Do you get enough proteins in your diet, how do you figure out how much you should be getting, and what is the best source of proteins? There are 21 amino acids that make up all the protein that you need for immunity (important in today’s day and age of Covid), healing, muscle strength, brain health, and more. Some of these amino acids your body can manufacture from ingredients in your diet and some of them have to come from your diet as your body can’t make them. These ones that your body can’t make are called the essential amino acids and there are 9 of these. The reason these are called amino acids are because there is a nitrogen-hydrogen group and a carbon-oxygen-hydrogen group and another side chain which may contain some other element, such as sulfur or selenium. The 9 essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Then there are conditionally essential amino acids which your body can form, but you may also need to get them from foods during times of growth, hard exercise or illness. Ornithine is another essential acid but this one specifically does not help to form proteins. Then there are the non-essential amino acids–this means you can make them on your own and you do not need to get them from your diet. The other amino acids are arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, tyrosine, alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid and selenocysteine.
Amino acids are then broken down into groups: branched chain, acidic, basic, sulfur containing, glucogenic and ketogenic amino acids. The branched chain amino acids are very important for the muscles, and maintenance of strength. The amino acids that contain sulfur are cysteine, homocysteine, methionine and taurine–these are present in animal foods and nuts, and seeds. The glucogenic amino acids are those that can be converted into glucose for energy and the ketogenic amino acids are those that can be converted into ketones also used for energy by the brain specifically during times of fasting.
So what do amino acids do that is so important? 1) they are a source of energy–4 calories per gram; 2) they can be used to make other amino acids, make proteins–such as the muscles, and be used as glucose; 3) they act as neurotransmitters, or are the building blocks for hormones or neurotransmitters; 4) they are also the building blocks for the hemoglobin in the blood and necessary for making DNA–your unique genetic code; and 5) as I mentioned earlier, important for your immune system. For example, lysine is one of the amino acids that is thought to decrease the occurrence of cold sores caused by the herpes virus.
Foods that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Foods that do not contain all 9 are considered incomplete proteins and this will limit the functions that are capable based on the amino acid that is not present. Most animal proteins are considered complete proteins. Plant foods that are considered complete proteins include spinach, some beans, some nuts and seeds. Rice, peas, lentils walnuts, peanuts, and almonds are some that are considered incomplete. For example, most cereal grains are low in lysine, and most fruits and veggies are low in lysine. Foods high in lysine are meats, fish, milk and eggs, soybeans, lentils, nuts and seeds. However, foods that are incomplete proteins can be combined to provide complete proteins–this is especially important for vegetarians and vegans who limit their intake of meat and animal food sources.
How can you figure out how much protein you need per day? Well, on the average you need 1 gram of protein for each kilogram of body weight (or 1 gram per 2.2 pounds of body weight), then you divide that amount by 3 to get the amount needed at each meal, or by 2 if you only eat 2 meals a day. For example, for someone who weighs about 150 pounds, he or she would need about 68 grams of protein, which works out to a little over 20 grams per meal. As people get older, a lack of sufficient protein can lead to immune deficiencies and loss of muscle (known as sarcopenia) which then contributes to osteoporosis, balance problems and potentially Alzheimer’s.
So, if your diet is deficient in getting these amino acids, one of the ways to counteract this problem is to supplement with amino acid supplements which can be in tablet, capsule, or powder form. These forms are especially helpful for people who have problems with their digestion as these forms are easier to assimilate compared to food sources. Most amino acid supplements are safe in the recommended dosages; however, it is possible for people to get nausea, diarrhea, or bloating from large doses, or even allergic reactions–which can happen with practically anything that a person can come in contact with–whether orally or topically. The amino acid product that I recommend is Perfect Amino made by Body Health. Besides their protein powders ( lemon/lime and berry flavors), they have very delicious dark chocolate protein bars. Arbonne also makes a delicious vanilla and chocolate flavored protein powders containing 20 grams of protein per serving made from plant sources, which is especially helpful for people with dairy sensitivities or for vegans.