting on top of Mt Baker and ending in Bellingham Bay. Days, weeks, and even months of training are showcased and celebrated.

However, after a long day in the sun racing and cheering, I am thankful for a peaceful and quiet rainy Memorial Day Monday. The perfect time to clean the house, spruce up vases with beautiful fresh flowers, and get bustling in the kitchen with jazz playing in the background…and perhaps an afternoon nap might be in order. But first, since I have a little spare time on my hands, and a super amazing food co-op find in my fridge (organic pasture-raised lamb liver), I am going to make lamb liver pâté!

Now, for some of you, I know liver may not sound appealing since it is not commonly eaten in the American culture…..and it definitely has an acquired taste. However, in my family, since I am German, liver is a staple amongst many other organ meats. If you are new to liver, liver pâté is a good way to start, as it is seasoned well, and acts more like a spread or dip than like a cut of meat. I love to serve liver pâté as an appetizer with gluten-free crackers or sliced veggies like cucumbers. Or, simply spread it on toast or fresh crusty bread. Just use the liver pâté anyway you would use hummus.

Why liver?? 
Liver is simply amazing! Cultures have eaten liver and other organ meats for centuries, regarding them as the best part of the animal. And not surprisingly so! Since the liver plays multiple roles within the body it requires many vitamins and minerals to complete it’s functions. Therefore, the liver is a storage house of nutrition and consequently it is known as nature’s natural multivitamin. For example, it is extremely rich in B vitamins, biotin, choline, vitamin A, iron, copper, selenium, and zinc. The amounts found in 3.5 oz of liver far outreach what you can find in plant foods. Therefore, eating a little bit of liver as part of a whole foods plant-based diet can be a very easy way to quickly increase the nutrient density of your diet. Since liver is very high in vitamin A and cholesterol, limiting it to small amounts a couple times a week is advised. And just as a reminder, you must make sure to buy organic and pasture-raised liver to ensure the highest quality.

Who should eat liver?? 
I think everyone that enjoys liver should eat liver occasionally. However, those that benefit most are those that eat very little animal protein, those that have digestive issues of some sort (IBD, IBS, SIBO, etc), high-intensity athletes, or women of child-bearing age. Often times these populations either are not meeting their micronutrient needs through diet alone or they have decreased micronutrient absorption. Therefore, because liver is so rich in important vitamins and minerals it can be a wonderful restorative food item to incorporate into your diet. Below you can see how liver stacks up to other foods, including other animal protein (6).

APPLES (3.5oz)
CARROTS (3.5 oz)
RED MEAT (3.5 oz)
Lamb Liver (3.5 oz)
3.0 mg
3.3 mg
11.0 mg
7.0 mg
6.0 mg
31.0 mg
140.0 mg
360.0 mg
4.8 mg
6.2 mg
15.0 mg
19.0 mg
139.0 mg
222.0 mg
370.0 mg
310.0 mg
.1 mg
.6 mg
3.3 mg
7.3 mg
.05 mg
.3 mg
4.4 mg
4.6 mg
.04 mg
.08 mg
.18 mg
7.0 mg
Vitamin A
40 IU
24,332 IU
Vitamin D
16 IU
Vitamin E
.37 mg
.11 mg
1.7 mg
.63 mg
Vitamin C
7.0 mg
6.0 mg
4.0 mg
.03 mg
.05 mg
.05 mg
.35 mg
.02 mg
.05 mg
.20 mg
3.6 mg
.10 mg
.60 mg
4.0 mg
16.0 mg
Pantothenic Acid
.11 mg
.19 mg
.42 mg
6.0 mg
Vitamin B6
.03 mg
.10 mg
.07 mg
.9 mg
Folic Acid
8.0 mcg
24.0 mcg
4.0 mcg
228.0 mcg
.42 mcg
2.08 mcg
96.0 mcg
Vitamin B12
1.84 mcg
90 mcg

What are the health benefits of liver?
As you can see, liver stacks up pretty nicely, especially in regards to B vitamins. B vitamins are very important for proper energy production and metabolism, DNA synthesis, nervous system function, and the list goes on (1-3). If your diet is low in B vitamins, more likely than not, you may feel low energy and fatigue. Therefore, liver generally is a great addition to support overall energy and well-being. Don't be surprised if you eat a little liver pâté and get an energy boost after! Also, liver is a good source of zinc and selenium which are important co-factors in reducing oxidative stress in our bodies, and help support healthy immune and thyroid function (4-5).

So if you are feeling adventurous, or are already a liver connoisseur, I recommend trying this delicious, super easy liver pâté. Seriously, make a batch and freeze some for later.  You never know when you may crave some extra nutrition. Plus, it can even make a great hostess gift if invited for dinner on the fly.  Serve it with crackers, apples, olives, and some aged hard cheeses and you got yourself a gourmet antipasti plate! If you want another recipe idea for liver check out this post!

Old World Lamb Liver Pâté
Makes about 2 ½ cups

½ cup + 2 tablespoons organic grass-fed butter (I use organic valley, green label)
2 cups diced yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely minced
1 pound organic grass-fed lamb liver, diced or thinly sliced
2 tablespoons half and half
1 teaspoon Real sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground allspice (I use a clean coffee grinder to grind up allspice berries)
½ teaspoon ground pepper


In a large skillet (not cast iron), heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Reduce heat to medium low and add the yellow onion and sauté 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and the freshly minced herbs. Sauté another 10 minutes until the onions are caramelized.

Meanwhile cut away any membranes on the liver. Sometimes this is already done depending what liver you buy, and if you can find it, it will surely save you a bit of time! See this post for pictures if you still need to cut away membranes.

When the onions are starting to caramelize reduce the heat to low and with a slotted spoon transfer the onion mixture into a food processor. Return the heat to medium and sauté the liver until no longer bloody, but still slightly pink inside, just a couple minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the lamb to cool a bit.

Meanwhile process the onion mixture until smooth. Then add the liver, half and half, sea salt, allspice, and ground pepper. Process until smooth.

Line a container with plastic wrap and pour the liver pâté into the container. Smooth with a spatula and cover. Refrigerate. Once cool and hard you can turn the container over onto a plate and peel away the plastic wrap, allowing you to slice the pâté  OR just pour into a container from which you can spoon the pâté out of.

Note: This recipe makes a lot of pate. You can easily freeze the pâté and thaw for use later if you need a quick and tasty appetizer or breakfast spread.


1. Vitamin B6. Accessed March 27, 2015.
2. Folate. Accessed March 27, 2015.
3. Vitamin B12. Accessed March 28, 2015.
4. Zinc. Accessed March 27, 2015.
5. Selenium. Accessed March 27, 2015.
6. SELF NutritionData. Lamb Liver. Accessed March 27, 2015.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Vitamin K2 in Bone and Heart Health

Gosh I love cheese! There are so many varieties, including different flavors, textures, and smells. Sometimes I will indulge in a cheese plate with an aged goat, a creamy blue, and an assortment of fruits and olives. It’s so easy and so delicious! However, not only does cheese taste good but it also contains some very important vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K (we will focus on K2) and calcium. These two important nutrients are unique in the fact that they work together to maintain bone and heart health. Along with fat-soluble vitamins A and D, a concert of actions comes together to offer protective health benefits. 

So firstly lets talk about calcium, since everyone is somewhat familiar with this mineral. Calcium is an essential mineral that plays prominent roles in both bone health and cell-signaling. In order to have adequate amounts of calcium we must make sure to get it through our diet via calcium rich foods. As with everything, a fine balance between too much and too little is essential in regards to optimal health. Luckily a healthy body will be able to regulate the amounts accordingly, drawing calcium from the bones if there is too little in the blood, or reducing absorption when dietary intake is adequate (1). However, in order for calcium to be properly absorbed, distributed, and utilized, additional vitamins are key!

Read more about calcium is in this wonderful blog post!

Lets start with vitamin K. There are two natural forms of vitamin K, including vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), which is found in darky leafy greens and is known for its ability to clot blood, and the lesser-known vitamin K2 (menaquinone). When an animal grazes on vitamin K1 rich foods such as quickly growing spring grass, vitamin K1 is converted to vitamin K2 through enzymatic action and stored in the tissues. This conversion rate varies widely between different animal species and happens to be most present in mammary glands. Vitamin K2 can also be produced through certain lactic acid bacterial fermentation (2).

It is very important to note that these two vitamins do not have similar roles and are actually quite different in their biochemical functions. In the past researchers had a tendency to disregard vitamin K2, however new research is demonstrating that these two forms of vitamin K should be seen as two different vitamins all together with complete unique functions within the body. While K1 is preferentially used to activate blood-clotting proteins, vitamin K2 is used to help distribute dietary calcium into places where it belongs, such as bones and teeth, and keep it away from soft tissues such as arteries (2).

Furthermore, vitamin K2 works in synergy with vitamins A and D. Both vitamins A and D act as messengers, telling cells to make certain proteins, while vitamin K2 activates these proteins to complete their functions. The function of these proteins is to bind calcium and to move/organize the calcium throughout the body. One of these proteins is called osteocalcin, which directs calcium and phosphorous salt deposits into bones and teeth. Furthermore, vitamins A and D control the amounts of Gla protein made available which also plays an essential role in moving calcium into bone tissue and protecting soft tissues, such as arteries from becoming calcified. Both the Gla and osteocalcin proteins absolutely require the presence of vitamin K2 to become activated. Finally, vitamin D plays an additional very important role, helping to increase calcium absorption in the gut. So as you can see….it is a very complex synergistic activity of all combined to promote optimal bone density and protect soft tissues from calcification (2).

So where am I going with this? Bone health and heart health! If there is too little K2, then consequently these important proteins osteocalcin and Gla, remain deactivated, and therefore calcium is not distributed where it should be. Consequentially, bone density may decrease and the risk of depositing calcium in soft tissues such as arteries increases. Multiple studies have found an association between vitamin K2 supplementation and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, while vitamin K1 was not correlated to any positive outcomes (3,4). Furthermore, a large clinical study found that K2 supplementation significantly increased bone mineral density in Chinese postmenopausal osteoporotic women, with effects comparable to that of a current drug used in the treatment of osteoporosis called alfacalcidol (5). Similar results were found in a study of postmenopausal Japanese women treated with a low dose of 1.5mg/day of menaquinone-4 (vitamin K2, MK-2). Researchers found that participants who were not given K2 supplementation had a lower bone mineral density after 12 months than those who had low dose supplementation (6).

So what foods contain vitamin K2?? Unlike vitamin K1 which is found most abundantly in new sprouts and leafy greens, vitamin K2 is found most readily in dairy, eggs, and meats, as well as some fermented foods like natto and sauerkraut. Remember what I said earlier? Animals eat the vitamin K1 rich grass, convert it to vitamin K2, and store it in their tissues, especially mammary glands. Since vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin, just like vitamins A and D, you will find it most concentrated in fat containing animal products. However, the most important part is to buy pasture-raised animal products. Since pasture-raised animals are allowed to graze on grass they not only will have higher vitamin K2 levels but they will be more nutrient dense overall compared to conventional grown. Furthermore because fermentation via lactic acid bacteria also produces vitamin K2 you can find it in fermented veggies and soybeans. Natto, a traditional Japanese breakfast staple made from soybeans, has the highest amount of concentrated K2. It requires an acquired taste as it smells and tastes very strong. Read below for a more detailed list on vitamin K2 rich foods (2,7).

Vitamin K2 (µg per 100g)
Natto (fermented soybeans)
Goose Liver
Hard Cheese
Soft Cheese
Egg Yolk (pasture-raised)
Egg Yolk (conventional)
Chicken Liver
Chicken Breast
Ground Beef  (medium-fat)
Whole Milk

So you might be asking, how much K2 do I need to eat? Interestingly humans do not possess the ability to absorb much more than 200µg of vitamin K1 per day from vegetables. Absorption is better if leafy greens are consumed throughout the day instead of eaten at one sitting. The efficiency of the conversion rate of vitamin K1 to vitamin K2 in human tissue is unknown, however studies have shown that vitamin K2 is inversely associated with heart disease and mortality while K1 did not have this effect. Therefore, new research studies are suggesting that vitamin K2 conversion from vitamin K1 is not sufficient in humans, highlighting the need to eat vitamin K2 rich food sources to meet our daily needs (2).  So the answer is…eat a little quality (grass-fed/organic) vitamin K2 rich food every day to your liking! Now you have a good reason to eat a little cheese with your glass of wine J

With that I will leave you with a delicious savory ricotta recipe, perfect for dipping or spreading. Also, if you don't want to get all fancy, eating just plain ricotta is delicious too!

Herbed Ricotta
Makes about 2 cups

1 15oz container organic pasture-raised ricotta (I use Organic Valley)
1/3 cup feta in brine, strained and crumbled
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh herbs (rosemary, chives, thyme, etc)
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp sea salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste


Mix all together and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight to allow the flavors to blend.

Serving Suggestion: Spread on crusty bread and top with sliced tomatoes or spread on sliced cucumber slices and top with broccoli/alfalfa sprouts as garnish.
1. Linus Pauling Institute. Calcium Accessed March 16, 2015.
2 Masterjohn C. On the Trail of the Elusive X-Factor: A Sixty-Two-Year-Old Mystery Finally Solved. Accessed March 16, 2015.
3. Geleijnse JM, Vermeer C, Grobbee DE, Schurger LJ. Dietary Intake of Menaquinone is Associated with a Reduced Risk of Cornary Heart Disease: The Rotterdam Study. Journal of  Nutrition. 2004:3100-3105
4. Juanola-Falgarona M, Salas-Salvado J, Martinez MA, et al. Dietary Intake of Vitamin K is Inversely Related with Mortality Risk. Journal of Nutrition. 2014;743-749.
5. Jiang Y, Zhang ZL, Zhang ZL, Zhu, HM, et al. Menatetrenon versus alfacalcidol in the treatment of Chinese postmenopausal women with osteoporosis: a multicenter, randomized, double-blinded, double-dummy, positive drug controlled clinical trial. Clin Interv Aging. 2014;9:121-127.
6. Koitaya N, Sekiguchi M, Tousen Y, et al. Low-dose vitamin K2 (MK-4) supplementation for 12 months improves bone metabolism and prevent forearm bone loss in postmenopausal women. J Bone Miner Metab. 2014;32(2):142-150.
7. Walther B, Karl JP, Booth SL, et al. Menaquinones, Bacteria, and the Food Supply-The Relevance of Dairy and Fermented Food Products to vitamin K Requirements. Adv Nutr. 2013;4:4630473.
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