Eating Your Aminos

Posted by Blog Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vegetarian foods often pack an amino acid extravaganza. In a one-cup serving of red beans and rice (a traditional favorite in Latin America), the rice contains only 100 mg of lysine, but the beans are loaded with it-over 450 mg. A 130-pound woman needs 910 mg so one serving puts her halfway to the RDA for lysine.

Very few people in our modern society get less than the RDA for protein. Most get more—vegetarians get about 50 to 100 grams a day, and meat eaters get a lot more. Protein deficiency—and therefore amino acid deficiency—is almost unheard of. You'd have to be on a very weird and restrictive diet, or have a serious health problem, to be too low in protein.

It is important to get the right balance of amino acids, though. If you're a strict vegetarian or vegan, you need to be sure you're getting enough variety in your food to give you plenty of all the essential aminos. Plant foods don't contain as much protein as animal foods, and they usually don't have enough of all the essential amino acids. Corn, for example, is very low in tryptophan and cysteine.

Most people get plenty of high-quality protein in their diet and don't need to worry about getting enough amino acids. You don't need to take amino acid supplements if you're in good health and eat a well-balanced diet.

Protein from animal foods such as meat, eggs, and milk is complete it contains all nine essential amino acids. Protein from plant food is incomplete-one or more of the essential amino acids is present only in small amounts. People who don't eat animal foods can still easily get enough protein by eating a variety of different plant foods, especially beans and whole grains.

Sometimes, though, you might want to be sure of having enough of the amino building blocks for a particular protein. For example, you need to have plenty of cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid to make the antioxidant glutathione. If you need extra glutathione to fend off extra free radicals—because you have an infection, for example—you might need some extra amino building blocks. (Glutathione is so important to your health that we'll talk more about it in chapter 24 on super antioxidants.) In that case, check out your health-food store for free-form amino acid supplements. Read the label carefully. If it doesn't say free form, the aminos you want are probably in there only as part of a protein chain made up of a combination of amino acids. Your digestive system will have to break down the chain in order to release the amino acids. Free aminos are already in their simplest form, so they're absorbed into your body right away.

Free from amino acid supplements contain just those particular aminos in their pure from, not as part of larger protein.

Watch out for amino acid formulas that claim to contain all the essential and nonessential amino acids. Read the labels carefully. Some of these formulas are really just protein powders with some added free amino acids. They're high in calories because they're designed for weight gain and building body mass.

Most people take their amino supplements by swallowing them in convenient capsules. If you'd rather take the powder form, just put a spoonful on your tongue and wash it down with a few swallows of a cold liquid. Aminos don't dissolve, so you'll have trouble stirring them into a drink. Never add free form amino acids to hot foods or use them in cooking. The heat changes their structure and makes them ineffective.


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