Amino acids are essential for the proper functioning of the organism. How to find them in a vegan diet and what are the characteristics of the essential amino acids? In this article, we will explain how simple it is to find essential amino acids even in a completely vegan diet.
Do vegan amino acids exist?
A complete protein is the one that contains all the essential amino acids. The human body contains 21 amino acids, and nine are considered essential. Essential amino acids cannot be processed by the body but only taken by food. Amino acids play an essential role in the body and must be consumed on a regular basis to stay healthy. A varied and well-balanced diet is essential to ensure the necessary amount of all the amino acids needed by the body.
In the category of the nine essential amino acids fall:
On the other side, children also need arginine, cysteine , and tyrosine, since their bodies are not able to produce enough of them during developing stages.
Vegans may find it difficult to find all the amino acids they need if they do not follow a varied diet. One solution is to try to get enough lysine, as foods with a sufficient level of lysine usually also contain the other amino acids. Legumes, as well as tofu and tempeh, have good levels of lysine, as well as pistachios, quinoa, and spirulina.
But let’s get to know these 9 essential amino acids closely and find out where we can find them.
Essential amino acids in a vegan diet
Leucine is the best essential amino acid for the stimulation and growth of muscle strength, in fact, it is one of the three components of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). Leucine helps to regulate sugar level in the blood, control insulin during and after exercise, also to prevent and treat depression, due to the way it acts on neurotransmitters in the brain.
The plant sources from which leucine can be taken are algae, pumpkin, peas and pea proteins, whole grains of rice, sesame seeds, watercress, soybeans, sunflower seeds, red beans, figs, avocados, apples, blueberries, olives, and even bananas. When choosing it is important not to focus on a single food, but on different ones to ensure a qualitatively better supply of leucine.
Lysine is responsible for the growth and production of carnitine, a nutrient that contributes to the conversion of fatty acids into energy. This amino acid also helps the body in the absorption of calcium, giving strength to the bones and stimulating the production of collagen. Lysine deficiency can cause nausea, depression, fatigue, muscle depletion, and even osteoporosis.
The plant sources from which lysine can be taken are beans, cress, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spirulina, parsley, avocado, soy protein, almonds, cashews, lentils, and chickpeas.
Isoleucine is another amino acid from the BCAA group similar to leucine, although it contributes to different functions. Isoleucine is an isolated form of leucine that helps the body to produce energy and hemoglobin and regulates the balance of nitrogen in the muscles.
The plant sources from which isoleucine can be taken are rye wheat, cashews, almonds, oats, lentils, beans, brown rice, cabbage, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spinach, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, blueberries, apples, and kiwis.
This amino acid can be found in three forms: L-phenylalanine (natural form), D-phenylalanine (extracted in the laboratory) and DL-phenylalanine (a combination of both). Phenylalanine is essential for the body because once ingested is transformed into tyrosine, another amino acid necessary for protein production, neural cells, and thyroid hormones. Phenylalanine deficiency may result in weakness, depression, lack of appetite or memory problems.
The plant sources from which to take the phenylalanine are algae, pumpkin, beans, rice, avocado, almonds, hazelnuts, quinoa, figs, green leafy vegetables, wild berries, olives, and seeds.
Histidine is an amino acid that is involved in the transport of neurotransmitters to the brain, helping muscles health and its cells. It also contributes to detoxifying the body through the production of red and white blood cells. Histidine deficiency can cause arthritis, sexual problems, and even hearing loss.
The plant sources from which histidine can be taken are rice, wheat, rye, beans, legumes, melon, hemp seeds, chia seeds, buckwheat, potatoes, cauliflower, and corn.
Methionine helps to form cartilage in the body due to the presence of sulfur. The latter is an essential mineral for the production of bone cartilage, and no amino acid contains sulfur except for methionine. Individuals who don’t consume sufficiently free methionine foods may suffer from arthritis and tissue damage. This essential amino acid also contributes to muscle growth and the formation of creatine, necessary for cellular energy.
The plant sources from which you can take methionine are sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, oats, algae, wheat, figs, brown rice, beans, legumes, onions, cocoa, and raisins.
Threonine contributes to the health of the immune system, the heart, the liver, and the central nervous system. It also keeps balanced our body’s proteins, assisting in recovery, energy production, and growth. This amino acid is also involved in the health of connective tissues and joints through the production of glycine and serine, two amino acids necessary for the well-being of bones, skin, hair, and nails.
The plant sources from which you can take threonine are spirulina, watercress, pumpkin, green leafy vegetables, hemp seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, figs, raisins, quinoa, and wheat.
Known as the “relaxation” amino acid, tryptophan is a central point to the nervous system and brain health, intervening in the processes of sleep, muscle growth and repair, and in the work of neurotransmitters. Tryptophan converts serotonin into the brain, which means this molecule gives a sense of happiness, lowering stress levels and depression. Despite being present in many foods of animal origin, fortunately, there are also plant alternatives.
The plant sources from which tryptophan can be taken are oats, algae, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spinach, cress, soybeans, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, beans, asparagus, mushrooms, lettuce, figs, avocados, pepper, carrots, onion, oranges, bananas, lentils, and peas.
Valine is the third of the essential amino acids of the BCAA group. Therefore it also contributes to muscles growth and repair. It’s also responsible for muscles resistance.
The plant sources from which you can take valine are beans, spinach, legumes, broccoli, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, soy, peanuts, whole wheat, figs, avocados, apples, blueberries, oranges, and apricots.
How many amino acids do you need?
This answer depends only on your training goals or your lifestyle. In general, following a varied and balanced vegan diet will provide your body with all the nutrients needed for its health.
Our Naturveg supplements have all a complete amino acid profile. If you have particular sports or energy needs, then we recommend our Naturveg® Sport supplement or our BCAA STACK, both naturally 100% vegan.