Liver vitamin A and children

Liver is a good source of vitamin A and many other nutrients. In addition to many beneficial effects, liver consumption also has some potential risks. One of them is that liver contains vitamin A in retinoid form, which can be toxic if ingested in large amounts on a continued basis.

In order to prevent excessive intake of vitamin A, liver-based foods have not been recommended for children under the age of one year since 1990 .With toddlers, it has been advised that the consumption of liver-based foods (ground liver patties, liver steak, liver stew, liver casserole), liver sausage and liver pâté should be restricted to a couple of meals per month. To re-evaluate current recommendations, the Finnish Food Safety Authority, Evira has undertaken a risk assessment of retinoid intake from liver foods among Finnish children. The objectives of the risk assessment were to estimate the relevance of retinoid exposure from liver products among Finnish 1-, 3- and 6-year-old children and to assess whether children’s consumption of liver foods still needs to be restricted.

The risk assessment was based on liver food consumption data (DIPP Nutrition Study), recipe information and analysis results of vitamin A (retinoids). To estimate intake by consumption of both non-liver and liver sources of vitamin A, Monte Carlo simulations were performed. The impact of liver consumption on the intake of vitamin A was estimated separately for single meal and daily long term average consumption. The simulation model results were compared with intake recommendations and upper intake limits. The models were also applied to estimate safe combinations of portion size and eating frequency for liver foods and their combinations.

Based on risk assessment, the following conclusions were made:
1. Although consumption of liver foods helps to fulfil some children’s daily vitamin A needs, there is a risk of intolerably high retinoid intake among other children.
2. Among children, the proportion of true eaters of liver foods is very probably higher than can be seen on the basis of 3-day food records.
3. When considering safe long term consumption of liver foods, in addition to portion size, eating frequency is an important factor. One-year-old children can eat safely liver sausage or pâté and 3- and 6-year-old children all liver foods as long as they do not do it too often. The safe portion size and eating frequency depends on the age group and type of liver food. In general, liver sausage or pâté can be eaten more often than liver casserole, liver sauce and liver patties.

Research group

Kirsi-Helena Liukkonen Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira
Tapani Lyytikäinen Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira
Tero Hirvonen Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira
Christina Bäckman Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira Carina Cronberg-Kippilä National Public Health Institute KTL Suvi Virtanen National Public Health Institute KTL and University of Tampere


The project was completed in 2008



Further information

Kirsi-Helena Liukkonen,