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Grains High in Amino Acids

An assortment of high-protein grains

When you think of grains you probably think of carbohydrates and dietary fiber, but grains can also be a great source of protein and the amino acids that build it. Whole unrefined grains are higher in protein than refined grains because protein likes to hang out in the bran and germ. Grains high in amino acids include teff, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, wild rice, millet, oatmeal, buckwheat, kamut (wheat berries), and cornmeal. Before we look at the amino acid profile of each, let’s gain a better understanding of the role amino acids play in health.

Amino Acids for Optimal Health

Proteins make up 75% of the human body, and these proteins are formed from 20 amino acids. Protein is really just a string of amino acids linked together in a precise sequence that determines the protein’s function, whether that’s healing and repairing tissue, aiding digestion, generating energy, or protecting against infection and illness. That's how amino acids earned the tagline "the building blocks of protein."

Eleven of these amino acids are called the nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) because the body can produce them itself. The NEAAs are:

  1. Alanine
  2. Arginine
  3. Asparagine
  4. Aspartic Acid
  5. Cysteine
  6. Glutamic Acid
  7. Glutamine
  8. Glycine
  9. Proline
  10. Serine
  11. Tyrosine

Nine of these amino acids are called essential amino acids (EAAs) because the body cannot make them. You have to make sure you get your EAAs from your diet, and eating grains is a great way to do this!

  1. Histidine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine

Grains High in Amino Acids

While the exact protein content of grains varies, you can typically meet 6-20% of your daily value of protein in 1 cup of cooked whole grains. Let’s start with teff.

Amino Acids in Teff

Teff is a protein-packed, gluten-free grain that can substitute in for wheat and is a good source of resistant starch, which helps to keep your gut healthy and happy. If you’ve ever eaten injera, or Ethiopian flatbread, then you’ve had teff!

1 cup of cooked teff = 9.8 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 222 mg 32%
Isoleucine 368 mg 26%
Leucine 784 mg 29%
Lysine 275 mg 13%
Methionine 315 mg 43%
Phenylalanine 512 mg 58%
Threonine 375 mg 36%
Tryptophan 103 mg     37%
Valine 504 mg 28%
Alanine 549 mg ~
Arginine 381 mg ~
Aspartic Acid 602 mg ~
Cysteine 174 mg 61%
Glutamic Acid: 2457 mg  ~
Glycine 350 mg ~
Proline 486 mg   ~
Serine 456 mg     ~
Tyrosine 335 mg 38%

Amino Acids in Quinoa

Quinoa is a pseudocereal and a complete protein with the right amount of all nine of the EAAs, and a hefty amount of iron, potassium, and fiber. It’s even got the lysine that’s missing in many other grains high in amino acids.

1 cup of cooked quinoa = 8.1 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 235 mg 34%
Isoleucine 290 mg  21%
Leucine 483 mg 18%
Lysine 442 mg 21%
Methionine 178 mg  24%
Phenylalanine 342 mg 39%
Threonine           242 mg 23%
Tryptophan    96 mg 34%
Valine 342 mg 19%
Alanine 339 mg ~
Arginine 629 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    653 mg ~
Cysteine 117 mg  41%
Glutamic Acid:  1073 mg ~
Glycine 400 mg ~
Proline 444 mg ~
Serine 326 mg ~
Tyrosine 236 mg      27%

Amino Acids in Whole Wheat Pasta

Who knew spaghetti could be so full of protein? You can get 7 grams in a cup of whole wheat pasta without any of the refined grains that spike blood sugar and contribute to weight gain. Whole wheat pasta is also rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

1 cup of cooked whole wheat pasta = 7 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 164 mg 23%
Isoleucine 271 mg 19%
Leucine 479 mg 18%
Lysine 156 mg 7%
Methionine 113 mg 16%
Phenylalanine 349 mg 40%
Threonine           188 mg 18%
Tryptophan    90 mg 32%
Valine 303 mg 17%
Alanine 218 mg ~
Arginine 247 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    316 mg ~
Cysteine 146 mg 51%
Glutamic Acid:  2427 mg ~
Glycine 254 mg ~
Proline 746 mg ~
Serine 342 mg ~
Tyrosine 183 mg 38%
 

Amino Acids in Wild Rice

Wild rice has more protein than other types of rice, containing all nine of the essential amino acids. It’s also lower in calories and has dietary fiber to boot. Fun fact: wild rice is actually not a rice at all but the seed of an aquatic grass!

1 cup of cooked wild rice = 6.5 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 171 mg 24%
Isoleucine 274 mg 20%
Leucine 453 mg 17%
Lysine 279 mg 13%
Methionine 195 mg 27%
Phenylalanine 320 mg 37%
Threonine           208 mg 208%
Tryptophan    80 mg 29%
Valine 380 mg 21%
Alanine 366 mg ~
Arginine 505 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    630 mg ~
Cysteine 77 mg 27%
Glutamic Acid:  1140 mg ~
Glycine 298 mg ~
Proline 230 mg ~
Serine 346 mg ~
Tyrosine 377 mg 32%

Amino Acids in Millet

Millet is gluten free, rich in fiber and antioxidants, and a grain high in amino acids. It’s also plentiful in iron, folate, phosphorus, and magnesium, and is a worthwhile grain to have at your cooking disposal.

1 cup of cooked millet = 6.1 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 131 mg 19%
Isoleucine 258 mg 18%
Leucine 776 mg 28%
Lysine 117 mg 6%
Methionine 122 mg 17%
Phenylalanine 322 mg 37%
Threonine           197 mg 19%
Tryptophan    66 mg 24%
Valine 320 mg 18%
Alanine 546 mg ~
Arginine 212 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    402 mg ~
Cysteine 117 mg 41%
Glutamic Acid:  1328 mg ~
Glycine 160 mg ~
Proline 485 mg ~
Serine 357 mg ~
Tyrosine 188 mg 21%

Amino Acids in Couscous

Whether you like the taste of traditional couscous or prefer the nutty flavor and chewy texture of pearl couscous you can feel good about feeding your body the amino acids it craves (although it is notoriously low in lysine). It also contains calcium and iron that can be lacking in other grains. Vitamin E, the B vitamins, and fiber make an appearance too!

1 cup of cooked couscous = 6 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 121 mg  17%
Isoleucine  231 mg 16%
Leucine  407 mg 15%
Lysine 115 mg 5%
Methionine 93 mg  13%
Phenylalanine 289 mg 33%
Threonine           157 mg 15%
Tryptophan    77 mg 27%
Valine 254 mg 14%
Alanine 174 mg ~
Arginine 220 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    243 mg ~
Cysteine 289 mg 33%
Glutamic Acid:  2146 mg ~
Glycine 188 mg ~
Proline 655 mg ~
Serine 281 mg ~
Tyrosine 157 mg 18%

Amino Acids in Oatmeal

With an amino acid score of 86, oatmeal is not a complete protein, which means it does not contain all the essential amino acids you need to jumpstart muscle growth, but when combined with other high-quality sources of protein, it provides a healthful mix of aminos. 

1 cup of cooked oatmeal = 5.9 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 126 mg 18%
Isoleucine 271 mg 19%
Leucine 505 mg 19%
Lysine 316 mg 15%
Methionine 108 mg 15%
Phenylalanine 332 mg 38%
Threonine           225 mg 21%
Tryptophan    94 mg 33%
Valine 374 mg 21%
Alanine 290 mg ~
Arginine 391 mg     ~
Aspartic Acid    707 mg ~
Cysteine 227 mg 79%
Glutamic Acid:  1458 mg ~
Glycine 344 mg ~
Proline 225 mg ~
Serine 353 mg ~
Tyrosine 236 mg 27%

Amino Acids in Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a pseudocereal, which means it’s a seed that is commonly eaten as a cereal grain. In addition to protein, it’s got a decent amount of fiber, as well as magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and iron, as well as the antioxidant rutin. It also has a well-balanced amino acid profile.

1 cup of roasted buckwheat grouts = 5.7 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 133 mg     19%
Isoleucine 213 mg 15%
Leucine 356 mg 13%
Lysine 289 mg 14%
Methionine 74 mg 10%
Phenylalanine 223 mg 26%
Threonine           136 mg 13%
Tryptophan    82 mg 29%
Valine 291 mg 16%
Alanine 321 mg ~
Arginine 420 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    486 mg ~
Cysteine 97 mg 34%
Glutamic Acid:  877 mg ~
Glycine 442 mg ~
Proline 217 mg ~
Serine 294 mg ~
Tyrosine 104 mg 12%

Amino Acids in Kamut

Kamut, or wheat berries, are the whole and unprocessed form of wheat kernels, and they offer up a hearty dose of B vitamins, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. And their protein content isn’t too shabby either!

1 cup of cooked kamut = 5.7 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 253 mg  36%
Isoleucine 378 mg  27%
Leucine 743 mg 27%
Lysine 277 mg 13%
Methionine 167 mg 23%
Phenylalanine 516 mg 59%
Threonine           296 mg 28%
Tryptophan    88 mg 31%
Valine 459 mg 25%
Alanine 363 mg ~
Arginine 464 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    537 mg ~
Cysteine 206 mg 72%
Glutamic Acid:  3234 mg ~
Glycine 387 mg ~
Proline 1065 mg ~
Serine 507 mg ~
Tyrosine 236 mg 27%

Amino Acids in Cornmeal

Low in lysine but with a good amount of leucine, cornmeal holds its own as a high-protein grain, especially when combined with eggs, a complete protein with an ideal ratio of essential amino acids.

1 cup of white cornmeal grits = 4.4 grams of protein:

Amino Acid % RDI
Histidine 129 mg 18%
Isoleucine 144 mg 10%
Leucine 542 mg 20%
Lysine 85 mg 4%
Methionine 95 mg 13%
Phenylalanine 231 mg 26%
Threonine           136 mg 13%
Tryptophan    26 mg 9%
Valine 203 mg 11%
Alanine 326 mg ~
Arginine 167 mg ~
Aspartic Acid    252 mg ~
Cysteine 85 mg 30%
Glutamic Acid:  838 mg ~
Glycine 123 mg ~
Proline 396 mg ~
Serine 195 mg ~
Tyrosine 170 mg 27%

How to Handle the Protein Gaps in Grains

If you take a closer look at the essential amino acid makeup of these grains, a few patterns become evident. They contain different amino acids in varying concentrations, but are lacking in one or more, especially lysine. And you’d have to consume 5-10 servings a day to meet your amino acid requirements.

That’s why eating a variety of foods is the best diet. You can complement your protein intake from grains by consuming plant foods high in protein such as:

  • Legumes (lentils, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas)
  • Seeds (chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • Soybeans (edamame, tempeh)

Of course, no source of plant protein can compete with the amino acid profile of animal protein. If you aren’t on a vegetarian diet or vegan diet, mix up grain consumption with animal foods such as:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy (cottage cheese, milk, yogurt)
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry

And you can shore up any additional protein gaps in these food sources, particularly in vegetarian diets, with an EAA supplement that contains the ideal proportions of amino acids to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, produce enzymes and neurotransmitters, maintain muscle mass and an ideal body weight, encourage appropriate weight loss, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, keep blood sugar stable, along with a plethora of other health benefits.

Grains High in Protein

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