Although it does not always get a lot of attention, the liver has many essential functions for the body. The liver might become damaged based on the types of foods you eat each day over long periods of time. Additionally, choosing healthy foods, such as through vegetarianism, might prevent damage to the liver by reducing its workload to help digest some types of foods.
The liver is important for sorting through the blood, taking out chemicals and breaking down nutrients to change them into usable forms for the body. The liver also works as a filter for wastes, which are excreted in bile. Bile then breaks down fats so they can be absorbed. The liver has many other essential functions, including the production of cholesterol, converting excess glucose into a form that can be stored for later and controlling blood clotting.
Part of the function of the liver is to take apart amino acids and change them into glucose or fat. Amino acids are found in foods that contain protein. When you eat a significant amount of protein each day, the liver has to work hard to process these amino acids. While protein is important, most people who follow Western diets take in much more protein than their bodies need each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You only need enough protein to make up 10 to 30 percent of your daily calories. Protein comes from sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and soy.
People who follow vegetarian diets are those who do not eat animal products, and vegetarianism has variations, which exclude some types of animal-based foods. For example, a lacto-ovo vegetarian might eat plant-based foods, dairy and eggs but avoids meat, poultry and fish. Alternatively, a vegan eliminates all animal-based products, including dairy, eggs and meat. While vegetarians can still get protein from such sources as soy or beans, their overall intake is lower than that of a typical meat-eating person. Thus, the livers of vegetarians are not as overloaded with amino acids as that of someone with a high protein diet. Overall liver function could be better among vegetarians because of decreased protein intake.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease refers to a condition that causes fat buildup on the liver, resulting in damage that is not related to excessive intake of alcohol. The liver is unable to take apart fats, which end up collecting in the liver tissue. The greatest risk factors for this disease include obesity, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians might have a lower risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease related to diet because their intakes of saturated fats and cholesterol tend to be lower than those who eat animal products. Plant-based foods do not contain cholesterol, and lower levels of saturated fats among fruits and vegetables might reduce the risk for obesity in a vegetarian diet.