Getting Serious About Essential Amino Acids

As our common understanding of nutrition increases, buzz words and fads are never far behind. I know what you’re thinking, but some of these food fads are more than just another global conspiracy concocted by the farmer’s market elitists (the other 1%). A few years ago we all got front row seats to an urgent fight to the death for “king of the antioxidants;” between the pomegranate, blueberry, and acai berry. But more fundamental than the role of antioxidants, fructose, or trans fats is the term “complete  protein.” People use it loosely to reference a meal or dietary philosophy, but what does it actually mean? If you know the answer to this question you can stop reading now…
I think we can both agree, the people that stopped reading are just know-it-alls. That being said, this is important but somewhat complicated stuff, life or death in fact. You might hear people say, “you better eat some rice with those beans… or ELSE!” (maybe you won’t). What they’re failing to say subtly, is that you’re more likely to get all 21 amino acids if you eat those two foods together.
These 21 amino acids are the building block of life for human beings. A failure to absorb proper amounts of these amino acids can lead to deficiencies, symptoms of which can range from depression and fatigue, to malabsorption and a weak immune system… ultimately death. Our bodies can synthesize 11 of those amino acids, but we need to ingest the other 9. Meet: phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, lysine, and histidine your essential amino acids.

So, those people that keep shouting threats about “rice & beans,” “complete proteins,” and “getting out of the kitchen before we call the police!” aren’t exactly right… but I wouldn’t say they’re wrong either. Just because they failed to change the locks after you moved out, doesn’t mean you’re not trespassing… and if you accidentally eat a lunch of white rice & orzo and a dinner of kidney beans and lentils you’re not going to die. Eating a meal with all 9 of your essential amino acids is a good habit to get into, but a deficiency takes awhile… so you can eat rice for breakfast and beans for dinner if you’re into that sort of thing. One easy way to make sure you’re getting the building blocks for your body is to eat a nutrient rich diet full of variety… which can be difficult for a vegetarian celiac with a soy allergy, or a really picky eater. Hilary knows that just because you have food allergies or a specialized diet, it doesn’t mean you’re opposed to tasty food or that you deserve to die of an amino acid deficiency. That’s why she chose the ingredients she did. The term “superfood” may have overstayed its welcome, but quinoa is in a very small club of plant based foods that provide a “complete protein” meaning it provides all 9 essential amino acids, which is pretty super if you ask us. Along with quinoa, arrowroot is a great source of valine, adzuki beans lysine, and so on.So what can we take away from this post? We learned that amino acids aren’t part of a global conspiracy YET, complete proteins are the new black, some people get wound up about rice and beans, and wherever there’s danger you’ll find quinoa (super food).