5 Amino Acid-Rich Foods

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Amino acids are left behind when your body breaks down protein. They perform important functions, such as growing and repairing muscle, tissue and cells. The 23 amino acids are divided into three categories. Essential amino acids are the ones your body can’t make on its own. Nonessential amino acids are the kind that your body does make on its own. Conditional amino acids are typically created only in times of illness or stress. Certain foods are among the richest sources of amino acids.

5 Nuts

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Nuts are rich in both protein and essential nutrients. Almonds in particular are a rich source of amino acids, including conditional amino acids, serine, arginine and glycine. Conditional amino acids are needed by your body when you are stressed or sick. Almonds are also a rich source of the nonessential amino acid called aspartic acid. Other amino acid nut sources include hazelnuts, walnuts and cashews. Hazelnuts, also referred to as filberts, are particularly high in the essential amino acid tryptophan, which improves mood and helps you sleep.

4 Soy

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Vegetarians are often warned about the low protein content of a plant-based diet, but herbivores can get the essential amino acids their bodies need from soy or soybean products. Soy milk and other soy products contain all nine essential amino acids. Other plant-based foods are not a complete source of protein, so soy is an important part of a meatless diet. It replaces animal-based proteins that are usually abundant in a carnivorous diet, and a diet including soy helps you avoid the need for artificial protein supplements.

3 Milk

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Milk and milk products, such as cheese and yogurt, are rich sources of protein, although the concentration of protein in milk varies with the source of the milk and the amount of fat in it. Basically, the higher the fat content of the milk, the higher the protein content. Milk is particularly rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that your body needs so it can produce a mood-boosting brain chemical called serotonin. Your body doesn’t produce tryptophan on its own, so you must provide it in your diet. Milk and other dairy products might help you avoid, or at least reduce, mood swings caused by low serotonin levels.

2 Red Meat

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Carnivores can rest easy knowing that their diet of lean red meat is bursting with amino acids. Red meat is a complete source of protein, but don’t go gorging on steaks and bacon thinking you’ll be healthy as a horse. Red meat is also high in saturated fat, which can lead to heart disease. Too much red meat or eating the wrong type of red meat is going to see you in a hospital room, not running a marathon or living to 100. It’s important to your heart’s health to include a good balance of both animal and plant-based foods in your diet, and to choose lean cuts of red meat.

1 Eggs

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Eggs have about 6 grams of the highest quality protein, and they’re one of the few foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. They also contain 14 key nutrients, which is never a bad thing. Your body uses the protein found in eggs for a variety of functions, including producing energy, and building and maintaining muscle. You might wonder whether these benefits are worth the risk of heart disease linked to the dietary cholesterol in eggs. You can relax. Including one egg in your diet each day is not going to hurt your ticker. In fact, the amino acid lutein, which is found in egg yolks, actually helps protect you from the development of early heart disease. Of course, moderation in the form of a balanced diet that includes a little bit from every food group is the key to reaping these benefits.

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