July 25, 2013

Accessing Essential Amino Acids Through Foods. ~ Kathrina Jane B. Tiangco

Amino acids make up about 75% of the human body.

Vital for the production of proteins, amino acids are an important part of a healthy diet, particularly for muscle building and keeping a lean figure.

Why do we need amino acids?

Unlike fats and starches, amino acids cannot be stored in the body for long periods of time. They deteriorate, so if they are not taken in with relative frequency, the body can have a difficult time functioning at full capacity. While more than 20 different amino acids are needed to form proteins, only the essential amino acids need to be taken in on a daily basis.

This can be done through amino acid supplements, but also through certain foods that contain naturally high levels of the essential amino acids your body cannot produce on its own.

Here’s a list of essential amino acids and the foods where you can get them:


The first essential amino acid can be found in lean meat, particularly ground beef and turkey. It is particularly prominent in cured hams, game meats, and pork products. It is found in both the meat and the skin of these meats. You can also get histidine from eggs, soy, peanuts, parmesan cheese, and sesame.


Found in fish, with the highest content percentage in pike, cod, and other North Atlantic seafood, this amino acid is also found in eggs, both the whites and the yolk. Soy protein and tofu also have it.


Leucine is another amino acid found in seafood, particularly fish like pike, cod, and tuna, and in eggs. It is also found in cottage cheese, parmesan, sesame, and game meats, particularly water buffalo and elk. This amino acid is vital for liver and fat tissue construction, as well as construction of connective tissues and muscle health.


Lysine can be derived from most meats, but also from chick peas, lentils, parmesan, quinoa, and soy beans. In terms of meats, chicken and catfish contains large amounts of lysine.


Found in cereal grains, eggs, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, peanuts, and brazil nuts, methionine can also be consumed in fish and other meats. Very little methionine is found in legumes and other vegetables. Racemic methionine is a synthesized amino acid similar to natural methionine, and is often added to pet foods and some processed products.


Interestingly, phenylalanine is found in the breast milk of most mammals, and has an antiseptic and antidepressant effect when consumed. Logically then, you can get it from the skin and meat of most animals and fish, and also in a number of manufactured goods, including diet sodas and other processed foods. Peanuts, eggs, and soy have it, too.


Much like methionine, threonine is found in its highest concentrations in cottage cheese, sesame seeds, poultry, fish, and lentils.


Perhaps the most well-known amino acid, tryptophan is plentiful in meats and fish, eggs, sesame and sunflower seeds, chocolate, yogurt, and milk. Though tryptophan supplements were previously questioned due to health concerns, it has returned to many stores in the U.S. and is now sold as a supplement by some pharmacies.


Similar to leucine and isoleucine in its chemical composition, valine is found in meats, especially beef, and dairy products. For those who can’t consume meat and dairy, supplements are sold at pharmacies, and through supplement and health stores worldwide and online. Some valine is available in soy protein, parmesan, and sesame.

Amino acids in other places

Though all these amino acids exist in nature, it is not always possible to consume the appropriate foods every day, and truly incorporate amino acids into your daily diet. For this reason, a number of companies make protein powders that contain the necessary amino acids.

You can also find them in some sports shakes or drinks that come pre-bottled. Supplements are on the market, which contain all the necessary doses of the essential amino acids.


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Asst. Editor: Tawny Sanabria/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Phil Weinstein Jul 27, 2013 10:45pm

This seems like a kinda upside down way of looking at amino acids (protein being long strings of amino acids). All the essential amino acids are in virtually all whole foods — just in different proportions (other than fruit, which has just a little). It's very hard to not get enough protein — and sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids — if you're getting enough calories (i.e. not starving), and are eating at least _some_ healthy food. Most people don't even know the name of the most common protein deficiency disease in adults — "kwashiorkor" — seriously, have you EVER heard of it!

Indeed too much protein is more of a problem for most of us. Early puberty and higher levels of IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Hormone One) — both due to excess protein — are serious cancer risks. Animal foods are often referred to as "high quality" protein — that refers specifically to those containing the amino acid ratios matching our bodies' protein stores (mainly our muscles). But it's so unnecessary — in fact, _not_ even optimal for human health.

"Where are you getting your myriad phytochemicals?" is a more important question. Putting at the _center_ of your diet high-nutrient plant foods is the key to health and a long healthy live. Vegetables of all kinds (esp. green leafy, both cooked and raw), beans of all kinds (not just soy) — all great sources of protein, fresh fruit (esp. berries), mushrooms, onions, raw nuts and seeds. ["Nutritarian"].

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Kathrina Jane B. Tiangco

Kathrina is a freelance writer and a mom of two beautiful girls. She works from home while taking care of her kids. Parenting, health, and nutrition are her major interests and she shares advice on these through her written work.