Monday, April 19, 2010

Amino Acids Revealed

Amino acids help maintain our body’s optimal health and vitality

Amino acids are the “building blocks” of the body. When protein is broken down through digestion, the result is 22 known amino acids. Eight are essential, meaning they cannot be manufactured by the body. The rest are non-essential, (can be manufactured by the body with proper nutrition.)

To understand just how vital amino acids are for our health, we must understand the importance of proteins. Protein substances make up the muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails and hair, and are essential for the growth, repair and healing of bones, tissues and cells. Insufficient levels of the essential amino acids can dramatically interrupt the way our bodies work. For example, deficiencies of tyrosine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and histidine can cause neurological problems and depression. Low levels of tryptophan also make us anxious and unable to sleep.

Amino acids are most abundant in protein foods, yet all foods contain some. Animal foods such as beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, eggs, milk, and cheese are known as complete proteins and usually contain all eight essential amino acids. Many vegetable proteins contain adequate levels of many of the essential acids, but may be low in one or two. Grains and their germ coverings, legumes, nuts and seeds, and some vegetables fit into this category.

The importance of balancing the diet in order to obtain sufficient levels of all the essential amino acids cannot be overstated. A diet containing a variety of wholesome foods is crucial. If the complete proteins (stated above) are eaten daily, there is no need to worry about supplementing the diet or creating optimal food combinations. However, most of us do not eat these foods daily and probably should not, as the over consumption of protein foods (especially meat and milk) can lead to disease.

Those of us who follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet need have less concern about combining foods than those of us who follow a vegan diet. For those eating vegetarian diets, it is fairly easy to obtain a good protein balance from vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes. Eating beans or seeds with some sort of grain is the simplest way to obtain an adequate balance of proteins. Often times, traditional food cultures have already solved the problem. (ie. South American black beans and rice; MiddleEastern, chickpeas and couscous). According to Gabriel Cousins, M.D. in her book Conscious Eating, “the Max Planck Institute has found that the complete vegetarian proteins, those with all eight essential amino acids, are superior to, or at least equal to, animal proteins. They showed that these complete proteins were found in various concentrations in almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, soybeans, buckwheat, peanuts, potatoes, all leafy greens, and most fruits.”

Paying attention to what we eat and how we combine our foods is the first step in preventing amino acid deficiency. If there is worry that the diet is not giving the body all it needs, there is always supplementation. Supplementing with amino acids have been known to help those suffering from degenerative diseases such as mental or nervous disorder, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, epilepsy, anemia and herpes. Amino acid supplements are available singly and in combinations. It is always a good idea to consult with a physician to see which supplements, if any, are suitable for your particular needs.


  1. I have an old book that is a pretty good guide to complete proteins: A Diet for a Small Planet.

  2. oh yes, by lappe...i read that book a while back and really thought she was ahead of her time!