The human body is a well-oiled machine, capable of taking the fuel that we provide it and converting it into the energy that we need to function. But, just like any machine, if we give it sub-par fuel it will gunk up the works. Eventually, components stop being able to perform like they should and the entire system stops working. While there are many factors at play in the longevity of this system (genetics, physical activity, etc.), one very large and easily controllable facet of the body’s longevity and optimal function is food.

When talking about optimal function, the liver is one of the most important organs in the chain. Serving as a giant (it’s the second largest organ in the whole body) cleaning service for your system, it’s basically the housekeeping department of your bloodstream. Simply put, it’s responsible for cleaning all of the toxins out of what we put into our mouths before it gets distributed everywhere it needs to go.

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It’s also kinda the Rodney Dangerfield of your body in that we never think about or even notice all of the hard work it does for us until there’s something wrong. The poor thing gets no respect, especially when we ply it with animal-based foods. Here’s why.

 

1. Animal foods are high in unhealthy fats

Particularly of the saturated variety. While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats definitely need to make an appearance in a healthy diet, saturated fats promote the body to produce excess cholesterol and triglycerides. Having high numbers of either one of these places us at risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. With cheese being the largest contributor of saturated fat in the American diet, the liver is doing virtual acrobatics with every plate of nachos.

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2. Animal foods are concentrated sources of unhealthy calories, which contribute to obesity

Studies show that vegetarians, particularly those who follow entirely plant-based diets, are leaner than their meat eating counterparts. Maintaining a healthy weight is imperative to liver health in that obesity is also linked to fatty liver disease, which can lead to scarring or cirrhosis of the liver, even liver cancer or liver failure.

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3. Animal foods contain a host of toxins that the liver has to battle

Natural hormones, antibiotics and a variety of other contaminants relating to the production process reside heavily in animal-based foods. The liver’s primary function is to cleanse the system of these items, which requires it to work harder the more often they’re consumed. This can cause a buildup of toxins in the liver overtime, which invariably leads to damage.

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4. Highly acidic foods, like those derived from animal protein, cause an imbalance in the pH of our blood

Eighty-five to 90 percent of the blood from your stomach and intestines travels through the liver to be cleaned. If the meal you consumed was highly acidic, the liver has to work overtime in order to produce the proper nutrients to maintain alkalinity. Just like when you’re forced to work copious amounts of overtime, the liver eventually starts to wear out under the constant strain. Whole food, plant-based diets are more alkaline in nature and require less work for the liver to cleanse the bloodstream.

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5. Animal proteins specifically are hard on the liver to process

Animal-based proteins are different than plant-based proteins, not only because they’re acidic and high in fat, but because they’re extremely hard for the body to process. Interestingly, animal-based proteins were also found to repeatedly contribute to disease, especially in excessive amounts, whereas a higher protein plant-based diet caused no health problems whatsoever. Though you don’t need excessive amounts of protein from any source, remember that animal foods are a dense source of acidic amino acids, while plant-based options are much easier on the liver, as well as the entire body.

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Recommendations for treatment of liver disorders range everywhere from lifestyle changes to medications and even surgery, but there is one thing unanimous amongst health practitioners: a whole foods, plant-based diet is the best way to prevent and even reverse some of the damage (depending on severity) done by highly toxic, animal-based, processed dietary choices.

The liver does up to 400 things in a given day for us. Let’s give it some respect.

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