What Are the Nine Essential Amino Acids

Reviewed on 1/28/2021

What are the nine essential amino acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

Amino acids are extremely important in helping the human body function. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When your body breaks down protein, amino acids are left. Your body can use these amino acids to make new proteins to help your body with a variety of crucial tasks.

Your body uses amino acids in order to digest food, repair damaged body tissue, and to grow cells, in addition to many other important functions.

There are many different types of amino acids, and each kind has a different chemical structure. The structure of the amino acid determines how the acid works in your body. 

The proteins built from amino acids control most of the processes happening inside your cells.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids can be broken down into two categories: essential and nonessential amino acids. Nonessential amino acids are already made by your body, so you will have them in your body even if you don’t get them from food. Essential amino acids are not made by your body. Because of this, you have to get your essential amino acids from food.

The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Arginine is sometimes also considered an essential amino acid, but only children need it, not adults. Plants can make all of the essential amino acids.

Benefits of amino acids

What foods contain amino acids?

You get amino acids from proteins, which are in meats, grains, and some dairy products. Meat is one of the most common sources of amino acids in the average diet, but many other foods contain essential amino acids as well.

Most foods high in protein are high in amino acids, including fish, grains, dairy products like milk or cheese, eggs, legumes, and nuts.

While many foods high in protein contain some amino acids, several foods also contain all nine essential amino acids. The foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are: pistachios, soy, quinoa, and buckwheat. 

Mushrooms may also contain all of the essential amino acids. 

You can also get amino acids in the form of supplements.

How do amino acids help your body?

Amino acids in proteins help every cell in your body function properly. Amino acids are necessary to make sure that chemical reactions in your body run smoothly. 

One notable benefit is muscle growth and increased athletic performance. Amino acids such as leucine play a role in creating muscle protein. This may be especially helpful for older people trying to maintain muscle.

Other benefits of amino acids include avoiding health problems like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and infertility, as well as strengthening your immunity.


 

How can I get enough amino acids?

Amino acids are found in protein-rich foods. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that you eat around 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. 

However, it is important to make sure you’re eating the right kind of proteins, rather than focusing on just the amount. Some proteins are higher in fat or sodium, so it may be less healthy to eat them frequently.

It is always important to maintain a balanced diet. The best way to get enough amino acids is to eat a wide variety of foods. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, many Americans eat more protein than they need but do not get their protein from a wide enough variety of foods. 

While many Americans rely on meat, getting all essential amino acids is possible with a vegetarian or vegan diet. Regardless of your dietary specifications, it is important to get your protein and amino acids from different kinds of food, including meat, legumes, nuts, dairy, and seeds.

Possible side effects and complications

As long as you are eating a wide variety of proteins, there is little risk that comes with eating amino acids. However, eating too much or too little of any single food or food group may cause problems, so talk to your doctor or a nutritionist for help maintaining a balanced diet.

Amino acid disorders

Some people’s bodies may have trouble breaking down some amino acids. Others may have difficulty getting amino acids into their cells. These problems, grouped together as amino acid metabolism disorders, can cause more serious health problems.

The most common amino acid metabolism disorders are phenylketonuria (PKU) and maple syrup urine disease. These disorders are usually genetic. In most circumstances, newborn babies are examined to make sure they do not have one of these disorders. It is important to catch the disorder early so doctors can treat it.

Treatment of amino acid metabolism disorders includes special diets, supplements, or medications.

QUESTION

According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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References
SOURCES:

American Pistachio Growers: "Pistachios: All 9 Essential Amino Acids."

Amino Acids: "Amino acids: metabolism, functions, and nutrition."

Annals of Translational Medicine: "Amino acid disorders."

Applied Microbiology: "Amino Acid Composition of the Protein from a Mushroom."

Harvard School of Public Health: "Protein."

Journal of Nutrition: "Amino Acids and Muscle Loss with Aging."

Nutrients: "Food Products as Sources of Protein and Amino Acids -- the Case of Poland."

University of Arizona Department of Biochemistry: "The Chemistry of Amino Acids."

USDA 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: "Chapter 2: Current Eating Patterns in the United States."

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