Is Liver Really a Healthy Food?

If your mom made you eat liver as a child, you may not have enjoyed the experience. Was mom right? Is liver healthy?

Your mother may have told you to eat liver because it’s good for you, but chances are it didn’t go down easily. Calves liver is definitely an acquired taste and few children enjoy it’s strong, distinctive flavor. How about the health benefits? Is liver healthy?

It’s a Powerhouse of Vitamins

There’s no doubt that calf’s liver is an excellent source of important vitamins. It’s loaded with B vitamins, being a particularly good source of vitamin B12, a compound needed for red blood cell production and for maintaining a healthy immune system. The B vitamins also have cardiovascular benefits and are important for energy producing reactions in the body that keep the body functioning at peak capacity without fatigue.

What about other vitamins? Four ounces of calf’s liver has seven times the recommended daily requirement for vitamin A, a vitamin that’s critical for healthy vision and immune function. It also provides a good dose of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin important for maintaining healthy skin and connective tissue. It’s tough to find a food that’s a better source of these all important vitamins. Calf’s liver really does provide a powerful array of life sustaining vitamins, all in a single food.


In terms of minerals, calf’s liver is rich in selenium, zinc, and iron. Selenium is a trace mineral involved in the production of key enzymes, particularly ones related to thyroid function. Both selenium and zinc are important for fertility, especially zinc in males. Zinc is also necessary for good immune function. Getting adequate iron is important for pre-menopausal women, but too much iron can be a problem for men and women after menopause as iron stores can build up in the body, potentially increasing the risk of heart disease. Eating an abundance iron rich foods such as calf’s liver may not be healthy for everyone.

Protein Power

Calf’s liver is also one of the best sources of protein around with twenty-two grams of this body building nutrient in a single four ounce serving. At only 160 calories for a single serving, it provides a significant source of body building protein without packing on the calories.  Unfortunately, this protein load comes with a significant amount of cholesterol, around 400 mg. in a serving. One single serving of liver easily exceeds the Heart Association’s recommended cholesterol intake for a day. Anyone with heart disease, high blood pressure, or an elevated cholesterol level should avoid eating calf’s liver on a regular basis. Although some people eat calf’s liver as an additional protein source, most Americans already get enough protein in their diet.

Is Liver Healthy?

As with most foods, it has its positives and negatives. If you’re a serious athlete and need extra protein or if you’re malnourished or anemic and need additional vitamins and iron, calf’s liver is a good choice. For the average person, it’s best to enjoy it in moderation because of its high cholesterol and iron content. For anyone with heart disease, hypertension, or elevated cholesterol, it should be eaten in limited quantities due to the high cholesterol and iron content.

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  1. My belief is everything should be eaten in moderation.
    I hated liver as a child, and I do not cook it now, nor do I force my kids to eat it.

  2. i’m a vegan, but when i was a child, i did have this experience and i hated it. now it is horrifying to eat an animal. the article is brilliant and very well researched. i liked it alot. well done!

  3. The liver is our second biggest organ and works very hard, so the debate will continue as to whether it is actually good to eat from animals. Just take a look at what your liver is doing ona daily basis.
    Every twenty minutes your entire blood supply goes through your liver which makes it probably the hardest working organ in the body. In addition to its normal functions of controlling the metabolism, deactivating hormones, drugs and toxins and producing bile to break down and absorb fat, a ‘western liver’ has to deal with up to 30,000 chemicals daily, absorbed through the skin, ingested or breathed in from the air (60 years ago this figure was just 300).

  4. As a child I had anemia, my mom made me eat liver once a week besides getting b12 shots at the doctor\’s office. I was cured. As an adult I don\’t eat it but now at age 36 I find myself in bad health so I\’m going to start eating it again because of this article. Just taking the supplements aren\’t enough if your anemic. Also try beet juice but make sure you prepare it well.

  5. The high content of vitamin A in liver makes this something that should be eaten only sparingly by older people. The ability to metabolize vitamin A decreases with age, which means that what we take in through food or supplements stays in our system longer. So for seniors, it’s really important to avoid a high intake of vitamin A , or they risk vitamin A toxicity. I had written about this in the late 1990s after I had learned about it when I interviewed a specialist at Tufts for an article discussing his recommendations for nutrition. A while after that the issue suddenly received a lot of attention, and multivitamins for seniors were reformulated to reduce the vitamin A/beta carotene/etc dose substantially. So while liver has a lot going for it nutritionally, for seniors it should be just a once in a while item on the menu.

  6. I don’t like Liver, but my mom was a bad cook and maybe it tastes good if its prepared right but I have too many bad memories of being forced to eat liver and my mother getting madder when I would puke it out

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