Calf liver -- commonly called veal -- is a type of organ meat from a young cow. Compared to liver meat from mature cows, veal is usually more tender and flavorful. In restaurants, calf’s liver is often pricey and served in smaller portions than other cuts of beef because of supply and demand economics. Although calf liver is relatively high in cholesterol and saturated fat, it’s also packed with many vitamins and minerals, which makes it a healthy choice if eaten in moderation.
Beef liver is an acquired taste for many people because it has a strong, almost metallic flavor that’s quite different from other cuts of beef based on muscle tissue, such as tenderloin or sirloin. The reason for this is the high percentages of copper, zinc, selenium and iron found in the organ meat. Copper, zinc and selenium boost immune function and are needed for enzyme function, whereas iron is an important component of hemoglobin in blood. Interestingly, despite its richer taste, beef liver is significantly lower in calories compared to other cuts of steak. In addition to being more tender and palatable, calf liver is likely to be healthier and have fewer toxic compounds compared to adult cow liver. The main reason is that the liver is responsible for filtering and metabolizing toxins from the bloodstream, so younger livers are less likely to have accumulated harmful chemicals.
Rich in Vitamins
The liver meat of every animal is extremely high in vitamins A and B-12, because that’s where the nutrients are stored. Calf liver is no exception, and a 4-ounce portion contains about 1,600 percent of your daily needs for both vitamins. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision and as an antioxidant, whereas B-12 is needed for metabolism, red blood cell production and brain function -- especially short-term memory. On the other hand, vitamin A is toxic in very large doses, so eating lots of liver on a daily basis is not recommended. Calf liver is also an excellent source of all other B-complex vitamins, which are important for cell division, metabolism and energy production, among other vital functions.
Excellent Protein Source
Like all other cuts of beef, calf liver is an excellent source of complete protein, which means the protein contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs but can’t manufacture. Amino acids are required to build and repair protein-based structures in your body such as muscle, skin, hair, fingernails and enzymes. In contrast, most types of plant protein are incomplete and missing at least one essential amino acid. On the downside, digestion of calf liver and other organ meats release lots of purines into the bloodstream, which are components of amino acids and nucleic acids that increase your risk of developing gout -- a temporary inflammatory condition of joints, especially of the toes and fingers.
High in Cholesterol
Calf liver contains a little less saturated fat compared to most other types of meat, but it’s higher in cholesterol than many. For example, 4-ounces of cooked calf liver contain about 440 milligrams of cholesterol, which is about 140 percent of your daily requirement, depending on your size and daily caloric intake. Some dietary cholesterol is necessary for maintaining cell membranes and building steroidal sex hormones, but too much increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis.
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.