Protein-rich diets are incredibly popular even for those that aren’t on calorie-restricted, bodybuilding, or athletic diets. We know that protein is easy to get enough of, but most of us still love hearing how to get more of the important macronutrient we hear so much about within each of our meals. And we should be sure we get enough protein; it improves our mood, nervous system function, strength, energy, and yes, can help us preserve muscles and improve our metabolism. Protein shouldn’t be forgotten about, but it should be regulated in terms of where we’re getting it from.
It’s interesting to note that all plant-based foods contain amino acids and protein, even if in small amounts. Though most don’t rival the high amount of a steak or burger, some actually do (or have more), and come with no cancer and diabetes risks but instead, a variety of health benefits such as antioxidants and nutrients that prevent disease versus cause it. Proteins from plants can help build lean muscle, preserve muscle mass, enhance the metabolism, and satiate us just like animal protein.
Why Excessive Animal Protein Leads to Poor Health
Aside from heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer, and diabetes which are some of the most prevalent health risks associated with red meat, liver health is an area that we should be more mindful of when we consume protein. Why? Because excessive amounts of protein can be harmful to your liver, the filtration powerhouse of all toxins that come into your body. Without a healthy liver, a healthy body doesn’t exist. And when the liver fails, so does the human body.
When you eat protein, your liver breaks it down so it can be excreted. As it breaks down the amino acids, the byproduct ammonia forms. Yes, that’s right … ammonia. Normally, it can do this just fine, however, it has to excrete that ammonia out of the body so it doesn’t cause toxicity. Animal proteins are so high in concentrated amino acids that when consistently eaten in high doses (like high protein animal-based diets include), over time, the liver becomes overworked, bogged down, and ammonia and other toxins become backed up in the bloodstream. This can make you tired, sluggish, and your elimination organs (kidneys, colon, etc.) all start to malfunction or slow down.
One reason high protein diets can lead to excessive emptying of the bladder is because the body is constantly trying to rid the toxins via the urine, which can start to actually smell like ammonia as a result of poor liver function. If not addressed, this issue can lead to Hepatic Encephalopathy, a liver condition that is diagnosed by a reduction of brain and nervous function. Symptoms include mental fogginess, poor concentration, confusion, forgetfulness, and a number of other symptoms.
Though some protein is necessary for healthy liver functioning, the National Liver Foudation recommends that we moderate our protein intake. Individuals suffering from poor liver health are also advised to lower their protein intake, increase their MCT fat intake (from plants like coconut and avocados) to help the liver produce enough bile, and ensure they get a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats for an optimal-functioning liver. Plenty of fluids and limited (if any) alcohol are also recommended and advised.
What Kinds of Proteins are Best for the Liver?
The National Liver Foundation (NLF) also addresses how beneficial a vegetarian/plant-based diet is for a healthy liver by stating, “It has been proved beyond doubt that some of the proteins derived from animals are responsible for producing persistent symptoms related to liver disease. Thus vegetarian diets, as mentioned below, has gained momentum in the treatment of hepatic disorders.”
The NLF then goes on to advise a high-fiber, plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and plant-based proteins from a variety of whole foods with limited animal protein (if any).
Other nutrients that benefit, heal, and assist with liver function and detoxification include B vitamins and vitamin C. These nutrients are found abundantly in plant-based foods just as protein is. See plant-based sources of B vitamins, the best sources of vitamin C, and start eating more of these 25 plant-based proteins whenever you can. The NLF says that these nutrients help with daily liver detoxification to support the cleansing of a healthy liver and support overall liver maintenance.
How Much Protein Should we Eat?
It’s not stated how much protein is right for each person in terms of liver health. Normally, 10-15 grams per meal is plenty, however, some people may eat more pre or post-workout if necessary. The important thing to focus on is to be sure you’re not getting the majority —or even half of—your proteins from animal-based foods. Animal-based foods aren’t just harmful to the liver, but too much can lead to poor blood sugar function, heart disease risks, and cancer (mainly with red meat).
For more tips to boost your liver function, see 10 Foods to Cleanse and Care for Your Liver, How to Detox Your Liver, and be sure to eat plenty of certain fruits and veggies that boost your liver function on a regular basis. Avoid and quit smoking, excessive alcohol (or eliminate it) and eat more whole foods versus processed foods. Then check out a list of 50 foods to choose from you can stock up on this week.
Remember, we only get one liver, let’s keep it in tip top function, starting with what we put on our forks (and spoons!).
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