Amino acids may sounds familiar from your high school biology class, but did you know that your body needs them to survive? In fact, there are two different types of amino acids – essential and non-essential – that are important for your body to receive each day. Read this article to learn more about essential amino acids and how to find them to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs.
What are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are necessary for the body for repairing and maintaining muscles, bones, body organs and blood. Therefore, when you eat foods with protein, you are also ingesting amino acids. As the proteins you eat are broken down and digested in the body, amino acids are left over. The amino acids are then used by the body for a variety of important functions, including breaking down food, promoting healthy growth, repairing body tissues and other needs of the body. In addition, the amino acids can be reused to make proteins so that they can carry out their aforementioned roles within the body.
Essential and Nonessential Amino Acids
Though there are many various types of amino acids in existence, there are 22 specific amino acids that your body needs regularly. Of those 22, your body can make 13 on its own, even if you aren’t getting them in your diet. These 13 compounds are called nonessential amino acids because you don’t have to make sure that you are eating proteins which contain those particular amino acids.
The remaining nine amino acids that your body needs are called essential amino acids. Your body is not capable of making these particular amino acids on its own, so it’s critical that you eat foods that contain these compounds. The nine essential amino acids are:
Where to Find Essential Amino Acids
Individuals should try to get each of the nine essential amino acids in their diet each day. These amino acids can be found in a variety of different foods which contain protein. The following is a list of the best sources for the nine essential amino acids:
- Histidine: Histidine is found in the highest concentration in various types of game meat. Deer, boar and antelope are each a top source of histidine. Pork is also a good source, regardless of the way it is prepared. You can also get histidine from fish like cod, pike, haddock and tuna. Other sources of histidine include chicken, turkey and kidney beans.
- Isoleucine: If you want to get isoleucine in your diet, your best option is to eat egg whites, which contain by far the most of this amino acid per serving. Turkey is your next best option, following by soy, chicken, lamb and crab. Many types of fish also contain isoleucine, including pike, roughy, cod and tuna.
- Leucine: Leucine can be found in some interesting foods, including soy, seaweed and elk. However, egg whites are also an excellent source of this amino acid, as is chicken. Tuna is another great option if you are looking for ways to add leucine to your diet.
- Lysine: Lysine is found in the highest concentration in chicken breast meat and turkey breast meat. However, fish is your next best option, with sunfish, ling, pike, tuna, cod, cusk and dolphinfish all being excellent sources of lysine as well. Though not as high in concentration, watercress, seaweed and parsley also contain significant amounts of lysine.
- Methionine: As with many other essential amino acids, egg whites are the best source for methionine. However, fish like roughy, pike and tuna aren’t far behind. You can also eat meats like elk, turkey and chicken to get this amino acid in your diet. Lobster and crab are also among the top foods for methionine.
- Phenylalanine: Meat is the way to go for phenylalanine, which is found in the highest concentration in pork, beef, turkey, veal and lamb. Salmon is also a solid source of this amino acid, however, as are various flours, such as cottonseed flour and sesame flour.
- Threonine: Threonine marks a refreshing break from meats and fish since the top source of this amino acid are raw watercress and spinach. However, you can still get this compound from moose, turkey or tilapia if you so choose. Egg whites and soy are also significant sources of threonine.
- Tryptophan: Though it is commonly associated with turkey, especially at Thanksgiving, tryptophan is actually found in the highest concentration in elk and sea lion meats. Other top sources for this amino acid include seaweed, soy, egg whites and spinach.
- Valine: Once again, egg whites come in first when it comes to getting valine in your diet. However, watercress, spinach, seaweed, elk and turkey are also great options for this amino acid.