Vegans and Amino Acids

Being that I’ve been vegan for quite some time now, I often forget what it’s like for all of the new vegans out there. Becoming a vegan is hard, especially when you don’t take the vegetarian route for a few years and jump straight from being a full fledged carnivore to a vegan. It is enlightening however, when one goes from believing that meat is the center piece of every meal, to understanding that there are many other options available for consumption. If one has a veracious appetite for the how to’s of veganism, they learn after a short while that it is the healthiest thing they can do for their body. Sounds great doesn’t it? So, where does one begin you ask? While there are many places to start and many things to learn when it comes to veganism, I have found that one of the most popular questions amongst non vegans is: Where do I get my essential amino acids from?

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. I don’t know about you, but when I turn my science-y brain off, I automatically think of a huge hunk of steak when I think of the word protein. Protein is more than just meat. Proteins are tiny little molecules inside of the human body that carry out various functions. For example, proteins can act as enzymes that break things down or build things up. They can also act as transport molecules or antibodies. Essentially proteins make us work right. Essential amino acids, as you could have guessed, are a group of twenty amino acids that our bodies need to function properly. Here’s a list of all of the amino acids your body needs:

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So now that you know that you absolutely need amino acids to function, you may be wondering where you get these amazing little building blocks for proteins from. If you’ve ever taken part in a basic nutrition or health class, you may have been told that you get amino acids from: meat, eggs and dairy. I’m currently learning a lot about amino acids and their importance in my biochemistry class. I have a very strong willed professor that argues that meat, eggs and dairy products are the greatest sources of amino acids. I’m not denying for a second that meat, eggs and dairy contain an ample amount of amino acids, because they do. However, I am going to deny that they are the greatest things you can consume in order to receive adequate nutrition.

There are many reasons why the consumption of meat isn’t the best. All of these reasons are derived from scientific research. In an attempt not to bore you to death, I’m only going to mention a few reasons why animal products aren’t the best. As this webpage grows, I will be sharing more factual evidence, but for now here’s what I found out:

According to Daniel Pendick, it is scientifically proven by researchers at Harvard University that the consumption of red meat is directly linked to atherosclerosis due to an abundance of a bacteria known as L-carnitine.  This is the disease process that leads to clogged arteries. What’s also interesting is that red meat is considered a great source of essential amino acids. Another wonderful source of essential amino acids are eggs. According to the Huffington Post eggs also contain “90 percent of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid and B12 of the egg. In addition the yolk contains all of the fat-soluble components, such as vitamins A, D and E, not to mention the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.”- John Berardi Ph.D So yes, eggs contain everything you need, but they also contain cholesterol, and lots of it. Cholesterol is necessary for the body, however, your body produces all the cholesterol you will ever need. Therefore, there is no need to consume more of it. According to WebMD high cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries, stroke and heart attack. If you have diabetes, putting yourself at risk of acquiring one of these diseases increases dramatically.

Out of the twenty amino acids, there are eleven of them that are indispensable, meaning that our bodies do not make them naturally, and we therefore must to consume them. Here’s a chart from Whfoods categorizing the indispensable amino acids:

Chart for Organizing Amino Acid Food Choices

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) Sulfur-containing amino acids (SAAs) Aromatic amino acids Other indispensable amino acids
Isoleucine Methionine Histidine Lysine
Leucine Cysteine* Phenylalanine Threonine
Valine Tyrosine*
Tryptophan

 

According to Whfoods, there are plenty of foods you can consume to receive all of the amino acids you need on a day to day basis. Below is the vegan version of the list of foods Whfoods compiled for the consumption essential amino acids.

Let’s start with branch-chain amino acids or BCAA’s. These amino acids occur most commonly in soy foods or sea vegetables such as seaweed, nori or kelp.

Sulfur-containing amino acids or SAA’s are sometimes based on how much methionine and cystine one consumes, or sometimes just on how much methionine one consumes because methionine can be converted into cystine in the body.  Regardless, SAA’s can be derived from a 2 ounce serving of seeds, nuts, legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.), garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli and brussel sprouts.

Aromatic amino acids are important in proper nervous system function. You can get these essential amino acids from nuts and seeds, whole grains, most vegetables, and in just one cup of beans or four ounces of tofu you consume 100% of your daily aromatic amino acids.

Last, but simply not least we have the other indispensable amino acids lysine and threonine. Lysine is important in genetic metabolism and cell signaling, while threonine is also important in cell signaling. To acquire these essentials you can consume legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds and most vegetables.

Do we see a pattern here folks? Legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, soy products and whole grains. Throw in some fruit, and I think you’re all set. Not only are these foods packed with amino acids, but they are also filled with vitamins and minerals that will keep you extremely healthy. Here is proof that you can be 100% healthy, without ever consuming a single animal product. The best part is that you can eat way more of these things than you could meat because they consist of healthy fats, good carbs, and no cholesterol. You can eat more and weigh less, but that’s a topic for another blog. Being a vegan is not impossible. You just have to give it a try. It will only be the veganing.

 

 

 

Title Image source: Googleimages/vegetables/search

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