Food that contains essential amino acids should be in every diet. These are known as essential amino acids or essential proteins, and are found in meat, fish and dairy but also in certain nuts and seeds.
Food With All Essential Amino Acids
Because many foods are rich in amino acids, it’s generally easy to get your daily requirement. However, the recommended daily intake is different for each amino acid.
Most foods from animal protein sources will provide all the essential amino acids you need, and many plant-based protein foods can be excellent sources of amino acids as well.
These five foods are some of the best sources of dietary amino acids available:
Quinoa is one of the most nutritious grains available today. In addition to being a good source of fiber, it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body needs from food. It also has a higher amount of lysine than wheat or rice, making it a better source of these amino acids than other grains.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. Studies suggest that the amino acids provided by eggs are better utilized by your body than other sources like casein or soy.
Turkey has high amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to make the B vitamin called niacin, which is necessary for digestion, healthy skin, and nerves. Tryptophan also helps produce serotonin, which affects your mood and can contribute to feelings of happiness and relaxation. Because they’re all high in protein, other meats are good sources of amino acids as well.
- Cottage cheese
One 100-gram serving of cottage cheese provides about 25% of your daily value of protein and contains significant quantities of several amino acids, including threonine and tryptophan.
Mushrooms contain a total of 17 amino acids, including all of the essential ones. One study showed that supplementing a cereal diet with mushroom would help overcome lysine deficiency.
Most types of fish contain essential amino acids and other important micronutrients. Salmon is high in amino acids and Omega 3s (important fatty acids that support heart and other health).
- Legumes and Beans
Legumes are a great source of high-quality protein — 20-45% of their protein is rich in the amino acid lysine. Peas and beans contain 17-20% high-quality protein while lupins and soybeans contain 38-45%. Legumes and beans include:
- Cooked kidney beans
- Black beans
- Garbanzo beans
Functions Of Amino Acids
Your body uses amino acids to make proteins. The different types of amino acids and the way they’re put together determine the function of each protein. So, amino acids are involved in many important roles in your body. Amino acids help:
- Break down food.
- Grow and repair body tissue.
- Make hormones and brain chemicals (neurotransmitters).
- Provide an energy source.
- Maintain healthy skin, hair and nails.
- Build muscle.
- Boost your immune system.
- Sustain a normal digestive system.
What are amino acids?
You can get enough essential amino acids through eating a diet rich in protein. These proteins are available in both plant foods and animal foods.
Amino acids are an important nutrient required for life and good health maintenance. They are sometimes called macronutrients and combine to form proteins. Proteins and amino acids are the building blocks of life.
Amino acids are long-chain molecules that make up protein. You have protein in your body in muscles, bones, skin, hair, and almost every tissue or body part. They also make enzymes that drive important chemical reactions in the body.
Your body doesn’t store amino acids, so it makes them from scratch or from others instead. There are more than 20 amino acids, which fall into three groups:
- Essential amino acids
- Nonessential amino acids
- Conditional amino acids
Your body cannot make essential amino acids from scratch or from other amino acids, so you must get them from food. These include:
If you’re an adult, your body can make nonessential and conditional amino acids. Children’s bodies can’t produce enough conditional amino acids to meet their needs.
Benefits of amino acids
Amino acids are required for life. Your body uses amino acids to build protein in your muscles, skin, hair, organs, and tissues and as a source of energy. Amino acids are important to:
- Build muscle
- Break down food
- Repair tissues
- Balance nitrogen in the body
- Regulate appetite
- Regulate blood pressure
- Build brain chemicals
- Regulate the immune system
Amino acids are responsible for many other processes and functions in the body.
Foods high in essential amino acids
You can get enough essential amino acids through eating a diet rich in protein. These proteins are available in both plant foods and animal foods.
Some foods contain complete proteins. These are foods that contain all 20 or more types of amino acids. Some foods are incomplete proteins and they may be missing one more of the nine essential amino acids.
Animal and plant foods that contain complete proteins or all amino acids include:
- Red meat
- Chia seeds
Plant foods that contain some amino acids include:
How much protein do you need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day in the United States, or about 7 grams for every 20 pounds of bodyweight. That means if you weigh 140 pounds, you should eat about 50 grams of protein in a day.
Most healthy people who live in a developed country get more than enough protein in their diet. However, millions of people, especially children and those who live in developing countries, do not get enough protein because of food insecurity.
The best way to get all the amino acids you need is to eat a variety of foods throughout the day that contain amino acids. People who do not eat animal foods may need to eat more and a greater variety of plant foods that contain amino acids to reach their recommended daily intake.
Risks and outlook
Protein is required for your health to maintain healthy body functions. Children need extra protein as they grow, and pregnant or breastfeeding women need good amounts of protein as they grow a baby.
Risks of not enough protein
People who live with food insecurity may have difficulty getting enough protein and essential amino acids. People who do not eat animal foods may also be at risk for not enough protein or a variety of proteins. Too little protein and malnutrition can lead to:
- Poor growth
- Loss of muscle mass
- Weakened heart
- Weakened respiratory system
- Decreased immunity
Severe malnutrition and a lack of protein can lead to death.
Risks of certain types of protein
Eating high amounts of red or processed meats or eating these foods often can lead to:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Weight gain
- Premature death
People who have liver disease, kidney disease, or gout need to be careful with the amount and type of protein they eat.
People who have allergies may also have to avoid certain foods that may be rich in protein. These include grains, nuts, seeds, fish, soy, and dairy. Eating high amounts of these foods is also linked to other health problems like breathing and digestive problems.
Remember that protein isn’t bad, despite the risks. People who get protein from plant foods, fish, or chicken and replace red or processed meat with these foods can lower the risk of developing diseases and premature death.
9 ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS | FOOD SOURCES TO FIND THEM
Amino acids are known as the building blocks of proteins. While the body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly, there are 9 essential amino acids that your body can’t produce without food.
Each of the 9 essential amino acids have unique functions. Some essential amino acids are important for muscle development, while others help regulate mood. So, even though we may not all be fitness fanatics looking to pack in the amino acids to help build muscle mass, everyone can benefit from eating a healthy diet with the right essential amino acids. Here are 9 essential amino acids, what roles they play, and where to find them in food. Brace yourself for some serious scientific terminology:
Without sufficient phenylalanine your body could experience cognitive dysfunction, depression, and appetite loss. It’s role in the body includes:
- Phenylalanine helps to create other amino acids like tyrosine. Tyrosine is used to help produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine (the happy chemical).
- Phenylalanine also helps form other important brain chemicals that regulate your adrenaline (your body’s fight or flight response).
- Phenylalanine is a precursor for thyroid hormones, which regulate your metabolism.
Phenylalanine food sources
- Animal sources include beef, lamb, pork, poultry, cheese, eggs, and yogurt. For every 100g of beef, you would have obtained about 154% recommended dietary intake.
- Plant-based options include tofu, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, wheat germ, quinoa, wild rice, as well as certain seeds and nuts. On average, for every 100g firm tofu eaten, expect to get around 95% of the recommended dietary intake of Phenylalanine
Threonine plays a key role for maintaining healthy skin and teeth. Since threonine is found largely in the central nervous system, studies have shown that it can be helpful in treating different types of depression. Here’s how it interacts in the body:
- Once in the body, threonine changes into a chemical called glycine. Glycine help produce elastin, collagen, and muscle tissue.
- When combined with methionine (another amino acid), glycine helps process fatty acids and helps prevent liver failure.
Threonine food sources
- Animal sources of threonine include lean beef, lamb, pork, collagen, gelatin, cheese. For every 100g of lean beef or lamb there’s about 165% of your recommended dietary intake.
- Plant based sources include tofu, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, wheat germ, cashews, almonds, lentils, and pistachios. The richest plant-based source for threonine is soya products, with 100g of roasted soybeans it also gives you around 165% of your recommended dietary intake of threonine.
Consuming enough tryptophan could potentially aid in regulating food cravings. It’s role in the body includes:
- Tryptophan is crucial to serotonin production. Serotonin helps regulate appetite, sleep, mood, and pain, and also acts as a natural sedative.
- It’s also known to be a precursor to melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate our sleep. As many of us know, having a good amount of sleep is crucial for your body’s immune response and nervous system function.
Tryptophan food sources
- Animal sources include dark chocolate, milk, cheese, turkey, red meats, yogurt, eggs, and fish.
- Plant based sources include chickpeas, pepitas, spirulina, bananas, and peanuts. However, seeds and nuts (specifically pumpkin and squash seeds) also have a large amount of tryptophan. For every 100g of seeds there’s you’ll be getting roughly 206% recommended dietary intake of tryptophan. For 100g of cheese (reduced fat mozzarella) you should be at around 204% of your recommended dietary intake.
Methionine helps with metabolism and detoxification. It’s role in the body includes:
- The sulfur found in methionine acts as an antioxidant for the body by protecting the cells from free radical damage. It also helps remove other heavy metals like lead and mercury in the body. Without sufficient sulfur in the body, people can be more susceptible to arthritis, damaged tissue, and have trouble healing.
- Methionine also helps to break down fat and prevent fatty deposits in the liver. Too much of this amino acid though, can lead to atherosclerosis, or fatty deposits in the arteries.
Methionine food sources
- Animal sources include tuna, salmon, shrimp, beef, and lamb. For every 100g of tuna you will find 122% of your recommended daily intake of methionine.
- Plant-based sources include brazil nuts, soybeans, tofu, beans, lentils, wheat germ, and spirulina. About 100g of brazil nuts would give you 154% of your recommended daily intake.
Lysine is responsible for muscle repair and growth. How it functions in the body:
- By producing a variety of hormones, enzymes and antibodies, lysine helps build a healthy immune system.
- It also has a crucial role in the production of collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body that gives structure to ligaments, tendons, skin, hair, cartilage, and organs.
- Lysine is also used to help the body absorb calcium, iron, and zinc. These are important minerals for immune health.
Lysine food sources
- Red meat provides the most amount of lysine. For every 100g of beef, expect 157% of your recommended daily intake for lysine.
- Plant-based sources include lima beans, avocados, dried apricots and mangoes, beetroots, leeks, potatoes, and peppers.
Histidine helps facilitate growth, the creation of blood cells, and tissue repair. How it functions in the body:
- Ultimately, the body metabolizes histidine into histamine. Histamine is a neurotransmitter that is vital to immune response, digestion, sexual function, and sleep-wake cycles.
- It also maintains the myelin sheath.
Histidine food sources
- Great sources of histidine include apples, pomegranates, alfalfa, beets, carrots, celery, cucumber, garlic, radish, and spinach. For 100g of dried bananas will provide you with around 48% recommended daily intake of histidine.
Fun Fact: The following three essential amino acids are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). They make up a large portion of the body’s total amino acid pool (about 35-40%). Not only can BCAAs help build muscle protein and produce energy, they also help to reduce fatigue.
Valine, one of the three BCAAs, is often used in supplement form with other BCAAs to build muscle mass in athletes. It’s role in the body:
- Stimulates muscle growth and regeneration, and is involved in energy production.
- Studies have concluded that valine can also help stimulate activity, while maintaining mental and physical stamina. That’s because it helps support the central nervous system by keeping it calm.
Valine food sources
- Valine is found most abundantly in red meats, dairy products, soy products, mushrooms, and peanuts. For about 100g of low-fat yogurt (depending on make) you will get about 26% recommended daily intake. Even a cup of milk would give you about 60% of your recommended daily intake of valine.
Leucine is critical for protein synthesis and muscle repair. It has been argued that it is the most important amino acid to build muscle mass because it helps activate a signaling pathway that is responsible for stimulating protein synthesis. How it functions in the body:
- It helps regulate blood sugar levels, stimulates wound healing and growth hormones.
- Leucine also helps to promote healing of muscles following trauma, or severe levels of stress.
Leucine food sources
- You can find leucine in animal sources like cheese, beef, lamb, poultry, gelatin, and collagen. You get about 75% recommended daily intake of Leucine for every 100g of chicken consumed.
- Plant-based sources include quinoa, sunflower seeds, pistachios, peanuts, corn, wheat germ, and brown rice. Spirulina is a fantastic source of leucine, giving around 181% of your recommended daily intake per 100g.
Isoleucine is also found to help blood clot formation. How it functions in the body:
- Isoleucine is heavily concentrated in muscle tissue, and plays a vital for muscle metabolism, immune function, hemoglobin production and energy regulation.
Isoleucine food sources
- Animal-based sources include beef, tuna, cod, haddock, and yogurt.
- Plant-based sources include oats, lentils, spirulina, sunflower and sesame seeds, and in seaweed. For 100g of wheat, you get about 16% recommended daily intake of isoleucine.
AMINO ACID DAILY RECOMMENDATIONS
Estimating the daily requirements for amino acids is challenging, however the World Health Organization has created a list of the recommended daily intake of these essential amino acids. By eating a healthy diet rich of vegetables, fruits, and protein you should be able to reach your daily recommended amount of essential amino acids.