More than just molecules
Aimee Christine Hughes, ND
As the building blocks of the body, amino acids help maintain optimal health. Find out their health benefits and the best food sources to get your fill.
As the building blocks of the body, amino acids help maintain optimal health and vitality. When protein is broken down through digestion, the result is 22 known amino acids. Ten are essential, meaning the body cannot manufacture them. The rest are nonessential (with proper nutrition the body can manufacture them).
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 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 complete proteins and usually contain all 10 essential amino acids.
Many vegetable proteins contain adequate levels of many of the essential amino acids, but may be low in one or two. Grains and their germ coverings, legumes, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables fit into this category.
The importance of eating a balanced 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 are eaten daily, there is no need to worry about supplementing the diet or creating optimal food combinations.
Those who follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet have less concern about combining foods than those 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. Oftentimes traditional food cultures have already solved the problem (for example, South American black beans and rice; Middle Eastern chickpeas and couscous).
According to Gabriel Cousens, MD, in his book Conscious Eating (North Atlantic Books, 2000), “the Max Planck Institute has found that the complete vegetarian proteins, those with all (10) 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 our diet is not giving our body all that it needs, there is always supplementation. Supplementing with amino acids has been known to help those suffering from mental or nervous disorders, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, epilepsy, anemia, and herpes.
Amino acid supplements are available singly and in combination. It is always a good idea to consult with your health practitioner to see which supplements are suitable for your particular needs.
Amazing amino acids
|Arginine (essential for children)|
Histidine (essential for children)
Amazing amino acids
Chocolate contains significant amounts of the essential amino acid arginine, used to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to relax which helps increase blood flow, thus controlling blood pressure. In moderation, dark chocolate can provide health benefits.