Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are crucial for maintaining optimal health. Out of the 20 different types of amino acids, there are 9 that cannot be produced in the body and these are referred to as “essential amino acids.”
These essential amino acids play important roles in many bodily processes necessary for physical wellness, including muscle growth, metabolism, and the maintenance of a strong immune system. They can be sourced from wide variety of animal-based foods, as well as a couple that are plant-based.
In this article, we’ll explore what types of foods have all 9 essential amino acids and how you can include them in your diet.
What are Essential Amino Acids?
Because, as mentioned above, essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body, they must be consumed as part of a balanced diet.
The 9 essential amino acids are:
Sources of all 9 of these amino acids are commonly referred to as “complete proteins” and come from a variety of food items.
Animal-based foods offer a wider variety of complete protein sources, but are often shunned by people with special dietary restrictions.
Some of the best animal-based foods for obtaining all 9 essential amino acids include:
- Meat, poultry, and fish: From the farm or from a lake, these complete protein sources can be served in many different ways. Choose lean cuts of meat, such as chicken breast or lean beef, to keep saturated fat intake low.
- Eggs: A versatile ingredient that’s common across meals and recipes, these are also a good source of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
- Dairy products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt will provide a complete protein source, but the amounts you eat should be balanced well against sources of other nutritional requirements like fiber.
Finding foods with all 9 essential amino acids using only plant-based sources is a great deal trickier, as there are fewer of them. But the ones there are can be used in an assortment of meals and snacks so they are definitely worth considering:
- Buckwheat: While not actually a grain, despite having the word “wheat” in the name, this powerhouse source of complete protein can be worked into a balanced diet in a variety of ways.
- Soy: Whether eaten in the form of edamame beans or through tofu, this very common ingredient can consistently provide plant-based access to all 9 essential amino acids.
Ensuring your diet contains foods that can provide all 9 essential amino acids is important for maintaining optimal health. Finding which complete sources of protein work best for you and your particular diet is an important part of balancing your diet and should be taken seriously to make sure you’re meeting all of your nutritional needs.
Every person’s body is different and none of the information provided is intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor or nutritionist, so it is important to consult these valuable experts if you have any questions or concerns for your own health and well-being.
Could different foods be combined to get all 9 essential amino acids?
Yes, there are a wide variety of foods that can provide some essential amino acids as well as meet other nutritional needs. Looking at which essential amino acids come from what foods can be a very important step in planning out a diet that is balanced and complete.
Would taking supplements with all 9 essential amino acids be just as beneficial?
Supplements can provide a convenient source of essential amino acids, but they generally cannot match the level of absorption garnered from consuming whole foods. Under advisement and supervision of a medical professional, supplements can be used to support a healthy lifestyle or when dietary restrictions prevent complete proteins from being consumed in the necessary amounts through your meals alone.
Would eating a single food with all 9 essential amino acids every day be better than eating a variety of foods, some of which do not have them all?
Eating a single food that contains all 9 essential amino acids every day might seem like a simple solution, but it is not the best option for optimal health. While consuming a food that contains all 9 essential amino acids would provide you with complete protein, it would not necessarily provide all the other essential nutrients your body needs. A varied diet that includes a mix of animal-based and plant-based foods is the best way to ensure you are getting all the essential amino acids and other essential nutrients your body needs. Additionally, eating a variety of foods can also help reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies and prevent boredom with your diet. In short, a balanced diet that includes a variety of food sources is the best approach for ensuring optimal health.