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Understanding amino acids, protein and their food sources

Protein food sources
Protein food sources
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Protein is a macronutrient made from chains of amino acids used for cell maintenance and repair in virtually every organ, muscle and process within the human body. There are 20 different, dietary amino acids. We must receive the "essential" amino acids from the foods we eat. A combined diet of animal and plant-based foods will provide all the essential amino acids.

You need around .8 to 1.0 g of daily protein per kg of body weight. By eating a variety of foods, you also receive the benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. The essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan, valine and phenylalanine. Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid synthesized from phenylalanine. Therefore, phenylalanine must be sufficient in the diet in order to produce an adequate amount of tyrosine. Arginine is considered essential in youth because the human body cannot produce enough to meet metabolic needs without receiving some from food.

Plant-based foods do not contain all the essential amino acids and are referred to as "incomplete" protein foods. However, they are inexpensive and high in fiber and nutrients. Legumes are generally called "beans." These are not green beans, but rather black beans, garbanzo or chick peas, black-eyed peas, pintos, kidney beans and split peas.

Nut & Seeds-
Nuts include walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, chestnuts and almonds. Seeds include sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. Because they are plant-based they are "incomplete" protein foods but can be combined with other plant foods to provide all the essential amino acids.

Many grain foods such as wheat, corn, oats, rice, barley and rye contain some amino acids. Look for "whole grain" on the label of breads and cereals to receive all the nutritional benefits of grain including vitamins, minerals and fiber.

All of the essential amino acids are found in animal-based foods called "complete" or high-quality protein. Dairy foods include milk, yogurt and cheese. Eat products such as sour cream, chip dip and cream cheese sparingly because they're often high in fat and not considered a significant source of dietary protein. Keep in mind that some types of yogurt are high in refined sugar.

Chicken eggs are the most common form of eggs eaten today. The yolk and the whites of an egg both contain all the essential amino acids. The yolk contains cholesterol, the white does not.

Meat & Seafood-
Lean cuts of beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish and game meats are high-quality, protein foods. Processed meats such as bologna, hot dogs and lunch meat are not significant sources of protein and tend to be high in sodium.

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