Consumption of liver and liver-based food during pregnancy – new information and new recommendations

15.8.2007

<div>The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira has done a risk assessment on the exposure of Finnish women of fertile age to vitamin A, cadmium and lead from liver-based foods. Evira, the National Public Health Institute and the National Nutrition Council have made a collective decision to ease the recommendations concerning the consumption of liver. The research confirms that consumption of liver-based foods during pregnancy should still be avoided. Moderate consumption of liver sausage and liver pâté is safe, however.</div>

Liver is rich in vitamin A in the form of retinoids which, in large doses, can increase the risk of foetal malformations and miscarriages. In addition, liver may contain large quantities of cadmium and lead, which may have a harmful effect on the foetus. This is why it has been recommended that pregnant women should avoid eating liver.

For assessing the intake, information from the National Public Health Institute's food study Findiet and the recipe information on liver dishes and the quantities of ingredients of the Finnish Food and Drink Industries' Federation (ETL) and the National Public Health Institute have been used. The risk assessment that has now been done confirms that normal use of liver dishes may expose pregnant women to larger doses of vitamin A than is considered safe. The risk of an excessive intake would still seem to mainly apply to liver dishes consumed as the main course. A moderate consumption of liver sausage or liver pâté does not, according to the risk assessment, lead to an excessive intake of vitamin A. The intake of cadmium and lead from liver dishes is quite low compared to the exposure from other food sources.

The new recommendations

A varied and balanced diet ensures good nutrition during pregnancy. Generous consumption of vegetables, berries and fruit is sufficient to secure the intake of vitamin A also during pregnancy. Plant products contain vitamin A in the form of carotenoids, which involve no risk even when large servings of berries, fruit and vegetables are consumed.

In order to avoid an excessive intake of vitamin A, the consumption of liver during pregnancy should be limited as follows:

  • Liver-based foods (minced liver patties and liver steaks, liver stew, baked liver casserole) should be avoided during the whole pregnancy.
  • The amount of liver sausage and liver pâté consumed during pregnancy should not exceed 200 g a week.  No more than 100 g should be consumed at any one time.
  • If liver sausage or liver pâté are being consumed daily, their use should be limited to a maximum of 30 g a day.  In practice this corresponds to about 2 slices of liver sausage or 2 tablespoons of liver pâté. 

More information can be found on Evira’s Internet pages:

For additional information, please contact: 
Risk assessment:
Senior Researcher Tero Hirvonen, KTL, tel. (09) 4744 8731, tero.hirvonenat-merkki.gifktl.fi ,
Head of Unit Kirsti Savela, Evira, tel. 020 77 24020, kirsti.savelaat-merkki.gifevira.fi

Recommendations regarding the consumption of liver:
Senior Officer Annika Nurttila, Evira, tel. 020 77 24290, annika.nurttilaat-merkki.gifevira.fi

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