Around one fourth of our bodies is made of muscles, which in term, are made of protein. Amino acids are the building blocks needed in order to create protein and, therefore, muscle. If we did not have aminos, the body could not synthesize protein and create muscle. There are several types of aminos, all of them with complicated names and different structures, which we are not going to describe. In this article, you will find: What are amino acids, essential and not – essential amino acids, how do aminos play a role in the vegetarian diet and in the vegan diet.
What are amino acids:
Amino acids are the single form of proteins and play a large role of functions inside the body. They were discovered in the early 19th century and, today we know more than 500 types. The body can produce some of the discovered amino acids, but not all of them. Since they form protein and muscles, amino acids have many different functions. Among their most important ones, aminos play a large role in boosting the immune system and preventing infectious diseases, create the structure of cells, transport, store and transform nutrients, and play a significant role in terms of healing wounds, organs, and general tissue. They are classified in two groups, essential and non-essential amino acids, with a third group being “conditional amino acids” which appear in specific stages or condition, such as early years of development, trauma, large wounds, etc.
Essential amino acids:
Essential aminos are called this way because they are the ones that the body cannot produce by itself, so we need to ingest them via an exogenous source (diet). Being organic compounds, these aminos are present in meat products such as poultry, fish, pork, beef, eggs and in dairy products. They are also available in some vegetables but in lesser amounts. By eating an ideal amount of essential amino acids, we can ensure that our bodily functions are working properly since they are involved in almost all of them. The essential amino acids are:
Phenylalanine, Valine, Histidine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Tryptophan, Threonine, Methionine. Histidine is one of the conditional amino acids and the famous Branched Chain Amino Acids are here as well (Valine, Leucine, and Isoleucine).
These group of aminos is the one that we can produce in our bodies, so we don’t need to eat them specifically. By having an adequate and balanced diet, providing the ideal number of calories, the body can elaborate them in a healthy manner. There are eleven of them, eight being also conditional because of the fact that due to under specific circumstances such as the mentioned above, the body may not be able to produce a sufficient amount of them. This group is not conditional to animal protein products.
Amino acids in the vegetarian diet:
The vegetarian diet is based on removing meat from the regular food intake, but not animal protein products. This means that vegetarians still eat dairy products and eggs. As described above, essential aminos are present in these both groups, reason why the vegetarian diet, if performed correctly should not be deficient in essential aminos. Having said that, vegetarians should be aware of the combinations needed in order to have all the essential aminos throughout the whole day. In the vegetarian diet, having a lack of amino acids is quite rare, but still plausible.
Amino acids in the vegan diet:
When done correctly, the vegan diet does not lack essential aminos. Now, switching to a vegan or fully plant-based diet should not be based on only removing all animal protein from your diet. Instead, try to calculate your macros and achieve your daily protein intake from vegetable protein and amino acids sources.
In order to do that, you need to understand that, while legumes, cereals, and green leafy vegetables contain vegetable protein, alone, they are not complete sources of aminos This means that some of them lack some essential aminos. To ensure a proper essential amino acid intake, you should combine both cereals and legumes every day. Nowadays there are way more options than only mixing rice and beans. You can use a wide array of vegan-friendly products such as low-fat meat replacements that are made from mixtures of legumes and cereals, soy or hemp, which supply all the needed essential amino acids. Of course, it’s always better to have these products as natural as possible, but not always ideal since most of us also need practical options. Please note that I am suggesting LOW – FAT meat replacement products since there are a lot of high-fat options in the market, which are not that good health-wise.