Fatty Liver Diet: How to Help Reverse Fatty Liver Disease

These 10 foods are central to the fatty liver diet, with science backing up what they can do to reverse fatty liver disease, decrease liver fat buildup, and protect your liver cells from damage.

Liver disease comes in two major types: alcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. About a third of American adults are affected by fatty liver disease, and it’s one of the primary contributors to liver failure in the Western world. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is often associated with obesity and is frequently caused by highly processed food diets and a sedentary lifestyle. Treating fatty liver disease by eating a fatty liver diet can help reduce the amount of unhealthy fats in your food and restore your liver to its optimal functioning so that it can go on producing digestive bile and detoxing the body.

Top 10 fatty liver diet foods.

Top 10 Foods for the Fatty Liver Diet

A fatty liver diet includes high-fiber plant foods like whole grains and legumes, very low amounts of salt, sugar, trans fat, saturated fat, and refined carbs, absolutely no alcohol, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eating a low-fat diet like this goes a long way in helping you lose weight, another factor in fatty liver disease. Reducing body fat and consuming less dietary fat help reverse fatty liver disease before it leads to dire health consequences, so consider these top 10 foods to be part of a fatty liver cure.

Top 10 fatty liver diet foods.

1. Green Vegetables

Eating green veggies like broccoli, spinach, kale, Brussel sprouts, etc. can help prevent fat buildup in your liver. Broccoli, for example, has been shown to prevent liver fat buildup in mice models, and eating a diet full of green leafy vegetables is well-known for helping to encourage weight loss and better overall health. Try this recipe for Tuscan Vegetable Soup from LiverSupport.com to find out just how tasty vegetables can be when you include them in your diet.

2. Fish

Fatty fish like trout, salmon, tuna, and sardines are not bad for you just because they’re fatty—healthy fats make a world of difference. Fatty fish contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which can actually improve your liver fat levels and reduce liver inflammation. Check out another low-fat recipe from LiverSupport.com for Cornmeal and Flax-Crusted Cod or Snapper to get an idea for fish dishes that could improve your health.

3. Walnuts

Walnuts are also a good source of healthy fat full of omega-3 fatty acids just like fish. Research confirms that including walnuts in one’s diet helps treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, improving liver function tests and bettering the health of patients.

4. Milk and Dairy

Low-fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt contain whey protein, which is not only a popular supplement for muscle growth among bodybuilders, but has also been shown to protect liver cells from damage sustained due to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, according to this 2011 animal-based study.

5. Olive Oil

A staple of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is full of omega-3 fatty acids and can be used in cooking to replace butter, shortening, or margarine for much healthier meals. Olive oil can help bring down your liver enzyme levels and body weight. Start cooking with olive oil with this recipe for a Healthy Mixed Vegetable Stir-Fry.

6. Green Tea

The science behind green tea is extraordinary, leading researchers to believe that it can literally help you live longer. Studies support the conclusion that green tea can help enhance liver function and decrease liver fat storage as well.

7. Coffee

Speaking of beverages, coffee can help lower high liver enzymes. The Mayo Clinic points out that studies have found coffee drinkers with fatty liver disease experience less liver damage than those who don’t drink any caffeine at all, and further studies show that the amount of abnormal liver enzymes in those at risk for liver disease can be reduced by caffeine intake. If you were ever looking for an excuse to drink more coffee, now you have a really good reason.

8. Tofu

Soy protein like the kind found in tofu has been found to reduce fat buildup in the liver. Not only that, tofu and other soy products provide a plant-based protein that can help other areas of your health when eaten regularly, including reducing the risk of heart disease.

9. Oatmeal

Whole grains like oatmeal help lower blood sugar spikes and other risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes and also contribute to weight-loss efforts and improve your liver health and function. Including oatmeal as part of a healthy diet can aid your digestive health as well. Check out these various oatmeal recipes from Yumma at FeelGoodFoodie.

10. Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are full of vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help fight off free radical damage in the body and protect the liver. This 2016 review of studies details vitamin E’s ability to protect the liver and avoid the development of liver cancer. A regular habit of snacking on sunflower seeds may just help save your life.

Fatty Liver Foods to Avoid

Now that you have some idea of what you should eat to combat fatty liver disease, let’s quickly review the foods that should be avoided.

  • Alcohol: It may seem obvious, but if your liver is at all compromised, alcohol is too dangerous to consume.
  • Fried foods: High in calories and trans fats, commercially fried foods should be avoided (if you love fried foods too much to say goodbye, try an air fryer instead as a healthy alternative).
  • Salt: Bad for your blood pressure and for water retention, try to keep salt intake under 1,500 milligrams each day.
  • Added sugars: Added and refined sugars in prepackaged products like cookies, candies, sodas, and fruit juices spike your blood pressure and contribute to fatty liver buildup.
  • White bread, pasta, and rice: White instead of brown or whole grain carbs are highly processed and stripped of their valuable nutrients, so they can raise your blood sugar without even contributing healthy fiber—hard pass.
  • Red meat: While fish and lean meat like poultry can help you gain muscle and lose excess fat (which leads to a healthier weight), red meat should be avoided.

Other Ways to Fight Fatty Liver Disease

In the hopes of avoiding chronic liver disease or even a liver transplant, first seek medical advice from a trusted health care professional to get blood tests done and evaluate your specific circumstances. Then, outside of perfecting your diet, these other avenues can help:

  • Lower your cholesterol levels. An improved diet will go a long way toward lowering your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but so can medications or (if you prefer) natural remedies for optimizing your cholesterol ratios.
  • Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day makes a massive difference in your health and your energy levels.
  • Prevent/manage type 2 diabetes. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes often go hand-in-hand. If you’re prediabetic, making the above lifestyle changes could help you avoid the chronic condition that is diabetes. If you already have diabetes, staying on top of managing the disease can help you avoid a number of other painful health conditions and adverse results.

Livers for Life

Incorporating the 10 foods listed above into your diet and replacing unhealthy foods with better alternatives can help you lose weight and better the health of your liver before it’s too late.

Should You Supplement with the Amino Acid GABA?

Discover the science behind GABA supplements, what this neurotransmitter does, and whether or not it’s effective in treating stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, and anxiety disorders. 

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter in our brains. Low GABA levels are known to be associated with movement and anxiety disorders, so some people will take GABA supplements to help improve the function of their minds and central nervous systems. Read on to find out how GABA works, and whether or not it may be appropriate for you.

What Is GABA? How Does GABA Work? Where Can You Find It?

GABA is classified as an inhibitory neurotransmitter due to its ability to block certain signals in the brain. GABA decreases activity in the central nervous system and binds with proteins in the brain known as GABA receptors, which creates a calming effect that helps ameliorate feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. GABA may also help prevent seizures.

Because of these abilities, GABA has become a popular dietary supplement.

For those who want to know how to increase GABA naturally, GABA is found in oolong, black, and green tea, and fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and tempeh. GABA production can be boosted by other foods, including nuts like almonds and walnuts, seafood like halibut and shrimp, whole grains, soy, beans, sunflower seeds, spinach, broccoli, fava, tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries, and cocoa.

Who Should Take GABA Supplements?

The reason people take GABA supplements is to get better access to its calming influence on the brain. GABA supplements are thought to relieve stress, and in so doing improve your overall health, because excess stress can lead to a weakened immune system, poor sleep quality, and a higher risk for anxiety and depression. There are also some health conditions that are associated with lower levels of GABA, so if you have any of the following health concerns, then GABA supplementation may be good for you.

People may need more GABA if they have:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Panic disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Movement disorders (including Parkinson’s disease)
  • Seizure disorders

Consult a qualified health care professional if you’re on any other medications for these conditions, and ask your doctor if GABA supplements could help manage some of the symptoms associated with these disorders. If you’re considering taking a GABA supplement, read on to find out how upping your intake of GABA affects your brain cells and may help improve your quality of life.

The science behind GABA supplements.

Are GABA Supplements Effective?

Even when supplementing with GABA, research suggests that only small amounts actually make it past the blood-brain barrier and reach your nerve cells. However, when it comes to some of the following uses of GABA, every little bit can count. Here is what the scientific research has to say about the effect of GABA on the human body.

GABA for Anxiety and Depression

This 2003 review on GABA usage for anxiety asserts that GABA is known to counterbalance the affect of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, and plays a role in multiple neurobiological interactions that are relevant to those with anxiety disorders. It supports the use of GABAergic agents in treating anxiety, as does this 2012 article on the GABA system in anxiety and depression cases, which also points out that certain GABAA receptor modulators and GABAB antagonists could serve as potential antidepressants.

GABA for Insomnia

One small study from 2018 tested GABA on participants with insomnia and found that 300 milligrams of GABA taken an hour before going to sleep resulted in reports of people falling asleep faster and noting improved sleep quality in the first 4 weeks after starting GABA treatment. Though there were only 40 participants, these results suggest that effects of GABA supplements in humans may beneficially impact sleep habits.

GABA for High Blood Pressure

There are many studies that have evaluated GABA-containing products and their effectiveness at lowering blood pressure. A 2003 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming fermented milk with GABA helped significantly lower blood pressure levels in participants with elevated blood pressure in 2-4 weeks (compared to the placebo group). And a 2009 study revealed that consuming a GABA-containing chlorella supplement 2 times a day lowered the blood pressure of subjects with borderline hypertension.

GABA for Stress and Fatigue

In 2011 Japanese researchers found that consuming a beverage with either 25 or 50 milligrams of GABA resulted in reduced measurements of physical and mental fatigue during problem-solving tasks, with the higher dose being slightly more effective.

A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition showed that consuming chocolate containing 28 milligrams of GABA also reduced stress in participants as they performed a problem-solving test. Yet again in 2012, capsules with 100 milligrams of GABA led to reduced stress during the performance of a mental task. While these are small studies, they nevertheless appear to consistently show that GABA helps reduce stress and fatigue in human beings.

The Potential Side Effects of GABA Supplements

Though the side effects of GABA have not been specifically studied, there have been some reported side effects from people taking GABA supplements, including:

  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Upset stomach

Since GABA appears to be useful in treating insomnia, it can cause feelings of sleepiness and shouldn’t be taken before driving or operating heavy machinery until you’re aware of how it affects you in whatever dosage you’re consuming it at.

There is also very little research done on GABA’s interaction potential with other supplements or medications, so it’s recommended that you seek medical advice if you’re currently taking any medication, particularly for insomnia, anxiety, or depression, and make sure that your doctor is aware of this or any other herb, supplement, or over-the-counter drug you’re consuming.

Go Gaga for GABA

GABA is a natural part of our body’s function, and plays an important role as a chemical messenger in our brains. Though the research on GABA as a supplement is somewhat skimpy, there are scientifically founded indications that it may help reduce anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, and insomnia.

It’s not just “supplements or bust” with GABA however, as practicing yoga can also lead to an increase of GABA levels, up to 27%! With a little yoga, some fermented foods, and the right GABA supplement, you could have all the bases covered when it comes to reducing the symptoms of certain dangerous medical conditions, and getting your brain in the right frame of mind.

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.

Foods That Are High in Arginine

Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Explore its many functions, as well as which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine (also called L-arginine) is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in our bodies. Essential amino acids must come from our food sources or from ingesting a supplement, but conditionally or semi-essential amino acids are on the edge. Arginine, for example, is essential during our early years of childhood growth, but is usually nonessential in normally functioning healthy adults. However, because arginine is so valuable for so many processes in the body, foods high in arginine can help shore up your stores, and may be even more important in certain medical circumstances.

This article will explore what arginine does in the human body, who could use more of it, and which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine: Its Role in the Body

Here are some of the health benefits that might result from an extra intake of arginine. Research is still being conducted on this amino acid and how supplementing or concentrating it might help treat certain conditions, and so far the results look promising.

Blood and Heart Health

Arginine supplements are used to treat conditions such as excessive inflammation and chronic migraines. Arginine creates nitric oxide, which relaxes our blood vessels, improves blood flow, and therefore brings cardiovascular aid for certain people and conditions. For example, those with peripheral arterial disease, angina, heart disease, and even erectile dysfunction can find benefit from increased arginine. Arginine is also associated with shortening post-surgery recovery time and helps heal injuries.

The Immune System

Studies are beginning to show arginine’s immune-boosting effects, particularly with modulating some symptoms of herpes (flare-ups) and HIV (excessive weight loss), and there have even been correlations shown between low circulating arginine and cases of trauma and cancer. Though more research is needed, it’s a valuable discovery to know that arginine is often missing when the body is experiencing traumatic events.

Kidney Functioning

Not only is arginine helpful in assisting kidney function after transplantation, but it also appears to reduce kidney inflammation. Arginine is often studied in relation to kidney functioning to try to isolate which conditions it helps best and whether or not there’s any potential harm from enhanced levels of arginine. As a natural player on the body’s chemical stage, it’s a particularly safe facet to explore.

The Research Continues

Arginine has been studied in the contexts of helping diabetes, obesity, male fertility, hypertension, dementia, and cancer, and the research goes on still. Scientists and doctors work to pinpoint the best application of arginine treatment and to better define its powers of influence. As a naturally created amino acid that helps us grow and keeps our bodies functioning, it’s a promising reserve for testing.

Foods High in Arginine

Short of supplementation, you can always get arginine from certain natural food sources. So which foods are arginine foods, and are they easy to incorporate in your diet? Short answer to that last question: yes, these arginine-rich foods will be easy to find and to eat (you’ve surely tried a few if not all of them already). As for which foods you should eat more of if you want to up your arginine content? Take a look at the list of foods below and start thinking about which ones you’d like to incorporate into your diet as well as your dietary intake.

Foods high in the amino acid arginine.

Turkey

Since arginine is derived in the body from protein, any high-protein food will help, but turkey breast in particular has such a substantial amount of arginine that it’s considered the best source around. With a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins to boot, one cooked turkey breast provides 16 grams of arginine.

Sunflower Seeds

Seeds and nuts have a fair amount of arginine, with sunflower and sesame seeds both contributing 2.4 grams of arginine per 100 grams of seeds. While they’re a tad low in arginine, they definitely make up in balance by providing a high amount of the essential amino acid lysine along with your arginine intake, so you don’t run the risk of overbalancing. Lysine helps absorb any excess of arginine, and will act as a check on keeping your amount of arginine within its optimal healthy levels.

Pork Loin

Another high-protein food, and with it comes another high contribution to your arginine content. Pork loin is one of the leaner cuts of pork you can get, so you’re not sacrificing one aspect of your health to favor another (balance is always key). Pork loin has 14 grams of arginine per rib, just second under the above-listed turkey breast.

Pumpkin Seeds

What did we say above about seeds, that some aren’t that impressive in the arginine department? Well, here’s an even better option then: a cup of pumpkin seeds can give you nearly 7 grams of arginine, as well as the minerals zinc and iron. Pumpkin seeds are easy to snack on and a great arginine-rich food for vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat animal products. Plus, they’re trail-mix-worthy and can be flavored sweet or salty depending on your taste.

Chicken

Chicken is a staple of a diet rich in protein and low in fat. One chicken breast can contain up to 9 grams of arginine and can be combined easily with other potent sources of vitamins and minerals like beans and vegetables in meals and stews.

Chickpeas

Another kind of chick, this time chickpeas, or as they’re also known, garbanzo beans, offer up fiber and protein (especially for those who don’t eat meat). A single cooked cup of chickpeas has at least 12 grams of fiber, over 14 grams of protein, and 1.3 grams of arginine. Enjoy it as hummus and know that it’s providing you with that little boost of arginine you’re looking for.

Peanuts

With vitamin E, vitamin B3, niacin, and folate, a cup of peanuts also gives you over 4 grams of arginine. Pine nuts, too, contain over 3 grams of arginine per cup, and a good helping of mixed nuts will almost certainly give you a fair amount of arginine, as there are levels of arginine in almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans. Go nuts with nuts if you’re looking for foods high in arginine. Be squirrelly with them!

Soybeans

Another great protein and arginine source for non-meat eaters, soybeans and other soy products like tofu and tempeh provide potassium and magnesium. Soybeans specifically come with 4.6 grams of arginine per cup, and soybeans are also loaded with lysine for help balancing arginine.

Spirulina

Derived from a seawater blue-green algae, spirulina can be purchased in powdered form and added for its nutrients to smoothies and other foods. A cup of spirulina contains 4.6 grams of arginine, as well as iron, niacin, calcium, and potassium. You’ll probably use spirulina sparingly, but when you do know that it brings you that much more arginine along with its other nutrients.

Lentils

Another great vegetarian/vegan source of protein and fiber, arginine can be found in lentils up to 1.3 grams per cup, with lysine again to pack a double punch of amino acid intake. Lentils also pair excellently with the meats on this list for the carnivores who are interested—there’s an arginine-rich meal in the making here.

Dairy Products

Dairy products are sources of protein and thus arginine too. Just 4 ounces of cheddar cheese has a small amount of arginine, 0.25 grams, and a cup of milk has 0.2 grams, just a little bit more arginine for your effort. Some good news: if your dairy is coming in the form of ice cream, chocolate syrup has 0.9 grams of arginine per 100 grams, so add a little of it on top, or have some chocolate milk while you’re at it, and know that you’re getting some arginine there too.

Watermelon Seeds

We’ve saved the most curious for last: though most of us spit out or avoid the seeds in our watermelons, they contain over 5 grams of arginine per cup, so feel free to swallow them knowing they’re doing you no harm and also bringing you a little bit good—you can’t lose!

Arginine Foods and You

The value of gaining more arginine from foods is that it’s as natural as the healthy production of arginine within us. Not only is arginine deficiency blessedly low due to its levels in our food, but if you’re gaining a bit more of it through dietary intake, you’re not very likely to get too much of it either. With evidence showing arginine helps blood flow and heart health along with the immune response to cancer, it’s a natural amino acid to value and desire.

However: do remember that if you’re looking for even more arginine in supplement form (as with any sort of dietary supplement), it’s important not to go overboard. Too much of any one vitamin, mineral, or amino acid might have the unwanted effect of overtaxing a specific part of the body. Whether it’s by causing an excessive clean-up in the liver or kidneys, or overwhelming the other chemicals in the body that your chosen one works in concert with, you don’t want to throw yourself off kilter.

Look into well-rounded multivitamins or comprehensive essential amino acid blends that offer a measured balance of your body’s needs. Extremely high levels of arginine are no more desirable than low levels of arginine. Instead, what’s important is to have a healthy arginine ratio in the body that will meet your needs but not overwhelm your system. Eat well, supplement well, and prosper!

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.

Best Amino Acids for the Ketogenic Diet: Which Ketogenic Amino Acids Should You Be Eating?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. The core question: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. Beginners at dieting often attempt to lose weight with short-term crash diets, which put the body in starvation mode and cause it to stockpile more fat as soon as possible (an evolutionary protection against times of famine). Conversely, the ketogenic diet puts the body into more of a sustainability mode, a stable way to reduce and optimize calorie intake, while focusing on foods that provide the essential amino acids for the ketogenic conversion of fat into energy.

So which ketogenic amino acids should you be eating, and where can you find them?

Amino Acids: the Fat Burning, the Sugar Forming, and the Switch Hitters

The building blocks of protein, amino acids can be categorized as exclusively ketogenic, exclusively glucogenic, or like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: radically both. This is based on the end products produced during amino acid metabolism.

Essential amino acids for the ketogenic diet.

As you can see, the predominant category is the glucogenic group, with 13 amino acids. The carbon skeletons that result from the breakdown of glucogenic amino acids can be used via gluconeogenesis to synthesize glucose, simple sugar and an important energy source found in many carbohydrates. These are not the amino acids that will derive energy from your body’s pre-existing fat stores.

The second largest category contains five amino acids, the switch hitters that when catabolized can yield both glucogenic and ketogenic products.

Exclusively ketogenic amino acids are just that: exclusive. Lysine and leucine are the only two amino acids that produce Acetyl CoA or Acetoacetyl CoA without any glucogenic byproducts.

Acetyl CoA (the precursor of ketone bodies) and Acetoacetyl CoA are the first steps of the Krebs Cycle of energy production, which combines glycolysis and pyruvate oxidation with the citric acid cycle (which itself includes α-ketoglutarate, succinyl CoA, fumarate, and oxaloacetate—all byproducts of glucogenic amino acids). To access citrate synthase, the catalyst of this cycle, without glucose or carbohydrates is the value of ketogenic amino acids: it’s like buying the product you need without bringing home any unnecessary or harmful packaging around it.

Acid Eater: the Amino Acids Essential to a Ketogenic Diet

Classes of amino acids can be further categorized as essential vs. nonessential, essential being the ones you must eat to obtain, and nonessential being those that naturally occur in the body, and are not reliant on the food you eat.

Nonessential amino acids:

  • Asparagine
  • Alanine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Aspartic acid

Essential amino acids:

  • Histidine
  • Valine
  • Methionine
  • Isoleucine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

You may have noticed those last two are the exclusively ketogenic amino acids, meaning they only come from sources outside the body. Likewise, four out of five of the switch hitter or versatile amino acids are on this essential list as well, excluding only tyrosine, a conditional essential, as it’s derived from phenylalanine (which is itself essential). Regardless of that particular debate, the core question remains: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The Key Ingredients to Ketogenesis

Intro 101 of the keto diet is to go deeper when dieting, to the cellular level of biological sciences. This is more advanced than the grocery aisle surface choices people often make between low-carb and no-sugar-added options. It’s important to remember that the colorful labeling on the front of food packages can often be subjective. It’s better to know how to read the nutrition label with a keen (keto) eye.

Better yet, know what basic foods have the ketogenic keys to turn fatty acids into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies will then provide energy from your fat stores, without adding carbohydrates, and without impacting insulin or blood sugar levels. Here are where the six essential ketogenic amino acids reside.

1. Isoleucine

Along with leucine and valine (glucogenic), isoleucine is an isomer (isolated form) of leucine that is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), all of which help to promote post-exercise muscle recovery. Involved in hemoglobin production, isoleucine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, fish, and eggs
  • Dairy, particularly cottage cheese
  • Seeds, grains, nuts, and beans including almonds, brown rice, cashews, lentils, and chia seeds

2. Phenylalanine

The source of tyrosine and one of the aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine is used in the biosynthesis of norepinephrine, dopamine, and thyroid hormones (huge players when it comes to mental health). Possibly effective in treating mood disorders, phenylalanine is contained in:

  • Olives, figs, raisins, avocados, pumpkins, and most berries
  • Meat, chicken, fish, and eggs
  • Rice, beans, quinoa, and seeds
  • Spirulina, seaweed, and leafy greens

3. Threonine

An essential nutrient in the diet of vertebrates, threonine supports the central nervous system, along with the heart, liver, and immune system. A key component in the production of collagen, elastin, and muscle tissue, threonine can be gained from:

  • Beans, nuts, lentils, and quinoa
  • Lean beef, lamb, pork, and chicken/turkey
  • Seafood including shellfish, particularly salmon, whelks, cuttlefish, octopus
  • Seeds, including chia and hemp seeds
  • Raisins, figs, avocados, and pumpkin
  • Spirulina, watercress

4. Tryptophan

Needed for nitrogen balance, tryptophan is also used to produce melatonin (for regulating sleep and wakefulness), niacin, and serotonin, the neurotransmitter known as the “happy” chemical. Tryptophan can be found in:

  • Turkey (rather famously), as well as red meat, rabbit and goat meat, eggs, and fish
  • Milk and cheese, particularly reduced fat mozzarella
  • Pumpkin and squash seeds, along with chia, sesame, and sunflower seeds
  • Almonds, peanuts, bananas, and chocolate (ideal ingredients for a sundae)
  • Spirulina

5. Leucine

Another of the BCAAs, and one of the two exclusively ketogenic amino acids, leucine builds muscle by stimulating protein synthesis. It can be sourced from:

  • Nuts, peas, beans, seeds, and pumpkins
  • Chicken, beef, and pork
  • Seafood including tuna
  • Soybeans, whey protein, and plant proteins
  • Cheese, particularly Parmesan

6. Lysine

Necessary in the formation of collagen, connective tissue, and muscle growth and repair in the body, lysine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Beans, peas, almonds, cashews, and chia seeds
  • Spirulina, parsley
  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Whey protein

The Ketogenic Conclusion

You may have noticed some foods dominating the field; when it comes to essential amino acids for a ketogenic diet, where you find a good source of protein, you often find the ketogenic advantage. Donald K. Layman, Ph.D. along with Nancy R. Rodriguez, Ph.D. penned a paper for Nutrition Today titled “Egg Protein as a Source of Power, Strength, and Energy,” but in it pointed out that egg is not the only food that packs that much value. With so many high-yield proteins, any dietary practice—be it vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or allergy-restrictive—can still gain you the essential amino acids for perfecting your ketogenic journey if you’re diligent about ensuring your protein macros.

Your body is not so much a temple as a laboratory, a series of chemical reactions. Providing your body with the right ketogenic amino acids (instead of an overabundance of glucose precursors) sets you up for the ideal fat-burning catabolic pathways. This leads to healthy protein turnover for muscle growth, weight loss, and the energy to propel you forward.

Taking an essential amino acid supplement (which includes the ketogenic amino acids lysine and leucine) can help protect against any protein insufficiencies you may encounter while following dietary restrictions, such as the high-fat, moderate-protein requirements of the keto diet.

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.

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein? It May Just Be the Missing Link in Your Diet!

It can be hard for vegans and vegetarians to find complete proteins that meat and fish eaters source with ease. Enter Quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein that some hail as a supergrain.

Vegetarians, vegans, and even the meatless Monday crowd crave the same quality nutrition that the carnivore next door gets without breaking a sweat. Which leaves many of us wondering, is quinoa a complete protein? While it’s not difficult to get garden-variety nutrients in a plant-based diet, it can be a challenge to source the complete proteins found in animal products. Enter quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein source that some hail as a supergrain.

We need 20 amino acids in different combinations to create the proteins that fuel our cells and power our lives. For instance, your heart is made of 95% amino acids. But our bodies alone can only create 11 of them. The other nine essential amino acids must come from what we eat, and quinoa is one of the plant sources that supplies each of these “building blocks of life.”

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein?

Quinoa is technically not a grain, but a seed. Regardless of classification, it’s enjoyed much like other grain-based foods.

While most whole grains have some amino acids, they tend to lack the amino acid lysine or contain only trace amounts of it and don’t deliver enough protein to sustain our essential amino acid requirements. The amino acid profile of quinoa, however, can be considered complete.

Quinoa offers up a good amount of lysine and the other eight essential amino acids to help support our bodies’ amino acid needs. And research shows that the digestion of quinoa protein is comparable to that of other high-quality protein foods.

Here’s the possible catch: quinoa appears to be a high-quality protein, but that is in terms of quinoa protein isolate, which is actually of low quantity in quinoa seeds. The amino acid profile of quinoa is, for instance, significantly inferior to specially formulated essential amino acid mixtures. So, by all means, add quinoa to your diet to feed your body the essential amino acids it craves, but, if you are concerned that you aren’t meeting your protein needs, then consider supplementing with essential amino acids according to your nutritional needs.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?

The protein in quinoa far surpasses the protein content of its grainy competitors. Take incomplete proteins such as rice and barley, for example. One cup of quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, while brown rice has only 5 grams, and barley less than that at 3.5 grams.

Is quinoa a complete protein?

On par with rice and couscous, quinoa has a nutty taste with a slight toothsomeness. For a savory approach, some toss in bay leaves, thyme, garlic powder, and other herbs and spices, while the breakfast crowd might like it a bit sweeter, boiling it with milk, stirring in fruits and nuts with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. You can add quinoa to soups, salads, and stir-fries, or pop it like popcorn. Here are some recipes to try.

Harvest from an Ancient Table

A seed that comes to us courtesy of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, quinoa means “the mother grain” in its original South American tongue, and dates back thousands of years. It was also called  “The gold of the Incas” because, with a belly full, warriors as old as 50 had the fortitude to scale the Andes, fight amid the harsh terrain, and vanquish their enemies.

Though this superfood remained a secret tucked away in a distant land for millennia, word has gotten around. These days quinoa crops are sprouting up in North America, China, France, and India with production picking up in Africa and the Middle East. There are 1,800 types of quinoa in a rainbow of colors, but only a few made the leap to the U.S. The white variety is milder, while the red and black boast more nutrients. The harvested seeds of Chenopodium quinoa undergo processing to remove natural saponins, a bitter-tasting husk that acts as a natural pesticide to the maturing plant.

A Cornucopia of Nutritional Goodies

Apart from being one of the best sources of protein, quinoa has small amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids, is non-GMO, and is usually organically grown, which makes it a good find. Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took a selfie with her pouch of quinoa aboard the International Space Station. She chose this plant protein as one of her “bonus foods,” pairing it with mackerel. Quinoa’s also held in lofty esteem by NASA scientists, who’ve explored growing it in outer space, as it reproduces and stores well, while offering nutritional bang for the buck. Aside from protein, which supports muscle, hair, collagen, enzymes, and antibodies, and fiber that helps our bodies absorb nutrients, quinoa is a strong source of:

  • Manganese (58% of the RDA): A friend to the brain, nerves connective tissue, bones, blood, hormones, and metabolism.
  • Magnesium (30% of the RDA): Gets the biochemical party started and helps with energy production.
  • Phosphorous (28% of the RDA): Teams up with calcium to give strength and structure to bones and teeth.
  • Folate (19% of the RDA): A B vitamin that hooks up with your DNA chain and percolates other genetic material.
  • Copper (18% of the RDA): Links up with iron to help form red blood cells and keep blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones ticking like the Swiss.
  • Iron (15% of the RDA): Important for healthy blood and transfer of oxygen from lungs and tissues.
  • Zinc (13% of the RDA): Big on cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. If you can smell and taste, thank zinc.
  • Vitamins B1, B2, and B6 (more than 10% of the RDA): The Bs power energy level, brain function, and cell metabolism.
  • Potassium (9% of the RDA): Regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals. A diet rich in potassium may help reduce blood pressure and water retention, and help prevent stroke, osteoporosis, and kidney stones.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?

 

Fighting Disease Like an Incan Warrior

There’s a saying: Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. And while quinoa is mainly known for the ways it supports body function, it’s increasingly becoming appreciated—in the never-say-die spirit of its Incan ancestry—for its warrior-like attributes and health benefits.

Antioxidants? Check!

Quinoa ranks high in antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals are believed to contribute to aging and certain diseases. A study looked at antioxidant levels in five cereals, three pseudo-cereals, and two legumes, and found quinoa to have the highest antioxidant content of them all. When added to gluten-free goods, quinoa enhanced their polyphenol content, helping to stave off certain cancers, osteoporosis, and other unwanted health effects.

Quinoa May Boost Metabolism

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free breads and pastas significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels. And research with rats indicated that quinoa in a diet high in fructose almost completely inhibited the negative effects of the fructose.

Good for Low Glycemic Diets

The glycemic index measures how foods raise your blood-sugar levels. Foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and lead to overeating and obesity. Obesity can be a culprit in type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is considered low and can be an ally in blood sugar control.

Feel Fuller, Eat Less

Quinoa has been associated with weight loss by boosting metabolism and reducing appetite, possibly because its high-fiber content may increase feelings of fullness, causing one to eat less, though more research is needed to help scientists better understand quinoa’s effects on metabolism.

A Hedge Against Diabetes

Studies of Peruvian grains and legumes found that quinoa, its cousin kañiwa, and other traditional crops from Peru’s Andes have the potential to manage type 2 diabetes and associated hypertension.

Putting the Kibosh on Cholesterol

High in soluble fiber, quinoa can help bring down blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and increase a sense of fullness, which can, potentially, help with weight loss.

Highly Regarded, but No Halo

Quinoa attributes are undisputed, but even with a glycemic index of 53, it is somewhat high in carbs, and not as well-suited to a low-carb diet.

Another potential hitch is quinoa’s naturally occurring phytic acid, which can make it harder for the body to absorb all of its rich minerals. Soaking and/or sprouting the seed prior to cooking can reduce that effect. Other than that, though, it’s pretty hot stuff. In fact, leaders are looking at mass-produced quinoa as a way to feed the world as the effects of climate change take hold. Given its high level of genetic diversity, quinoa crops are highly resilient to extremes in soil, rainfall, temperature, and altitude, and tolerant to frost, drought, and salinity, according to a 2016 report.

So, if you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to up your protein intake and add some quinoa to the menu.