How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally

Find out the difference between acute and chronic inflammation (one is good, one is bad). Also learn about the natural ways to reduce inflammation and improve your health through lifestyle, exercise, diet, and supplementation. 

Inflammation is one of those necessary evils. Yes, you need an inflammatory response in the body to alert you and your healing resources that something is wrong, and that is healthy inflammation. A twisted ankle, a reaction to stress, a bug or mosquito bite: these are common external examples of inflammation that let you know: you’ve hurt your ankle, you need a vacation, or it’s time to reapply the bug spray.

Unhealthy inflammation is chronic and persistent inflammation that is no longer helping you, only hurting. For instance if your ankle swells up so badly you can’t walk, you have to put ice on it, elevate it, maybe take an anti-inflammatory medication. But how do you reduce inflammation inside your body? You can’t ice your liver! Moreover how do you reduce inflammation naturally, without resorting to taking over-the-counter drugs and risking their side effects? Read on to find ways to reduce overall inflammation through lifestyle, diet, and natural supplements.

What Is Inflammation? Acute vs. Chronic

Acute inflammation is the immune system’s response to injury or foreign substance. It activates inflammation to deal with a specific threat, and then subsides. That inflammatory response includes the increased production of immune cells, cytokines, and white blood cells. The physical signs of acute inflammation are swelling, redness, pain, and heat. This is the healthy function of inflammation.

Chronic inflammation on the other hand is not beneficial to the body, and occurs when your immune system regularly and consistently releases inflammatory chemicals, even when there’s no injury to fix or foreign invader to fight.

To diagnosis chronic inflammation, doctors test for blood markers like interleukin-6 (IL-6), TNF alpha, homocysteine, and C-reactive protein (CRP). This type of inflammation often results from lifestyle factors such as poor diet, obesity, and stress, and is associated with many dangerous health conditions, including:

These are the conditions that can be caused or exacerbated by chronic inflammation, but what causes chronic inflammation itself? There are a few factors.

Habitually consuming high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, refined carbs (like white bread), trans fats, and the vegetable oils included in so many processed foods is one contributor. Excessive alcohol intake is another culprit, and so is an inactive or sedentary lifestyle.

Now that you know what chronic inflammation is, where it comes from, and how it works, the final question is: how can you reduce chronic inflammation with natural remedies? Read on for the answers.

How to reduce inflammation naturally.

How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally Through Lifestyle, Diet, and Supplements

Here are several approaches you can take to combat inflammation naturally before resorting to over-the-counter drugs or medications.

Lifestyle Choices and Therapies to Fight Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is also called low-grade or systemic inflammation. There are some ways you can boost your health by managing lifestyle practices and fitness activities. Some practices you may want to adjust are as follows.

  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Manage stress naturally (meditation perhaps, or tai chi)
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Exercise regularly

When it comes to exercise, something as readily available as walking can help improve your health drastically, and when it comes to fitness with meditation, you could look into yoga. Those who practice yoga regularly have lower levels of the inflammatory marker IL-6, up to 41% lower than those who don’t practice yoga.

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A diet of anti-inflammatory foods is a huge component to reducing inflammation. As a general rule, you want to eat whole foods rather than processed foods, as they contain more nutrients and antioxidants for your health. Antioxidants help by reducing levels of free radicals in your body, molecules that cause cell damage and oxidative stress.

You’ll also want a healthy dietary balance between carbs, protein, fats, fruits, and veggies to ensure the proper amount of minerals, vitamins, and fiber throughout each day. One diet that’s been scientifically shown to have anti-inflammatory properties is the Mediterranean diet, which entails a high consumption of vegetables, along with olive oil and moderate amounts of lean protein.

Foods to Eat

Healthy eating can help you reduce inflammation in your body. These foods are the answer to how to reduce intestinal inflammation naturally. Reach inside and soothe what ails you!

  • High-fat fruits: Stone fruits like avocados and olives, including their oils
  • Whole grains: Whole grain wheat, barley, quinoa, oats, brown rice, spelt, rye, etc.
  • Vegetables: Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables especially, like kale, broccoli and broccoli greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Fruit: Dark berries like cherries and grapes particularly, either fresh or dried
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel for omega-3 fatty acids
  • Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, etc.
  • Spices: Including turmeric, cinnamon, and fenugreek
  • Tea: Green tea especially
  • Red wine: Up to 10 ounces of red wine for men and 5 ounces for women per day
  • Peppers: Chili peppers and bell peppers of any color
  • Chocolate: Dark chocolate specifically, and the higher the cocoa bean percentage, the better

Foods to Avoid

These foods can help cause inflammation and amplify negative inflammatory effects in your body. You’d do well to reduce intake of or avoid entirely.

  • Alcohol: Hard liquors, beers, and ciders
  • Desserts: Candies, cookies, ice creams, and cakes
  • Processed meats: Sausages, hot dogs, and bologna
  • Trans fats: Foods containing partially hydrogenated ingredients like vegetable shortening, coffee creamer, ready-to-use frosting, and stick butter
  • Sugary beverages: Sugar-sweetened fruit juices, sports drinks, etc.
  • Refined carbs: White bread, white pasta, and white rice
  • Processed snacks: Crackers, pretzels, and chips
  • Certain oils and fried foods: Foods prepared with processed vegetable and seed oils like soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, etc.

When it comes to how to reduce liver inflammation naturally, what you avoid is just as important as what you put into your body, which is why it’s also recommended to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke and to limit your contact with toxic chemicals like aerosol cleaners.

Anti-Inflammatory Natural Supplements

You can help treat inflammation by including certain supplements that reduce inflammation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Supplements like fish oil contain omega-3 fatty acids, and while eating fatty fish can also provide this nutrient, not everyone has the access or means to eat two to three helpings of fish per week.

Though both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to get from our diets, we often have a drastic overabundance of omega-6s and not nearly enough omega-3s to keep the ideal ratio between the two. Likewise, while red meat and dairy products may have anti-inflammatory effects, red meat and dairy are also prohibitive on certain diets and health care regimens (for example, red meat is not recommended for those with heart-health concerns). Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil can help defeat pro-inflammatory factors.

Herbs and Spices

Curcumin, found in the curry spice turmeric, has been shown to fight back against pro-inflammatory cytokines. And ginger also has been found to reduce inflammation even more successfully than NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, and with fewer side effects. Whether fresh or dried, certain herbs and spices can help reduce inflammation without having any detriment to your overall health.

Flame Off

With these tips, you can help reduce chronic inflammation in your life naturally, and the rewards for taking such precise care of yourself could be great. Those on an anti-inflammatory diet, for example, may find that certain health problems improve, from inflammatory bowel syndrome, to arthritis, to lupus and other autoimmune disorders. Not only that, but a healthier lifestyle leads almost invariably to lowered risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, and cancer. You’ll have better cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels, plus an improvement in mood and energy. The bottom line is: lowering your levels of inflammation naturally increases your quality of life!

Top 10 Foods with Magnesium

Utilized in hundreds of reactions within the body, magnesium is an important mineral for human functioning. Here are the top 10 foods with magnesium, their health benefits, and other nutrients they provide. 

Utilized in hundreds of reactions within the body, magnesium is an important mineral for human functioning. Foods with magnesium are the best way to get the recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium, which is 400 milligrams for adults. This article will let you know what magnesium does, what a magnesium deficiency feels like, and which foods high in magnesium will up your magnesium intake to the levels you need to be at optimal health.

Why You Need Magnesium

Magnesium is a co-factor for hundreds of the body’s enzyme reactions. These processes include DNA synthesis, bone health, blood sugar balance, blood pressure regulation, muscle contractions, a functioning nervous system, and energy conversion from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Magnesium is also thought to impact sleep quality.

Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency

Luckily, magnesium deficiency is not common in adults who are otherwise healthy. Our kidneys store magnesium for use in short-term magnesium lows, but during a long-term low intake of magnesium, it is possible to become deficient.

The most notable sign of inadequate magnesium levels is a dip in energy, but because magnesium has a hand in regulating calcium, vitamin D, and hormonal balance, low magnesium levels can lead to eye tics, anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps, and fatigue. Here is a list of common symptoms of magnesium deficiency.

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Muscle cramps and contractions
  • Numbness and tingling

When magnesium levels are low, you might start craving stimulants like coffee (a desire meant to boost our energy back up), or chocolate, which if it comes in the form of dark chocolate, would actually help, as dark chocolate is one of the foods with noteworthy magnesium content. Read on for more beneficial foods for magnesium deficiency.

Top 10 List of Foods with Magnesium

If you’re wondering which foods contain magnesium, you’ve arrived at your answer. Below are 10 magnesium-rich foods, and the other proven health benefits they can offer you.

The top 10 foods with magnesium.

1. Dark Chocolate

Not the sweet milk chocolate common around Halloween and Easter, but dark chocolate, which is both delicious and healthy in more ways than one. Dark chocolate is quite rich in magnesium, with 64 milligrams in a 1-ounce serving, or 16% of the recommended daily intake value. Dark chocolate also contains manganese, copper, and iron, plus prebiotic content, valuable for feeding your healthy gut bacteria.

The benefits don’t stop: dark chocolate is also full of antioxidants, nutrients that protect against the damage caused by free radicals in the body. The flavanols in dark chocolate contribute to heart health. These antioxidants help prevent harmful LDL cholesterol from sticking to the linings of your arteries. Make sure the dark chocolate you get is at least 70% cocoa solids. The higher the percentage, the more benefits you’ll gain.

2. Tofu

Well known as a staple of vegan and vegetarian diets thanks to its high protein content, tofu is a soy product, a bean curd made by pressing soybean milk into curd form. A serving of 100 grams of tofu contains 53 milligrams of magnesium, which is 13% of the recommended daily intake. That same serving size will bring you 10 grams of protein, as well as at least 10% of the RDI for manganese, iron, and selenium. Tofu is also among foods with high magnesium and calcium content.

Studies link eating tofu with a reduction of stomach cancer risk factors and improved health of your artery linings. Tofu is a top magnesium contender and one of the best sources for plant-based protein.

3. Avocados

The avocado has had a renaissance in recent years, acknowledged for being the incredibly nutritious superfood that it is. Avocados are stone fruits, tasty sources of healthy fats and magnesium, providing 58 milligrams for every medium avocado, 15% of the recommended daily intake.

It doesn’t stop there, avocados are especially heart healthy because they are high in both magnesium and potassium; not to mention, B vitamins and vitamin K. Avocados have valuable fiber for comfortable digestion, with 13 out of the 17 grams of carbs in the common avocado coming from fiber. Studies have found that eating avocados can improve cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and provide increased feelings of satiety after a meal.

4. Whole Grains

Whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and barley, plus pseudocereals like quinoa and buckwheat are all sources of dietary magnesium, as well as various other nutrients. A 1-ounce serving of buckwheat for example has 65 milligrams of magnesium, 16% of the recommended daily intake.

Whole grains also tend to be high in B vitamins, manganese, fiber, and selenium, and have been shown to reduce unnecessary inflammation, which can then lend itself to a decreased risk of heart disease. Buckwheat and quinoa are also significantly higher in antioxidants and protein than traditional grain like corn, and they are gluten-free, so a great resource for those with celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten.

5. Nuts

Nuts particularly high in magnesium include cashews, almonds, and Brazil nuts. A 1-ounce serving of cashews delivers 82 milligrams of magnesium, or 20% of the recommended daily intake. Nuts are also excellent sources of monounsaturated fat and fiber, making them good for regulating cholesterol levels and blood sugar for those with type 2 diabetes. Brazil nuts are high in selenium, providing over 100% of the recommended daily intake with just two nuts, but most nuts are equipped with anti-inflammatory properties and are beneficial for heart health.

6. Seeds

The majority of people in the modern world are not eating enough seeds. Whether it’s flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, or sunflower seeds, most seeds contain high levels of magnesium. Pumpkin seeds have an especially high amount of magnesium compared to other seeds, with 150 milligrams per 1-ounce serving, a remarkable 37% of the recommended daily intake.

Seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fat, and iron, as well as high in dietary fiber. With antioxidants to protect against free radicals, flaxseeds specifically have been shown to reduce cholesterol and have been linked to breast cancer prevention. These tiny powerhouses of nutrients are easy to quickly add to your diet with trail mixes, smoothies, and overnight oat recipes.

7. Legumes

Legumes include chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, peas, and soybeans. Not only do they contain magnesium (like black beans, which have 120 milligrams of magnesium per cooked cup, or 30% of the recommended daily intake), but legumes also provide a major plant-based food source of protein.

High in iron and potassium, both good for blood and heart health, legumes help decrease the risk of heart disease and improve blood sugar control when eaten regularly. Legumes also contain high amounts of fiber and have a low glycemic index number, making them a beneficial food for diabetics. Another legume resource: natto, a fermented soybean product that can provide you with vitamin K, valuable for bone health.

8. Bananas

Well known as a source of potassium, the banana is a popular fruit worldwide that can help reduce the risk of heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Bananas are also rich in magnesium, with one large banana containing as much as 37 milligrams, 9% of the recommended daily intake.

With vitamin C, manganese, fiber, and vitamin B6, bananas are nutritionally rich and highly convenient to eat: they come in their own protective peel and can easily be included in delicious treats like peanut butter banana smoothies, or made into a dairy-free version of ice cream if you freeze them.

While fully ripe bananas are higher in sugar and carbs than most other fruits, they are natural sugars, much better for your health than refined sugars. On top of that, a large amount of the carbs in unripe bananas are resistant starch, which doesn’t get absorbed and digested and may help lower blood sugar levels by reducing inflammation and promoting gut health.

9. Certain Fatty Fish

Fish have a lean protein content that can’t be beat, plus omega-3 fatty acids in certain oily fish like salmon, halibut, and mackerel provide an extra health boon. These fish are also high in magnesium, with half a fillet of salmon (about 178 grams) containing 53 milligrams of magnesium, or 13% of the recommended daily value. Fish are also rich in B vitamins, selenium, and potassium, and a regular intake of fatty fish has been scientifically linked to a decrease in heart disease and other chronic diseases.

10. Leafy Greens

Green, leafy vegetables are highly healthy, full of magnesium, iron, and large amounts of vitamins A, C, and K. Leafy greens include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, collard greens, and mustard greens. A cup of cooked spinach for example contains 157 milligrams of magnesium, a whopping 39% of the recommended daily intake. Moreover, the plant compounds in these leafy greens have been linked with anti-cancer properties and may help prevent DNA and cell damage.

Magnificent Magnesium

These healthful magnesium foods can help those with high blood pressure, diabetes, and high blood sugar. Before trying a magnesium supplement (which should be done under the guidance of health professionals), use these foods with high magnesium to try and get enough magnesium from your dietary sources first. Dietary supplements are important when needed, but nothing quite beats getting all the nutrients you need from a well-balanced diet, including magnesium.

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

Wondering what muscle recovery foods are good for prevention and relief of delayed onset muscle soreness? This comprehensive list of foods full of healthy fats, amino acids, and natural sugars will support your workout and recovery goals.

After starting a new workout, you’re in for some growing pains. Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS can affect anyone, from those new to working out to elite athletes incorporating different exercises into their routines. Whenever you push your muscles, either with unfamiliar exercises or longer durations, you’re creating microscopic tears to the muscles, which then cause stiffness, soreness, and pain. Are sore muscles a good sign? Yes, in a sense, because it means you’re using your muscles in new ways that will eventually lead to a better fitness profile. But don’t fret! Eating muscle recovery foods can help ease the discomfort and may even help decrease muscle soreness in the first place.

Using food as your method of recovery and prevention may truly be the best road to take. The other suggestions to help muscle recovery either take extra time or come with other risks, and none of them can get in front of DOMS before it starts. Getting a massage after every workout would be great, but do you have the time, the money? Rest and ice packs are perfectly reasonable options too, but it’s the rest that might bother you if you’re really excited about a new workout and seeing results. Do you really want to take a couple of days off after every workout to let your muscles recover? It might not be a bad idea, but with the right foods pre- and post-workout, it might not be necessary either.

The last refuge to treat the ache and pain of muscle soreness is to use painkillers. Whether it’s over the counter fare you’d take for any pains (a wincing headache for example, or to relieve menstrual cramps), or prescription painkillers meant for more serious pains (a wrenched back or dental surgery). And these pain killers come with health-compromising side effects that are best avoided.

So what can you eat that will make a difference? Here are some foods you might want to include on the menu on gym days.

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

Whether for their protein content, iron content, anti-inflammatory properties, or amino acids, these foods can help your muscles heal faster.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese has around 27 grams of protein per cup, and is often a regular food in the fitness community for those without any dietary restrictions surrounding milk products. In fact, the casein protein found in cottage cheese curds (as opposed to the whey protein found in watery milk) are often isolated and used as a workout protein supplement. As a slow-digesting protein, casein can help build and rebuild muscle while you sleep if it’s your last snack before bed.

The essential amino acid leucine is also present in cottage cheese, and comprises around 23% of the essential amino acids in muscle protein (the most abundant percentage of them all). Foods with leucine can help you build muscle by activating protein synthesis, and the faster you rebuild your muscle, the faster your muscle repair and workout recovery!

Eat it plain, or combine cottage cheese with some of the other recovery foods on this list to stack the benefits. Cottage cheese can even be used in baked goods and pancakes or included in protein shakes—don’t be afraid to get creative.

Sweet Potatoes

Adding sweet potatoes to your post-workout meal can help replenish your glycogen stores after a tough workout. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin C and beta-carotene as well, and are loaded with fiber which helps to control appetite and maintain healthy digestion and build muscle.

Sweet potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or on a grill, cut into fries, spiced with cinnamon, or made savory with garlic powder and pepper. Enjoy them at the dinner table or on the go: a baked potato wrapped in foil can join you just about anywhere.

Baking Spices

Speaking of what you can put on sweet potatoes, it turns out some baking spices are good for post-workout recovery as well. Not so much in the form of gingerbread cookies or cinnamon rolls, but a study showed that cinnamon or ginger given to 60 trained young women (between the ages of 13 and 25) significantly reduced their muscle soreness post-exercise. If you’re already having a sweet potato, make it a little sweeter with some cinnamon, add it to oatmeal, or put some in your coffee for the extra boost.

Coffee

Did we just mention coffee? Good news: coffee’s on the list too. Research suggests that about 2 cups of caffeinated coffee can reduce post-workout pain by 48%, and another study showed that pairing caffeine with painkilling pharmaceuticals resulted in a 40% reduction of the drugs taken. If you do need pharmaceutical pain relief, maybe coffee can help you minimize just how much you take—caffeine is a much less dangerous stimulant than pain pills.

Turmeric

Another spice on the list, turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and has been shown to be a proven and reliable pain reliever. Whether it’s helping you with delayed onset muscle soreness or pain from an injury (workout-related or otherwise), turmeric eases both pain and swelling by blocking chemical pain messengers and pro-inflammatory enzymes.

As with the other spices, it can be easily added to baked goods, to coffee, and to oatmeal. With its beautiful golden color, you can even make what’s called “golden milk” or a turmeric latte by combining 2 cups of warm cow’s or almond milk with 1 teaspoon of turmeric and another teaspoon of ginger, and then sip your muscle soreness away.

Oatmeal

Speaking of oatmeal (and isn’t it nice that so many of these ingredients can be easily combined?), it, too, can help relieve muscle soreness. This complex carb gives you a slow and steady release of sugar, along with iron needed to carry oxygen through your blood, and vitamin B1 (thiamin), which can reduce stress and improve alertness. This is why oatmeal is a great way to start the day, but since it also includes selenium, a mineral that protects cells from free-radical damage and lowers the potential for joint inflammation, it’s a great food for those in high-intensity workout training as well (like, up to Olympic level training).

Use oatmeal as a daily vehicle for other healthy ingredients, including the spices on this list, and enjoy its reliable benefits.

Bananas

Easily sliced into oatmeal, included in smoothies, or eaten alone, not only are bananas a healthy way to replace sweets (frozen and blended they can even make a delicious ice cream alternative), bananas are also a great way to get much-needed potassium. Research suggests potassium helps reduce muscle soreness and muscle cramps like the dreaded “Charley horse” spasm that contracts your muscle against your will and might not let up until it causes enough damage to last for days. A banana a day could keep the Charley horse away, and is particularly delicious (and helpful) when paired with its classic mate: peanut butter.

Peanut Butter

The healthy fats and protein found in nut butters like peanut or almond butter can help repair sore muscles. A reliable source of protein for muscle building, with fiber for blood pressure aid, vitamin E for antioxidant properties, and phytosterols for heart health, peanut butter offers up a ton of benefit and is easy to eat anywhere. Make a sandwich, use it to help bind together portable protein balls filled with other ingredients, add it into smoothies, or just eat it from the jar with a spoon (no one’s judging).

Nuts and Seeds

If you’re a fan of protein balls, then you’re well acquainted with nuts and seeds, which are great additions to these protein-rich foods. While providing essential omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation, various nuts and seeds can provide you protein for muscle protein synthesis, electrolytes for hydration, and zinc for an immune system boost. Something as simple as a baggie full of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin, and cashews can help maximize your muscles. Mixing in seeds (sunflower, chia, pumpkin) adds a healthy density that can curb your hunger and satisfy your appetite for longer. They’re small but powerful assets in quick muscle recovery.

Manuka Honey

This is not your grocery store honey in its little bear- or hive-shaped bottle. Manuka honey comes from the Manuka bush in New Zealand, with a milder flavor than that of bee honey and a much thicker texture. It’s anti-inflammatory and rich in the carbs needed to replenish glycogen stores and deliver protein to your muscles. Drizzle it over yogurt or stir it into tea to gain its benefits.

Green Tea

Green tea is particularly helpful for muscle recovery purposes. With anti-inflammatory antioxidants, it makes an excellent pre- or post-workout drink to prevent muscle damage related to exercise, and also helps you stay hydrated.

Cacao

Cacao has high levels of magnesium, antioxidants, and B-vitamins, which reduce exercise stress, balance electrolytes, and boost immunity and energy levels. The antioxidant flavanols in cacao also help up the production of nitric oxide in your body, which allows your blood vessel walls to relax, lowering blood pressure and promoting healthy blood flow. Adding cacao powder to your high-quality protein shakes or a glass of cow/almond/coconut milk post-workout will bring you its benefits.

Tart Cherries

Tart cherry juice has been shown to minimize post-run muscle pain, reduce muscle damage, and improve recovery time in professional athletes like lifters, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Enjoy tart cherry juice as a drink, or include the dried fruit as a part of your own muscle-building trail mix with the nuts and seeds discussed above. It’s not the only fruit or fruit juice you might include either. The nutrients in fruits like oranges, pineapples, and raspberries can also help speed up your recovery.

Salmon

Rich with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, muscle-building protein, and antioxidants, salmon is an extremely efficient post-workout food. Not an option if you are vegan or vegetarian, of course, but for the meat eaters among us, or those on the Paleo diet, salmon can specifically help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and provide you with an abundance of the protein needed for muscle growth. Eat this protein within 45 minutes after working out for maximum effect, either grilled, cooked up in salmon cakes, or raw in the form of sushi or sashimi. All of the above goes for tuna as well, by the way—reasons you might become a pescatarian.

Eggs

If you are an omnivore or ovo-vegetarian, eggs are great way to gain protein first thing in the morning, and an even more effective food to have immediately post-workout to help prevent DOMS. Like cottage cheese, eggs are a rich provider of leucine, and like salmon, eggs contain vitamin D (in their yolks). For your convenience, eggs can be boiled and brought along for immediate consumption after your training. Boil a dozen at the start of each week during your meal prep, and have an easy protein source in the palm of your hand every other day of the week.

Spinach

Did we really get all the way to the end of the list without a vegetable? So sorry! Let’s fix that with spinach. A powerhouse of antioxidants, not only can spinach help prevent diseases like heart disease and various cancers, but it also helps you recover quickly from intense exercise. Spinach’s nitrates help to strengthen your muscles, and its magnesium content helps maintain nerve function. Spinach helps to regulate your blood sugar (in case you worry about the spikes you might get from the sweeter items on this list), and can be added to many dinners, snuck into smoothies, or eaten on its own either raw or sautéed in olive oil.

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

These foods help with recovery from DOMS and reduce the amount of soreness you get in the first place by providing your body with the proteins and nutrients it craves when you’re working out to the best of your ability.

A quick note before you go. In your quest for pain-free muscles, you’ll want to avoid:

  • Refined sugar: Just one sugary soda a day can increase your inflammatory markers, as can white bread and other products with refined sugar. Natural sugars don’t bring that kind of adverse effect, so get your sugar from whole foods instead.
  • Alcohol: The dehydration caused by alcohol requires its own special recovery, and will deplete many of your vitamins (especially B vitamins). Some research suggests that alcohol can interfere with how your body breaks down lactic acid, which would increase muscle soreness. If you’re on a mission to build muscle, it’s best to avoid alcohol.

If you’re eating pretty well and avoiding what you shouldn’t eat, but still find muscle soreness a burden after working out, there is always the option to supplement.

What is the best supplement for muscle recovery? Evidence shows that getting all your body’s essential amino acids in balance will help specifically with muscle sprains and pulls, so when supplementing, just make sure you cover the waterfront (rather than choosing one or two essentials and neglecting the rest). Other than that, a diverse diet can be had in choosing natural preventions and remedies for healthy muscle recovery.

What Are Nonpolar Amino Acids?

What are nonpolar amino acids? This article will help explain how these amino acids are designated and what purpose they serve in the body.

Of the 20 common amino acids in the human body that build protein structures, 9 of them are essential (meaning we must eat or otherwise consume them to get them), and half of them are nonpolar. What are nonpolar amino acids? Which are they, and what does “nonpolar” mean? The review of the topic in this article will help explain.

The Definition of a Nonpolar Molecule

The nonpolar molecules we’ll be talking about are hydrophobic amino acids, meaning “water fearing” because they don’t mix with water molecules. You know how oil and water don’t mix? That’s because oil is hydrophobic.

The opposite of a nonpolar molecule is, as you might guess, polar. Polar molecules are hydrophilic, meaning “water loving.” If you’d like to visualize: polar molecules are like puppy dogs who love water so much that they’ll go barreling straight into muddy or smelly water after a tennis ball, with no hesitation at all. That would make nonpolar molecules like cats, better known for avoiding water, no thank you, and cleaning themselves without it.

Molecules are classified this way based on the charges on the atoms bonded together to form the molecule. If you remember your first taste of high school chemistry, you may remember that atoms have a nucleus of neutral neutrons and positive protons in the middle, and negative electrons swirling all around. Protons have a positive charge that draws electrons to it, like how opposites attract.

When two atoms bond together, they share electrons. Two atoms of the same element have equal positivity, so don’t have the power to steal electrons from the other. These molecules are nonpolar because they have no resulting charge. When atoms of two different elements connect together, invariably one of them will have the higher charge and attract the most electrons to its end of the joint molecule. That means the molecule is polar, or charged, and that charge will then be identified as either a positive or negative charge.

Examples of Nonpolar Molecules

Methane gas is an example of a nonpolar molecule that is created during the breakdown of food and released as a gas (or more colloquially, a fart). Methane is made up of one carbon atom that is bound to four hydrogen atoms: this hydrogen bonding allows the atoms to all share electrons equally, so this smelly molecule has no charge and is nonpolar.

Inside our body, we have both polar and nonpolar molecules, which includes those 20 amino acids mentioned above.

Nonpolar Amino Acids

The chemical properties of amino acids are largely determined by one group of molecules, what’s known as the R group: a side chain that differs on each amino acid. To visualize the amino acid groups, picture a pizza with four toppings, and a little support table in the middle that’s there to keep the cheese from sticking to the lid. That table is the alpha carbon to which all the groups or toppings are attached.

Every amino acid has three groups/toppings in common: the amino group (-NH2), the carboxyl group (COOH), and a hydrogen atom, which in pizza terms would be three standard toppings, say pepperoni, sausage, and cheese (cheese is hydrogen, which is just one atom and not a group of them, and so it gets the plainest topping). That fourth quarter of the pizza? That is the R group, the functional group that identifies and characterizes different amino acids—when you think of the R group, think R for Radical, because that is a completely different and unique topping, and every R group amino acid side chain has a distinct flavor of its own. To get up to 20 it would have to be pineapple, spinach, olives, Canadian bacon, jalapeño, garlic, anchovies, bell pepper, salami, feta cheese, beef, oregano, bacon, barbecue sauce, chicken, pesto, chorizo, broccoli, eggplant, and mushroom. Some are weirder than others.

The nonpolar amino acids have R groups mostly made up of hydrocarbons, though the amino acids methionine and cysteine also each feature a sulphur atom. The nonpolar amino acids are as follows, with more information on each one.

Glycine

  • Three letter code: gly
  • One letter code: G

The body needs glycine to make compounds like as glutathione, creatine, and collagen, which is the most abundant protein in your body. Collagen is a vital part of your muscles, blood, skin, cartilage, ligaments, and bones. Glycine may also protect your liver from alcohol damage, contribute to heart health, and improve your sleep quality. Glycine might also protect those with type 2 diabetes from muscle-wasting. You can gain more glycine by eating certain meat products or by taking a collagen supplement.

Alanine

  • Three letter code: ala
  • One letter code: A

Alanine is an amino acid that helps convert glucose into energy and helps eliminate excess toxins from your liver. Alanine keeps muscle protein from being cannibalized by the body during intense aerobic exercise or activity, and it’s needed to balance nitrogen and glucose levels in the body, which it does via the alanine cycle.

Alanine is a nonessential amino acid, which means that usually your body can make the substance on its own and doesn’t need you to ingest it from outside. However, people with eating disorders, extremely low-protein diets, diabetes, liver disease, or certain genetic conditions that cause UCDs (urea cycle disorders), may need to take a supplement or adjust their diet to gain this amino acid.

Good sources of alanine are meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, as well as some protein-rich plant foods, like avocado. There are supplements containing alanine on the market, however, taking any one amino acid alone could upset the balance of nitrogen in the body, putting stress on the liver and kidneys as they try to eliminate waste. It is advisable that those with liver or kidney disease should consult a trusted medical professional before taking any amino acid supplement.

Proline

  • Three letter code: pro
  • One letter code: P

Proline is needed for the manufacture of cartilage and collagen, which helps heal cartilage and cushion our joints and vertebrae. It keeps joints flexible, and skin supple when it is affected by sun damage or signs of normal aging. Proline breaks down proteins for cell creation, and is essential at sites of injury where the tissue must be rebuilt to heal. Proline supplementation is sometimes valuable to people with chronic back pain or osteoarthritis.

Proline is also needed for the maintenance of muscle tissue, and is sometimes found low in long-distance runners and other serious athletes. Proline is usually nonessential, as the body naturally derives proline from its supplies of glutamic acid. However, if necessary, proline can be found in natural sources like dairy, meat, and eggs, or can be gained from amino acid supplementation.

Valine

  • Three letter code: val
  • One letter code: V

Valine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) that works with the other two BCAAs (isoleucine and leucine) to regulate blood sugar, repair tissues, and provide the body with energy. Valine assists in stimulating the central nervous system and is necessary for mental functioning. Valine helps provide muscles with extra glucose energy during intense physical activity, which prevents muscle breakdown, and helps remove toxic excess nitrogen from the liver. Valine may help the liver and gallbladder recover from damage due to alcoholism or drug abuse, as well as help possibly reverse alcohol-related brain damage, or hepatic encephalopathy.

Valine is an essential amino acid, and must be obtained through a diet including meats, mushrooms, dairy products, peanuts, and/or soy protein. Most people have no problem getting enough valine, however maple syrup urine disease or MSUD is caused by an inability to metabolize leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Supplementation is sometimes warranted in those with low-protein diets or who are trying to build muscle mass, but be advised that too much valine intake will make one’s skin feel like it is crawling, and may cause hallucinations. Supplements should always be taken responsibly.

Leucine

  • Three letter code: leu
  • One letter code: L

Leucine helps with blood sugar regulation, muscle repair, and energy production. It also helps burn fat located deep inside the body that is hard to reach through diet and exercise alone.

Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) along with valine and isoleucine, all of which help to promote post-exercise muscle recovery, leucine being particularly effective, as it converts to glucose the fastest of the three. That is also why leucine is closely linked with the regulation of blood sugar, and why a leucine deficiency causes symptoms like hypoglycemia: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, depression, and irritability.

Leucine promotes the recovery of skin, bones, and muscle tissue after injury or surgery. Natural sources of this essential amino acid are meat, nuts, soy flour, brown rice, beans, and whole wheat.

Isoleucine

  • Three letter code: ile
  • One letter code: I

An isolated form of leucine, isoleucine is prized by bodybuilders for its ability to increase endurance, help repair muscle tissue, and encourage clotting at sites of injury. Isoleucine is broken down for energy inside muscle tissue, and helps stabilize energy levels by aiding in blood sugar regulation. An isoleucine deficiency also produces symptoms that mimic hypoglycemia.

Isoleucine is an essential amino acid, and food sources include high-protein options like nuts, peas, lentils, seeds, meat, eggs, fish, and soy protein.

Methionine

  • Three letter code: met
  • One letter code: M

An essential amino acid that helps the body process and eliminate fat, methionine contains sulfur, a substance required for the production of the body’s natural antioxidant, glutathione. The body also needs methionine to produce two other sulfur-containing amino acids, cysteine and taurine, which help the body eliminate toxins, build tissues, and promote cardiovascular health.

Methionine helps the liver process fats (lipids), preventing accumulation of too much fat in the liver, which is essential for the elimination of toxins to stay functional. Methionine is needed to make creatine, a nutrient found mainly in muscle tissue and often taken as a supplement to boost athletic performance. Methionine is also needed for collagen formation, which is then used to make skin, nails, and connective tissue. One study suggested that taking 6 grams of methionine a day can improve memory recall in AIDS patients who otherwise show a marked methionine deficiency. Methionine may also help treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Methionine is an essential amino acid, and can be gained from eating garlic, beans, seeds, eggs, fish, lentils (in lower levels), meat, onions, soybeans, and yogurt.

Tryptophan

  • Three letter code: trp
  • One letter code: W

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps balance nitrogen in adults and growth in infants. It also creates niacin, which is needed to create the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. In this way, tryptophan helps influence relief from depression and anxiety, managing pain tolerance and increased emotional well-being. Tryptophan is also associated with promoting deeper sleep.

You can get tryptophan through certain foods or a supplement in powder form. Natural food sources include cheese, milk, fish, turkey (famously), chicken, eggs, pumpkin and sesame seeds, chocolate, as well as tofu and soy.

Phenylalanine

  • Three letter code: phe
  • One letter code: F

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that is needed for the functioning of the central nervous system. It has been successfully used to help control feelings of depression and chronic pain, and other diseases linked to a malfunctioning central nervous system. Especially effective for treating brain disorders, phenylalanine is able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, and only chemicals that are able to cross that barrier can directly influence brain function.

Phenylalanine is used to make epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that control how you perceive and interact with the world around you. Phenylalanine supplementation can help you feel happier and more alert, and it also has been used to treat chronic pain and improve cognitive function. An essential amino acid, phenylalanine is normally obtained from high-protein foods like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, dairy products, beans, and nuts.

Cysteine

  • Three letter code: cys
  • One letter code: C

Cysteine is an amino acid containing a sulfur atom, and is used to form healthy bones, skin, hair, and connective tissue. It is also needed to make glutathione, one of the body’s natural antioxidants that fight free-radical damage. Cysteine and glutathione work together to remove toxins from the liver, and cysteine is often used in emergency rooms to treat acetaminophen overdoses before they can cause liver damage. It also protects the brain and liver against toxins from alcohol and cigarettes, and may be useful in preventing hangovers.

Cysteine is a nonessential amino acid, which means the body manufactures it in-house, but foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products, and whole grains are also good sources of cysteine.

Nonpolar Knowledge

There you have the rundown of the amino acid nonpolar side chains, the nonpolar aminos that variously help form protein molecules in our bodies, and do so much to keep us alive and functioning at top form.

Foods That Are Rich in Sulfur and Why You Should Be Eating More of Them

A diet that contains sulfur-rich food is necessary for keeping connective tissue flexible and helping the body detox and metabolize food. Get enough sulfur by eating a protein-rich diet that includes Brussels sprouts, kale, meat, and eggs.  

As an essential mineral found in proteins and the amino acids cysteine and methionine, sulfur is a critical nutrient for the human body. Sulfur is most likely known best for its sulfur compounds, which give garlic its distinctive aroma, cause tears when chopping onions, and lend a funky smell to urine, but sulfur does so much more. The mineral stabilizes and shapes some protein structures, aids in metabolism and detoxification, and keeps connective tissue and cartilage supple, making it essential that our diets contain sulfur-rich foods.

Good Sources of Sulfur-Rich Foods

Sulfur doesn’t discriminate by diet. Whether you’re a meat lover or a plant-based eater, there’s a wealth of sulfur-rich foods to choose from.

Meat, Fish, Poultry, and Other Proteins

Building and maintaining healthy skin, nails, and hair depend on protein-rich foods, such as fish, poultry, meats, nuts, and legumes. Packed with protein, eggs are also an optimal source of sulfur, which is found in both the egg yolk and the white, although sulfate content is higher in egg whites.

Protein-rich foods contain sulfur in the form of the amino acids cysteine and methionine. These amino acids provide the amounts of sulfur our cells need to function properly. In addition to helping make protein, sulfur serves as a cofactor for enzymes that result in chemical reactions.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Many fibrous, often green and non-leafy vegetables fall into the category of sulfur-rich vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables, such as wasabi, horseradish, cabbage, kale, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, pack a punch when it comes to nutrients.

Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and legumes also are very high in methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which provides a major source of sulfur. Additionally, these cruciferous veggies provide healthy doses of fiber, vitamins C, E, and K, folate, and carotenoids, as well as the sulfur-containing chemicals known as glucosinolates. Thank these chemicals for the bitter flavor and distinctive, pungent aroma that set cruciferous vegetables apart from so many others. When glucosinolates break down, for example during digestion, they form compounds, including indoles and isothiocyanates. Researchers have studied these specific compounds most often for their anti-cancer effects. Studies have shown that the compounds, indoles, and isothiocyanates can have antiviral and antibacterial effects, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.

Alliums

Other foods high in sulfur include allium vegetables, like leeks, garlic, chives, and onions. They contain organic compounds that contain sulfur, and studies in animals have shown that these vegetables may help prevent esophagus and colon cancers. Though more clinical trials need to be performed to determine their efficacy in humans, this research shows that the cancer-fighting potential of alliums warrants further exploration.

Stay healthy with a sulfur-rich diet.

Understanding Amino Acids

Most commonly referred to as the building blocks of protein, amino acids assist in many biological functions. There are 20 amino acids in protein. Nine of them are essential, which means we must get them through nutrition because our bodies don’t produce them on their own. Since our bodies do not store them, adults need to eat healthy diets to get these nine essential amino acids: valine, leucine, lysine, isoleucine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, threonine, and histidine.

The other remaining amino acids fall into the categories of nonessential and conditionally essential. Nonessential amino acids are naturally occurring in our bodies, and we can also get them from the foods we eat. Alanine, asparagine, and aspartate are examples of nonessential amino acids.

Arginine, glutamine, tyrosine, cysteine, glycine, proline, serine, and ornithine are both nonessential and conditionally essential. This means our bodies synthesize them, but during times of sickness or stress, we may not be able to produce the amount we need. In those instances, we must ensure our amino acid needs are met through our diets or with supplementation.

Only two amino acids, methionine and cysteine, contain sulfur. Methionine is critical for good health because it is required to build proteins and produce many molecules in the body, including SAM, which is used to modify DNA. Methionine also plays a critical role in many cell functions and helps prevent liver damage in acetaminophen poisoning.

Why the Consumption of Sulfur Foods Matter

In addition to providing strength and resiliency to hair, sulfur assists in many other biological processes.

Sulfur is needed to synthesize the tripeptide glutathione, which is a chain of three amino acids that is joined by two peptide bonds. Not only is glutathione a key antioxidant, but it also regulates a number of cellular processes. It helps to control the rapid production of cells, aids in the detoxification of foreign organisms and free radicals, and influences immune function.

Sulfur is integral in binding together the two chains of amino acids that form the hormone insulin, which regulates our bodies’ sugar use. Taurine synthesis also depends on sulfur. Taurine is an organic compound that contains sulfur and plays an important role in metabolizing fats, restoring insulin sensitivity, and supporting the general functions of muscles and the central nervous system.

How Much Sulfur Do We Need?

The recommended dietary allowance set forth by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences for methionine plus cysteine is 14 mg/kg of body weight per day. Regardless of age or sex, a person weighing 70 kilograms would need to consume about 1.1 grams per day.

Who Suffers from Low Sulfur Levels

Though sulfur is one of the most abundant minerals in our bodies and many foods contain the mineral, we can suffer from low sulfur levels. First, the American diet often includes many processed foods and carbohydrates, and not many high-protein foods. A low-protein diet can result in low sulfur levels. Sometimes, those who eat little or no protein from animals, such as vegetarians and vegans, also may have lower amounts of sulfur in their systems.

Even when we eat balanced diets, we may not have the sulfur content levels we expect. Overcooking sulfur-rich foods can compromise their nutrition, negatively impacting the amount of the mineral our bodies get. Also, industrialized farming practices impact the levels of sulfur in the soil where crops grow. The bottom line is that if we are not buying and consuming local, organic produce or acquiring our meat and produce from grass-fed animals, there’s a very great chance we are not getting the essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need.

Top 24 Vegetarian Protein Sources

The top 24 vegetarian protein sources, including a list of valuable complete proteins, and information on the unique health benefits each food provides to the human body.

The quest for vegetarian protein sources is an important one. Protein and amino acid deficiency can lead to muscle loss, delayed healing, difficulty concentrating, and increased levels of depression and anxiety. When your body’s lacking what it needs, you won’t feel right, and you’ll know it.

This is why it’s important to make sure you get the protein intake you need from a vegetarian diet. Incomplete proteins like whole grains, produce, and nuts can do the job in concert with one other, but there are some foods that contain all nine essential amino acids required for proper human functioning: complete proteins.

We’ve assembled a list of the best vegetarian proteins below. Any of these foods will help ward off the symptoms of protein deficiency, but the complete protein foods listed at the end are for those who want to do some one-stop shopping when it comes to their amino acids intake.

Top 24 vegetarian protein sources.

Nuts and Seeds

We’ve compiled some of the healthiest and handiest snacks around.

1. Hemp Seeds

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, hemp seeds are a protein source that can aid against obesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. Hemp seeds are small sources of fiber that can be easily added to just about any food—stirred into oatmeal, blended into a protein shake or smoothie, or even sprinkled onto a salad. With 3.3 grams of protein per tablespoon, this is an easy ingredient to include in the foods and meals you already eat.

2. Almonds

Full of the amino acid arginine, almonds as a snack can contribute to healthy weight loss and fat burning, reduce the risk of heart disease, and curb hunger. With 6 grams of protein per ounce, almonds are also a source of nutrients that contribute to brain health, like vitamin E, folate, and carnitine, known for its neuroprotective benefits.

3. Cashews

Another conveniently healthy snack, cashews are an excellent resource for minerals like copper, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. With a fair amount of vitamin K, cashews also contain biotin, which is used for hair and nail health, and they have 5 grams of protein per ounce.

4. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, antioxidants and 9 grams of protein per ounce. Containing the amino acid arginine, pumpkin seeds can help in situations of hair loss, and can be eaten raw or baked with added flavors like honey (for sweet) or garlic powder (for savory).

Beans and Legumes

Here are some hardy foods to add substantial protein to your diet.

5. Lentils

Lentils are a complete protein, but there’s a catch: they contain all nine essential amino acids, but they don’t contain sufficient methionine to meet ideal amino acid intake. Just 1 cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein, the same amount as three eggs. With a high-fiber content, lentils are filling when eaten and slow down digestion in a way that could help blunt spikes in blood glucose (a contributing factor to the development of type 2 diabetes).

6. Black Beans

With 39 grams of protein per cup, black beans are a heavy hitter in the protein department and a terrific way to meet your copper, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron needs. Black beans are a great way to add valuable density to a pot.

7. Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are legumes high in the amino acid lysine as well as fiber, iron, folate, zinc, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Just 1 cup of chickpeas has 39 grams of protein. Extremely popular in the form of hummus, when eaten with pita bread, that combined snack can become a complete protein.

Protein-Rich Grains

These modern and ancient grains are the staff of life.

8. Amaranth

An ancient grain that is naturally gluten free, amaranth offers up digestive fiber and calcium. Porridge-like when cooked, it is a particularly healthy replacement for or addition to morning cereal and oatmeal. It provides 9 grams of protein per cup.

9. Teff

A lesser-known ancient grain from the Ethiopian region, Teff is full of essential amino acids, vitamin C (quite unusual in a grain), and calcium. With 10 grams of protein per cup, again it could replace or enhance a bowl of oatmeal, a helping of grits, or a side of rice.

10. Triticale

Triticale is another whole grain (wheat-rye hybrid) with 24 grams of protein per cup and rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Triticale can be used instead of traditional baking flour in recipes.

Fruits and Veggies

Vitamin-rich vegetables and even some fruit can provide protein.

11. Spinach

With 5 grams of protein per cooked cup, spinach has almost the equivalent amount of protein as a hard-boiled egg (at half the calories). Eating spinach raw or steamed maintains the maximum amount of nutrients, namely high amounts of carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, and calcium.

12. Tomatoes

Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce your risk of bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, as well as your risk of coronary artery disease. With 6 grams of protein per cup, tomatoes provide fiber and calcium and make a refreshing addition to many salads, sandwiches, and salsas.

13. Guava

This high-protein fruit has more than 4 grams of protein per cup. Along with fiber, guava has over 600% of your daily recommended vitamin C (about seven oranges worth). A brightly colored and delightfully zesty treat to include in any diet.

14. Artichokes

Artichokes are a good source of niacin, magnesium, potassium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. With about 10 grams of plant protein per cup, it has one of the highest protein yields among vegetables, and the artichoke has nearly twice the fiber of kale.

15. Peas

A high-protein food with 8 grams of protein per cup and nearly 100% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, peas add a tantalizing texture to salads and mashed potatoes. Of course, they’re also enjoyed as a side dish all on its own. You can even mash them up for baby food, or flavor that mash and use it as a veggie spread for your morning toast.

Complete Proteins

Here’s the good stuff, the protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids needed in your diet.

16. Quinoa

With 8 grams of protein per cup, quinoa is an ancient grain with wide modern popularity, included in over 1,000 products on the market and regularly showing up in strange places (like wrapped around a sushi roll or pressed into a veggie burger). With a mild flavor, quinoa can be seasoned to a variety of taste preferences and is an excellent source of unsaturated fats and fiber. Along with the nine essential amino acids, quinoa also contains the amino acid L-arginine, shown to promote muscle over fat gain in animal studies (let’s hope that proves true for the most dangerous game animal of all: humans!). In fact, quinoa contains about a dozen amino acids, making it a wonderful alternative to carbs like couscous or rice.

17. Soybeans

Soybeans and soy products like tofu and soy milk all contain protein: steamed soybeans have 8 grams per cup, tofu 20 grams per cup, and soy milk 4 grams per cup. Soy foods offer cardiovascular benefits, help prevent prostate and colon cancer, decrease hot flashes for women in menopause, and guard against osteoporosis. Tofu particularly can be formed and flavored to fit a variety of recipes.

18. Buckwheat

With 6 grams of protein per cup, buckwheat is a gluten-free seed full of fiber (more than the amount found in oatmeal) and magnesium, a mineral that’s important to metabolism. Buckwheat is not a wheat but a versatile cousin of rhubarb that can nevertheless function as a pancake mix, be formed into Japanese soba noodles, or be eaten as porridge.

19. Ezekiel Bread

Sprouted bread or Ezekiel bread has 4 grams of protein per slice and is made with the sprouted grains and legumes wheat, barley, lentils, beans, spelt, and millet. It contains 18 amino acids, including all 9 essential amino acids, which is not even close to true for most bread products. With one sandwich on Ezekiel bread you can gain 8 grams of protein during lunch alone.

Fun fact: Ezekiel bread is named after this passage in the Bible from Ezekiel 4:9: “Take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself.” Intended as a last resort to make bread when a besieged Jerusalem was running low on supplies, it turned out to be a fantastic recipe fit for modern times, and an extraordinarily nutritious food.

20. Spirulina

Used as a whole food or dietary supplement, the vibrantly green spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria that can be eaten by humans and other animals. With 4 grams of protein per powdered teaspoon, it also provides the B vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin), along with copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. An odd taste at first, spirulina can nevertheless be added to a variety of foods for the bevy of benefits it provides.

21. Quorn

Developed in the U.K. in the 1980s from a fungus relative of mushrooms and truffles, Quorn is often used as a faux meat in the form of tenders, burgers, and lasagna filling. With over 20 grams of fiber per cup, this product contains all nine essential amino acids.

22. Peanut Butter

With 65 grams of protein per cup, peanut butter is a tasty protein source that can be made into cookies, sandwiches, included in smoothies, and used as a spread on crackers or celery (add some raisins to make the classic “ants on a log” snack). Peanut butter also contains healthy fats and could prevent both cardiovascular and coronary artery disease. Choose the unsalted kind, with no hydrogenated oils or sugars added, and have a guilt-free treat!

23. Chia Seeds

With 2.5 grams of protein per tablespoon, chia seeds don’t contain that much protein, but they can easily make up for it by providing all nine essential amino acids. Chia seeds can absorb moisture and become gel-like, making them a fun addition to pudding and smoothies, and the omega-3s in chia seeds can help reduce the risk of heart disease. They can be sprinkled over soups and salads, made into a chia seed pudding for dessert, and used as an egg replacement in vegan cooking recipes once they are fully hydrated.

24. Eggs

Speaking of eggs, this last item is for the ovo-vegetarians only, but too important to leave off the list entirely. Eggs are one of the most nutrient-filled protein sources around. With 6 grams of protein per egg, they contain the disease-fighting nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin and are a classic breakfast food whether they’re prepared scrambled, sunny side up, baked into a quiche, or separated to make an egg white omelet. Along with being versatile as their own main ingredient (egg salad, deviled eggs, etc.), eggs are also a great binding element for cauliflower pizza dough or egg-washing cookies before baking.

Plentiful Vegetarian Protein Sources

A protein deficiency doesn’t have to be a concern for those keeping to a vegetarian diet, and in fact, since plant-based sources of protein are so abundant, protein deficiency in vegetarian and vegan diets is actually quite rare. There are many ways to add enough protein to your diet that will support healthy weight loss, increase muscle mass, and improve your overall health and well-being.

On a deeper level, choosing complete proteins to include in one’s diet gets down to the cellular level of wellness, providing the nine essential amino acids that only come to humans via dietary intake. The more you know about what your food truly provides to the human body, the more precise your choices (and recipes) will become.

While animal proteins are higher quality in that they contain an adequate balance of the essential amino acids our bodies need, some plant proteins are low in essential amino acids such as methionine, tryptophan, lysine, and isoleucine. If you’re adhering to a plant-based diet, it’s a good idea to supplement with an essential amino acid blend to improve the balance of essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids, especially if you don’t want to have to think so hard about mixing and matching plant-based proteins to make them more complete.

Top 16 Vegan Foods That Are High in Protein

Learn about 16 high-protein vegan foods, including their nutrient content, a few interesting facts about their origins and histories, plus some tasty recipe ideas.

One of the first struggles involved in maintaining a vegan diet is getting enough protein. Significant amounts of casual protein comes from animal sources, and so it takes a fair amount of effort to derive the body’s much-needed protein from plant-based foods. Below are 16 high-protein vegan foods, with their nutrient content, origins, and common recipe uses.

Top 16 vegan foods high in protein.

1. Tofu

One cup of the soy product tofu contains 10 grams of protein. A valuable resource for iron, calcium, the mineral manganese, and vitamin B1, tofu is what’s known as a whole protein, meaning that it contains an adequate amount of the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet.

Where It Comes From

Made by pressing soymilk curds into a firm tofu slab, this high-protein source is invaluable. Tempeh and edamame also originate from soybeans, edamame from immature soybeans, which gives them a grassy taste, and tempeh from fermented soybeans, which has a more nutty flavor.

How to Eat It

Formed into cubes or balls, tofu can be grilled, fried, marinated, baked, or thrown into a vegetable stir fry. With a very light nutty flavor, tofu can be easily seasoned with a multitude of flavors, and because it’s such an especially pliable substance (tofu texture can span the range from silken to extra firm), it can be formed into mimicking types of meat like chicken strips, hamburgers, and meatballs.

2. Lentils

One of the great vegan protein sources, lentils are edible legumes, and 1 cup of lentils has approximately 18 grams of protein. Lentils are also high in fiber, folate, and iron.

Where It Comes From

Lentils are widely cultivated throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa but very little is grown in the Western Hemisphere. An annual plant, its seeds grow two to a pod.

How to Eat It

From soups to salads to a wide variety of side dishes, lentils promote gut health, provide a significant source of dietary fiber, and contain important antioxidants.

3. Seitan

Seitan is a high-protein food made from cooked wheat gluten and is a fantastic meat substitute. One cup has over 75 grams of protein, making it one of the richest plant protein sources, and also a good source for the minerals iron, calcium, and phosphorus.

Where It Comes From

Made from gluten, seitan is the main protein of wheat, which is why it’s sometimes called “wheat meat.” Seitan was coined in Japanese, and roughly translated means “made of proteins.”

How to Eat It

Unlike many soy-based products, seitan actually resembles the look and texture of meat when cooked, and makes for a fun pizza topping. It can be sautéed, pan-fried, and grilled, meaning it’s easy to include in a variety of recipes. Though not for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, this meat-like plant-based protein is a favorite of many vegetarians and vegans.

4. Wild Rice

An aquatic grass with edible grains, wild rice contains nearly 1.5 times the amount of protein of other long-grain rice varieties like basmati and brown rice. A cooked cup of wild rice contains 7 grams of protein, along with B vitamins, fiber, manganese, copper, and phosphorus. Wild rice is not stripped of its bran (unlike white rice).

Where It Comes From

Wild rice is one of only two cereal grains that are native to North America, and it happens to be the state grain of Minnesota.

How to Eat It

In a soup, as a side, or combined with any dish to add a healthy yet filling dimension to a meal. There are many vegan dishes that include a bed of wild rice as a base.

5. Ezekiel Bread

Ezekiel bread can be made from wheat, barley, millet, spelt, soybeans, and lentils. A single slice of Ezekiel bread contains approximately 4 grams of protein.

Where It Comes From

Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted whole grains and legumes. Because it doesn’t contain added sugars, it is an organic, healthy alternative to other commercial breads. Sprouting also appears to increase the bread’s beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate content.

How to Eat It

You can eat Ezekiel bread the same as you would eat any other bread: toast, French toast, sandwiches, and so on. It’s easier to digest for people with a gluten sensitivity due to a slightly reduced gluten content, and sprouted grain breads have an enhanced protein and nutrient profile over traditional breads.

6. Hemp Seeds

One tablespoon of hemp seeds (approximately 30 grams) contains 9.47 grams of protein, 50% more than chia seeds and flax seeds. Hemp seeds also contain calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. They’re even a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Where It Comes From

A variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp seeds do belong to the same family as the marijuana plant but contain only small trace amounts of THC. Hemp seeds may help reduce inflammation, and for women may diminish symptoms of PMS and menopause.

How to Eat It

Hemp seeds can be easily added to a diet by including them in smoothies, oatmeal cookies, homemade salad dressings, and protein bars. This valuable plant-based vegan protein is also highly digestible.

7. Chia Seeds

Speaking of chia seeds, though lower in protein than hemp seeds, chia seeds are quite high in fiber (28 grams of chia seeds delivers 11 grams of fiber). Chia seeds also contain iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants.

Where It Comes From

An important food for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds are an annual herb from the mint family and native to Mexico and Guatemala.

How to Eat It

Chia seeds have a bland taste and are able to absorb water until they reach a gel-like consistency. This makes them easy to include in a variety of recipes, from baked goods to smoothies to their own chia seed pudding.

8. Green Peas

A cup of cooked green peas contains 9 grams of protein (a little bit more than a full cup of milk), and provides more than 25% of your daily fiber requirements.

Where It Comes From

The pea is a small green seed eaten as a vegetable; the field pea was one of the very first crops cultivated by humankind.

How to Eat It

Often served as a side dish, sweet green peas can be stuffed in with ravioli filling, made into pea soup, or added to salads for delightful taste and texture. Mashed peas can be used even more creatively, as part of or an alternative to traditional avocado guacamole, as a spread for bread or crackers, or folded into other dishes for their valuable health content.

9. Pumpkin Seeds

A 100-gram serving of organic pumpkin seeds contains 15 grams of carbohydrates and 5 milligrams of protein.

Where It Comes From

From the pumpkin fruit (named after the Greek word pepon meaning “large melon”), pumpkin seeds have been found in Mexico dating back to the period between 7000-5500 B.C.

How to Eat It

You can flavor and roast pumpkin seeds in your oven, and enjoy them as a quick snack between meals. Whether plain, sweet, or salty, they can help curb your hunger during the day while adding a little extra protein to your stores.

10. Spelt

Spelt is an ancient grain, along with einkorn, barley, teff (also particularly high in fiber and gluten free), sorghum, and farro. One cup of raw spelt has 25 grams of protein and is an excellent source of complex carbs, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

Where It Comes From

Spelt is a type of wheat that contains gluten. A member of the farro family of grains, it was originally cultivated in what is now present-day Iran.

How to Eat It

Spelt can be prepared and eaten much like rice, but can also be included in a variety of recipes, from baked goods to pizza, from polenta to risotto.

11. Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a legume that contain about 5 grams of protein per cooked cup. They are also an excellent source of complex carbs, iron, fiber, folate, phosphorus, and potassium.

Where It Comes From

An annual plant of the pea family, chickpeas were likely domesticated as a crop in what is currently southeastern Turkey and Syria about 11,000 years ago.

How to Eat It

Chickpeas are a staple of Middle Eastern, African, and Indian cuisines. Often made into hummus, chickpeas can also be added to stews, mashed to form pancakes and fritters, or flavored for taste and eaten on their own.

12. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of yeast. Fortified nutritional yeast is a great source for all the B vitamins, as well as the minerals zinc, magnesium, copper, and manganese. It also provides 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per ounce.

Where It Comes From

Nutritional yeast is derived from the single-cell organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses before being harvested and heat-dried to deactivate it. Due to its being inactive, unlike baking yeast, nutritional yeast does not froth or grow, and thus has no leavening ability.

How to Eat It

Nutritional yeast can be enjoyed as a savory topping for popcorn thanks to its cheesy flavor, or sprinkled over pasta or pizza in lieu of Parmesan. It is also a popular ingredient for adding into dishes like mashed potatoes or scrambled tofu, both for its taste as well as its health benefits.

13. Quinoa

Another of the ancient grains, quinoa is gluten-free and considered a pseudocereal because it does not grow quite like other cereal grains do. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8.14 grams of protein.

Where It Comes From

A member of the goosefoot family, quinoa was widely cultivated in the Andes for its edible starchy seeds.

How to Eat It

Quinoa can be used in a powder form for adding protein content to baked goods. Otherwise it can be treated much the same as a rice dish: used as a base, a side, or eaten on its own with whatever preferred seasoning you’ve got.

14. Oats

With a good amounts of folate, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, oats are a cereal plant cultivated in cool climates and used for animal feed as well as human consumption. Although not considered a complete protein, 1 cup of cooked steel-cut oats has 10 grams of plant protein.

Where It Comes From

Originally considered a weed that afflicted wheat and barley, oats have since become a staple food in Western diets.

How to Eat It

Oats can be eaten in oatmeal, of course, and oatmeal cookies, but oats can also be included in veggie burgers, homemade protein bars, and mixed with yogurt for a pleasing and nutritious texture.

15. Edamame

Edamame is a green soy bean, and has 18 grams of protein per cup (a significant amount of protein).

Where It Comes From

Translated from Japanese, edamame literally means “beans on a branch,” and appears regularly in and alongside Japanese cuisine (though edamame’s roots are actually in China).

How to Eat It

You’ll recognize edamame at sushi restaurants, but it doesn’t have to stay there. In their pods, edamame can be boiled or baked and eaten as a snack. Shelled edamame can be added to salads, stews, basically any dish you want.

16. Peanut Butter

There are 65 grams of protein in 1 cup of peanut butter. Nuts and nut butters are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Where It Comes From

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellogg’s cereal) patented a process for creating peanut butter in 1895. He noted that it was a healthy protein substitute for patients without teeth.

How to Eat It

Spread it, blend it, bake it into cookies, roll it into balls with other high-protein ingredients, literally go nuts!

High-Protein Vegan Foods

While it is important to be cognizant of the protein and amino acids often missing from a vegan diet, these vegan sources of protein show that removing animal products from your diet isn’t a loss. Instead, it’s a healthy alternative that leads to a rich variety of plant-based foods.

The Osteoarthritis Diet: Best Foods and Supplements for Osteoarthritis

About 30 million Americans suffer from painful osteoarthritis. Check out these best and worst foods for osteoarthritis. The osteoarthritis diet even is known to assist in osteoarthritis prevention.

When nothing else works, change your diet. It’s true for lots of chronic illnesses, but maybe arthritis isn’t one you think can be improved simply by changing your diet. Research tells us otherwise. In fact, there’s even a however controversial “osteoarthritis diet.” Several of them, actually, depending on where you look.

In one clinical trial, for example, a Cretan Mediterranean diet showed a “significant improvement in pain” over 12 weeks among patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The research, published in BMC Nutrition Journal, followed 56 people randomized to a control diet or a diet of vegetables, fruit, and olive oil.

A study published in the journal Arthritis heralded the benefits of a whole-foods plant-based diet for osteoarthritis prevention and pain relief. The study of 40 patients with osteoarthritis randomized either to a control diet or a whole-foods plant-based diet showed significant improvements in pain on this osteoarthritis diet in as little as 2 weeks.

Osteoarthritis (OA) comes from normal wear and tear on your joints. About 30 million Americans suffer from painful osteoarthritis. Joints become inflamed when cartilage is worn down or wore out, causing bone-on-bone friction. It can be difficult to find relief.

Check out these best foods for osteoarthritis and worst foods for osteoarthritis. The osteoarthritis diet even is known to assist in osteoarthritis prevention and can help keep other chronic diseases, including heart disease, at bay.

Best Foods for Osteoarthritis Prevention

Some suggestions of best foods for osteoarthritis prevention from Harvard Women’s Health Watch include:

Check out these best foods for osteoarthritis, and worst foods for osteoarthritis. The osteoarthritis diet even is known to assist in osteoarthritis prevention.

  1. Omega-3 rich fish: Oily fish such as sardines, tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines help to ease arthritis pain with anti-inflammatory effects courtesy of their omega-3 fatty acids. If you adhere to a plant-based diet, then you can get your anti-inflammatory omega-3s from flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
  2. Healthful oils: Did you know olive oil contains a compound that has comparable properties of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that help to soothe OA pain? Avocado oil is always a great choice, and an esteemed cholesterol fighter.
  3. Dairy products: If you can tolerate dairy, then add it to your osteoarthritis diet. Full-fat dairy is concentrated with calcium and vitamin D for bone strength and to help ease osteoarthritis symptoms.
  4. Leafy greens: Dark green veggies are some of the best sources of vitamin D, antioxidants, and potent phytochemicals that can help suppress infection and boost calcium absorption. Eat your fill of collard greens, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard.
  5. Broccoli: This cruciferous star contains sulforaphane that is thought to help inhibit the progression of osteoarthritis. Broccoli also provides a healthful helping of calcium, vitamin K, and vitamin C.
  6. Green tea: This polyphenol-packed tea makes the list once again, with powerful anti-inflammatory constituents that help to keep cartilage from deteriorating.
  7. Garlic: A compound in garlic called diallyl disulfide is thought to help protect cartilage from damage.
  8. Nuts: Heart-healthy and immune-supportive nuts are full of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), magnesium, zinc, calcium, vitamin E, and fiber.

Worst Foods for Osteoarthritis

When making dietary changes to ease your osteoarthritis pain and protect your joint health, consider avoiding the following inflammatory foods.

Check out these best foods for osteoarthritis, and worst foods for osteoarthritis. The osteoarthritis diet even is known to assist in osteoarthritis prevention.

  1. Sugar: No surprise here, refined sugars that lurk in desserts such as cakes, pies, and cookies can exacerbate inflammation and cause your joints to feel even worse.
  2. Salt: We aren’t dissing sodium, it’s an important and necessary mineral! But too much can cause swelling and inflammation that can further damage joints. Swap out the salt for garlic and pepper.
  3. Fatty, fried foods: Saturated fats baked in batter inflame your body, including your joints, and can elevate cholesterol levels, which have been shown to contribute to osteoarthritis.
  4. Refined wheat products: Foodstuffs made from white flour and refined grains like pastas sound the inflammation alarm. Instead, eat foods made with whole grains, and if you are at all gluten sensitive, choose gluten-free alternatives.
  5. Omega-6 rich foods: Omega-6 is an essential fatty acid, but when we eat too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3, the body’s inflammatory response is stimulated. So, go easy on the egg yolks and red meat, and up your intake of omega-3s to balance the 6:3 ratio.
  6. Dairy: While dairy can be helpful for some arthritis sufferers, it activates inflammation in others. If you notice your arthritis symptoms are worse after consuming dairy, swap out the cow’s milk for almond or hemp milk.
  7. Alcohol: Alcohol, particularly beer, is highly concentrated in purine that can cause symptom flare-ups.

Obesity’s Impact on Osteoarthritis

Consider what obesity does to someone with arthritis—even more weight on those aching joints. Then, toss in so many other variables a person with arthritis may be living with and you can see why every effort should be made to reduce body weight if you are obese.

In addition, many people with osteoarthritis have a co-occurring debilitating condition, such as diabetes, which is hampered even further by obesity.

“In those overweight, weight reduction of 10% has the potential to lead to important changes in pain and inflammation,” reported researchers in a 2015 paper published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

How to Avoid Gaining Weight

Obesity does not result from eating specific foods. For example, we are constantly told to avoid sugar. While it is certainly a good idea to watch your sugar intake, it is a myth that sugar causes obesity—lots of people who eat candy and sugary beverages are not overweight. The same is true with other food products that have become demonized, such as french fries and red meat.

The key is not so much what types of foods to avoid, as much as it is to base your diet on high-quality protein, including meat, soluble fiber, and fruits and vegetables, with only a limited amount of sugary food products and fried foods such as french fries. There is nothing very magical or complicated about maintaining a healthy weight—it is a matter of healthy eating and matching the calories you eat with the amount of energy you expend.

How to Lose Weight Effectively

Bookstores, Amazon, and the Internet are filled with different approaches for weight loss. The fact is that any diet will enable you to lose weight if you eat fewer calories than you expend. The main (and often missing) factor in weight loss is how to lose weight without losing your muscles. This can only be accomplished by consuming a low-calorie diet composed largely of protein food products, and even high protein intake will probably not be sufficient to maintain muscle mass. Taking a dietary supplement of essential amino acids will help you maintain muscle mass and function while losing body fat on a low-calorie diet. Click here to learn more about essential amino acid support during weight loss.

Best Supplements for Arthritis

Nutritional supplements can bolster the nutritive support of anti-arthritis foods. And let’s be honest, not every food on the list is going to appeal to your taste buds. Three nutraceuticals in particular can help possibly prevent and slow osteoarthritis disease progression.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin is one of the best supplements for arthritis, as it is essential to strong bone health. According to the Arthritis Foundation, if you have arthritis, your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid, making it even more important for you to boost your IUs of vitamin D with supplement support. Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University researchers discovered that patients on steroids were 2 times more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency.

Fish Oil Supplements

Omega-3s work by blocking chemicals called cytokines and prostaglandins that cause inflammation. Instead, the body converts these compounds into inflammation fighters. Omega-3 fatty acids are what make oily fish such a great food choice for people living with osteoarthritis. Coldwater fish such as salmon and super seeds such as chia seeds help boost your intake of essential omega-3s, but you can also supplement with a fish oil to optimize your anti-inflammatory diet.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

These natural compounds make up our joint cartilage and often are used in tandem to treat joint pain. They are naturally occurring anti-inflammatory compounds with a reputation for inflammation fighting and are commonly taken as an osteoarthritis treatment.

Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids arginine, methionine, and cysteine all have been proven effective at reducing arthritis symptoms in laboratory animals. Essential amino acids can help to reduce the inflammation that causes joint pain.

What Do Amino Acids Do? Their Role in the Human Body

The main role of amino acids in the human body is as components of body proteins, but amino acids serve many additional functions. Certain amino acids serve as neurotransmitters. Others play a direct part in the regulation of blood flow and blood pressure. Amino acids also support immune function and detoxification!

We’ve all heard of amino acids, and most of us have probably even heard the term “essential amino acids” before. But how many of us have ever stopped to ask ourselves, what do amino acids do?

The term “amino acids” refers to a class of simple organic compounds whose members contain at least one amino group (–NH2) and one carboxyl group (–COOH). The word “amino” is a direct reference to the nitrogen (N) atom contained in the molecule. As such, the presence of nitrogen can be considered the defining characteristic of amino acids.

You may recall learning about the building blocks of protein in your high school biology class. But that’s actually a very accurate description of the role amino acids play in the body. Without them, protein would not be created and we would not be here discussing this topic at all.

But how exactly is this feat of protein synthesis accomplished?

Protein Synthesis (and Breakdown)

Your body uses amino acids in a number of different ways, but amino acids are most closely associated with the process of protein synthesis, whereby our cells generate new proteins.

There are actually more than 300 common amino acids, but only 20 of these are incorporated into body proteins. And of these 20 different amino acids, 9 are considered essential because they are not synthesized in the body and must be obtained through dietary sources.

Proteins are actually made up of long chains of amino acids. And even though 20 amino acids may not seem like very many, the body can actually put these 20 amino acids together in seemingly endless combinations, creating literally thousands of different proteins.

In fact, amino acids are so important that essential amino acids (EAAs) are the only dietary macronutrients (nutrients required in large amounts) that must be consumed for survival.

Let that bit of information just sink in for a moment.

Believe it or not, after infancy, we can survive without any carbohydrates at all for the rest of our lives, and we can last 6 months or more without any fats. But our bodies don’t have the ability to store proteins. And since our cells need proteins to function, without amino acids, we wouldn’t survive for long.

Because the body needs proteins to function, these same proteins will eventually be broken down as they’re used by the cells. Amino acids thus play a further role in maintaining the balance between this breakdown and synthesis of new proteins.

Here’s how this process works.

In the process of protein breakdown, amino acids are released. These amino acids can then become precursors for the synthesis of new proteins. However, some of the amino acids released as byproducts of protein breakdown will be irreversibly oxidized (chemically combined with oxygen), making them unavailable for reincorporation into new proteins.

Nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) help produce new proteins so that the rates of protein breakdown and synthesis remain balanced. These particular amino acids are produced by the body, so we don’t need to obtain them through dietary sources.

Most dietary proteins are also composed of at least 50% to 60% NEAAs, so in most circumstances, we consume more than enough NEAAs through the food we eat.

By contrast, EAAs can only be obtained from the diet. So, if our diets are lacking in plenty of healthy whole foods, unless we’re supplementing with a high-quality amino acid program for nutritive support, we probably won’t be getting enough EAAs.

And this will result in a progressive loss of protein because the balance between protein synthesis and protein breakdown will be lost, with the rate of breakdown outpacing the rate of synthesis.

To avoid this imbalance and ensure our bodies have access to a steady supply of EAAs, we need to be sure we’re including plenty of protein sources in our diets. Some great sources of EAAs include:

Meat Quinoa Lentils
Poultry Pumpkin seeds Beans
Eggs Whole grains Nuts
Dairy products Tofu Seeds

Amino Acids and Muscles

If we’re not giving our bodies the fuel they crave, one of the first areas we may notice the imbalance is in our muscles.

In other words, without the amino acids the body needs for muscle tissue growth, maintenance, and repair, muscle mass will be lost and exercise performance—and even basic functioning—will suffer.

Let’s break this down and see why amino acids are so important for muscle health.

Muscle Growth and Repair

As we stated earlier, if the balance between protein synthesis and breakdown is tilted in favor of protein breakdown, the amount of protein in the body will decrease.

For muscles, less protein being synthesized means less muscle growth and more muscle breakdown.

Muscles are also the main reservoir of amino acids in the body. If the daily intake of amino acids can’t keep up with the demands of protein synthesis, your muscles will actually release some of their amino acids for use by other parts of the body.

Over time, this emphasis on protein turnover instead of protein synthesis can have implications for everything from exercise performance to maintenance of activities of daily living.

To correct this imbalance and, indeed, shift the focus heavily toward muscle protein synthesis, the world of bodybuilders and endurance athletes has long been interested in the benefits of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs.

The BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—are touted by fitness junkies for their ability to preserve muscle stores of glycogen (the primary fuel used by muscles during exercise), minimize protein breakdown during exercise, and reduce post-workout muscle soreness and muscle recovery.

On the face of it, that does sound great.

However, as we’ve learned, muscle protein synthesis involves all 20 amino acids working together—linking together—in specific ways to build the protein our bodies need.

If any single EAA is in short supply, protein synthesis will stop as soon as we’ve exhausted its supply. The amino acid in shortest supply during protein synthesis is therefore known as the limiting amino acid.

Making a complete protein requires sufficient quantities of each of the 20 amino acids. Therefore, there is no single best amino acid or group of amino acids for both muscle growth and muscle repair, as the body needs all of them to produce protein.

However, balanced formulations of essential amino acid supplements that emphasize specific amino acids to target specific areas can be helpful.

Amino Acids for Complete Health and Wellness

With all this focus on protein synthesis, we may have given you the impression that that’s all amino acids do. But that would be far from the truth.

In fact, amino acids are involved in an array of processes that go far beyond their role as building blocks of proteins.

For example, certain amino acids serve as neurotransmitters or precursors for the production of other neurotransmitters, and thus help balance our moods and minds.

Amino acids also play a direct role in the regulation of blood flow and blood pressure and the production of nitric oxide—a potent vasodilator affecting everything from cardiovascular to brain health.

In addition, amino acids support immune function, serve as antioxidants, and promote detoxification of harmful substances in the liver.

As you can see, there are many benefits of amino acids, from building muscle to regulating blood flow to detoxifying the body. So, if somebody ever asks you, what do amino acids do? don’t be shy. You now have an answer for them.