Amino Acids & Essential Amino Acids :
Amino acids are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group. Your body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly. Though all 20 of these are important for your health, only nine amino acids are classified as essential. These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Unlike nonessential amino acids, essential amino acids can’t be made by your body and must be obtained through your diet. It is thought that The best sources of essential amino acids are animal proteins like meat, eggs and poultry however we are many vegan sources which are complete proteins and in a much more natural easily absorbable state. When you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids, which are then used to help your body with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function .
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
There are several nonessential amino acids that are classified as conditionally essential. These are considered to be essential only under specific circumstances such as illness or stress. For example, although arginine is considered nonessential, your body can’t meet demands when fighting certain diseases like cancer . That’s why arginine must be supplemented through diet in order to meet your body’s needs in certain situations.
The nine essential amino acids perform a number of important and varied jobs in your body:
- Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine is a precursor for the neurotransmitters tyrosine, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. It plays an integral role in the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the production of other amino acids. ( Pumpkin seeds, Tempeh, hemp seeds, buckwheat, almonds )
- Valine: Valine is one of three branched-chain amino acids, meaning it has a chain branching off to one side of its molecular structure. Valine helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration and is involved in energy production. ( oats, tempeh, nuts, seeds, buckwheat)
- Threonine: Threonine is a principal part of structural proteins such as collagen and elastin, which are important components of the skin and connective tissue. It also plays a role in fat metabolism and immune function. ( Tempeh, buckwheat, spirulina, chlorella, pea protein)
- Tryptophan: Though often associated with causing drowsiness, tryptophan has many other functions. It’s needed to maintain proper nitrogen balance and is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your appetite, sleep and mood. (Sesame seeds, seaweed, buckwheat, tempeh, mushrooms, leafy veg, walnuts)
- Methionine: Methionine plays an important role in metabolism and detoxification. It’s also necessary for tissue growth and the absorption of zinc and selenium, minerals that are vital to your health. ( tempeh, buckwheat, sunflower seeds, oats)
- Leucine: Like valine, leucine is a branched-chain amino acid that is critical for protein synthesis and muscle repair. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, stimulates wound healing and produces growth hormones. (Tempeh, buckwheat, legumes)
- Isoleucine: The last of the three branched-chain amino acids, isoleucine is involved in muscle metabolism and is heavily concentrated in muscle tissue. It’s also important for immune function, hemoglobin production and energy regulation.(Tempeh, buckwheat)
- Lysine: Lysine plays major roles in protein synthesis, hormone and enzyme production and the absorption of calcium. It’s also important for energy production, immune function and the production of collagen and elastin. (Pumpkin, tempeh, buckwheat)
- Histidine: Histidine is used to produce histamine, a neurotransmitter that is vital to immune response, digestion, sexual function and sleep-wake cycles. It’s critical for maintaining the myelin sheath, a protective barrier that surrounds your nerve cells. (Tempeh, Buckwheat, spirulina, lentils, almonds)
As you can see, essential amino acids are at the core of many vital processes. Though amino acids are most recognized for their role in muscle development and repair, the body depends on them for so much more.That’s why essential amino acid deficiencies can negatively impact your entire body including your nervous, reproductive, immune and digestive systems.
The US recommended daily allowances per 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of body weight for the nine essential amino acids are:
- Histidine: 14 mg
- Isoleucine: 19 mg
- Leucine: 42 mg
- Lysine: 38 mg
- Methionine (+ the non-essential amino acid cysteine): 19 mg
- Phenylalanine (+ the non-essential amino acid tyrosine): 33 mg
- Threonine: 20 mg
- Tryptophan: 5 mg
- Valine: 24 mg
Soy, quinoa and buckwheat are plant-based foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, making them complete protein sources as well. Other plant-based sources of protein like beans and nuts are considered incomplete, as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, if you’re following a plant-based diet, you can still ensure proper intake of all essential amino acids as long as you eat a variety of plant proteins each day. For example, choosing a variety of incomplete proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables can ensure that your essential amino acid needs are met, even if you choose to exclude animal products from your diet.