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We all need some source of dietary protein. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or you eat poultry and/or red meat. Every day we use amino acids, the building blocks for protein, to repair and restore tissue, and they need to be replaced.

The challenge is that unless we are careful, the protein we eat is often the most toxic food we consume.

The easiest way to avoid toxic protein is to be vegan (you eat no animal products), or vegetarian (you don’t eat fish, poultry or red meat, but do eat dairy and eggs. However, you don’t have to give up eating animal protein to avoid toxins. And the lower you eat on the food chain, the less toxic your food will usually be.

Vegans get most of their protein from beans, vegetables, and whole grains. They still need to ensure that they choose organic products when eating from the dirty dozen list (e.g., spinach, apples, blueberries, bell pepper). The biggest risk comes from eating out of cans that are lined with BPA (Bisphenol A), as this chemical compound is a hormone disruptor, and increases your risk for diabetes and cancer. When eating canned foods, such as beans and tomato sauces, always ensure that you buy BPA-free cans.

Vegetarians typically consume eggs and dairy products. In the US, egg-laying chickens are commonly fed pesticide-loaded grains and sprayed regularly with chemicals and antibiotics in their cages. All these toxins get transferred to the eggs that are sold for human consumption.

Commercial dairy is often given a hormone, recombinant bovine growth hormone, (rBGH) to increase milk production. Although in the United States the FDA has approved rBGH to be used in the dairy industry, it has been banned in Canada, Europe, and many other countries, as it has been linked to prostate, breast, colorectal, and other cancers. (The FDA says these studies have not been conclusive at this time. Yet, I am clearly going to err on the safe side and encourage you to use organic, free range egg and dairy products.

For pescatarians, make sure that your fish is either wild caught, or you need to know what the fish were fed while raised in pens. Too often, farm-raised fish are fed pesticide coated grains and soy products, and ground up fish meal that contains PCBs. Best is to buy wild caught fish. You also consume far fewer chemicals even with wild-caught seafood if you buy fish that are lower on the food chain, such as herring, sardines, sole, flounder, and shellfish. Even though wild caught salmon can be fairly large, they have a small mouth and eat low on the food chain so they are a good choice as well.

Large-mouth fish have the highest concentration of chemicals and mercury, so avoid swordfish, shark, tuna, grouper, and bass; eat it not more than 1-3 times per month or not at all.

More than 40% of pesticides in the American diet are thought to come from eating poultry and meat that have been fed pesticide coated grains, injected with hormones, and fed antibiotics. Not only do pesticides increase our risk for cancer, they also make it more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

The most toxic of all the animal protein sources are hot dogs, bologna, bacon and deli meats. Not only do these sources of protein typically come from a feedlot, and often they use parts of the carcass instead of a real cut of meat, but they also have extra chemicals added to them to extend their shelf life. All processed meats and bacon that you consider should have been organically raised, but you also need to ensure that they do not have toxic nitrosamines, which are commonly placed on these foods. We have known for years that nitrosamines increase our risk for cancer substantially. But recently we have shown that they also increase our risk for diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Sometimes it is tempting to think about going vegan, buying mostly organic produce, and avoiding canned food products to ensure we avoid toxins from commercial food producers. Yet, if we follow these simple precautions, we can eat clean protein from a variety of sources.

Some foods help us excrete toxins via liver detoxification from our bodies. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower), onions, scallions, garlic, and curry spices enhance liver detoxification. Another very good reason to eat at least a serving of cruciferous vegetables and foods from the onion family daily, and enjoy curry dishes (or a curcumin supplement) often to help push out chemicals from your body.

Sweating also helps remove toxins. Whether it is sweat from a workout or sweat from a sauna.  Regular sweat production is another way to help remove chemicals that have the potential to cause harm. Just remember to replenish your body with clean, filtered fluids.

  • Here is a link that makes it easy for you to find high quality, clean poultry, beef, and/or bacon products, visit butcherbox.com.

My goal is to help you eat non-toxic food you enjoy, and that you stay vibrant and healthy for years to come.

I wish you the best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS

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