How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally

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

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

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

What Is Inflammation? Acute vs. Chronic

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to reduce inflammation naturally.

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

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

Lifestyle Choices and Therapies to Fight Inflammation

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

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

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

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

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

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

Foods to Eat

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

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

Foods to Avoid

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

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

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

Anti-Inflammatory Natural Supplements

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

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

Herbs and Spices

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

Flame Off

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

How to Speed up Healing: From Sunburns to Surgery Recovery

The wound healing process, much like our physical activity levels, tends to decline as we age. Here are some scientifically backed tips on the best ways to speed up healing, from minor cuts and scrapes around the home, to post-surgical recovery and muscle tissue rebuilding.

Whether you have a cut, a burn, or are healing from a surgical procedure, there are ways to help speed up healing and close your wounds faster. The wound healing process, much like our physical activity levels, tends to decline as we age. The older we get, the longer our healing time takes, leading in some instances to chronic wounds that never really go away. To speed up wound repair, here are some tips for helping your body along.

Speed up healing: from sunburns to surgery.

At-Home Healing: Small Wounds and Scar Reduction

When it comes to home remedies for wound care, there are a lot of old wives’ tales still around. Some of them make a certain amount of sense when considered scientifically, like waiting 30 minutes to swim after you eat may well help you avoid a minor cramp. However, not all of these folktales are true enough to keep repeating or insisting on. Not everyone will get a minor cramp if they swim after eating, and even if they do, it won’t cause them to drown. And yet still we wait, and tell children to wait, and keep the myth going.

When it comes to how to speed up wound healing, there are a lot of practices that don’t really apply. Some say leaving a wound open to dry in the air and “breathe” helps it heal faster, but that isn’t true if it’s now open to dirt and possible infection. To stop infection, many douse a wound in alcohol or peroxide—talk about pouring salt on a wound!

In truth, leaving a wound to dry out is not ideal, and can even slow healing and increase pain. Wounds need moisture to heal, and moist wound healing speeds up healing and reduces scarring. Here are some other tips on how to foster faster healing and reduce the risk of scarring.

1. Clean and Disinfect

Before touching a wound, wash your hands. When it comes to cleaning the wound, start with clear water and a clean cloth to remove any dirt or particles from the wound. If there are pieces of debris in a wound (your kid took a wipeout on their skateboard and has gravel embedded in the scrape, for example), use a pair of tweezers to remove them. The tweezers should be sterilized with some isopropyl alcohol, but alcohol is not advised directly on the open wound.

Instead, once the wound is clean, apply an antibiotic cream, ointment, or spray to the wound area, and make your call about what kind of bandage applies. If it’s an open wound like a wide scrape, a gauze and a wrap may be called for, but a cut on a finger might need only a bandaid to reduce the risk of infection and speed healing.

Remember not to pick at any scab that forms, because a scab is the body’s natural bandage.

2. Encourage Blood Flow

Nobody can heal you better than your own body, but there are ways to help it along. You’ll notice when you get a scrape or a bruise that the area seems to heat up. That’s because the body has dispatched its in-house medical team via your bloodstream.

To increase blood flow to the skin and surrounding area, you can apply a heating pad or hot water bottle, or place the wound area in some warm water for 15-30 minutes. It’s not a high-tech method but it does help, especially for wounds on your extremities (fingers, toes, arms, and legs) where your blood vessels are smaller, or for anyone with poor circulation, like the elderly.

If adding heat is uncomfortable, massaging the surrounding area is another way to usher blood to the site of injury.

3. Reduce Inflammation

After encouraging healthy blood flow, your wound may experience unhealthy inflammation. A burn that you got from pulling dinner out of the oven might feel like it’s still burning for days after, and you’ll want some kind of anti-inflammatory to help relieve the pain.

Many people think of the gel-like insides of the aloe vera plant for burns, and this is an age-old home remedy that actually works! Aloe vera is a succulent plant originally native to Africa that has a gooey substance in its leaves called mucilaginous juice, and while the plant is 99% water, it does have two chemicals within that improve wound healing.

According to researchers, many of the healing effects of aloe vera are due to the glycoproteins and polysaccharides present in the plant’s pulp. The polysaccharides increase cellular movement, leading to faster tissue regrowth, and the glycoproteins help relieve pain and control the inflammatory response. Together these compounds aid and possibly improve your immune system.

There is even more evidence out of a 2015 study that suggests there are further helpful compounds in aloe vera for cutaneous wounds (like sunburns). For instance, glucomannan stimulates the growth of fibroblasts responsible for collagen, skin cell, and tissue building. Other chemicals found in aloe vera may also help foster blood vessel regrowth, making it a fantastic, natural anti-inflammatory to have on hand for minor wound healing.

4. Get More Protein, Vitamins, and Nutrients

There are certain power foods that contain the nutrients your body needs to rebuild itself, including vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium. You’ll find these nutrients in dark green leafy vegetables and in orange, yellow, and red fruits and veggies (eat the rainbow!), like bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges, and more.

One of the biggest factors when it comes to tissue and wound healing though? Protein. Omega-3s come from fish along with fish’s protein content, and you can get an assortment of your essential amino acids from various meats and dairy products.

Amino acids are needed for wound healing, so if you’re not a meat-eater, you can increase your protein intake with certain vegetarian and vegan protein foods, or with an amino acid supplement while you heal.

How to Speed up Healing After Surgery

Outside of household and playground injuries, recovery after surgery is a whole different ball game. No matter where it is on the body or how good the chances for a speedy recovery are, surgery still carries a certain amount of risk, and so does surgical recovery. Once you’re sent home from your procedure, you’re going to want to heal as quickly and safely as possible. Here are some tips for how to do so.

1. Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions

While it’s true that no one knows your body quite like you do, doctors don’t give out suggestions willy-nilly. Their medical advice is based on data and research collected from all different kinds of patients over years and years of procedures.

If a doctor tells you to avoid activities for a specific amount of time after a procedure, it’s in your best interest to heed that advice. If you’re told to avoid driving, avoid sexual intercourse, avoid alcohol, or avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds for a couple of weeks, this is for your safety, and so you don’t end up back in their office with a new injury or complication. You may be feeling good enough to return to normal activity, and that’s great, it means your healing is right on course! And yet there may still be healing processes going on beneath your skin that need a little bit more time.

2. Eat the Right Recovery Foods

As true as it was for minor wounds, eating a nutrient-dense diet is even more important after a surgery, because you’re healing much deeper wounds. Although you may have a loss of appetite or digestive discomfort after a surgery, it’s important that you eat a healthy diet by any means necessary (broths, smoothies, amino acid powders), because certain foods are actually going to feed your recovery process.

Again, vitamin C and zinc can help with healing, and can be had from fruit and beans. Iron and vitamin B12 help in forming new blood cells and can be found in fish and eggs. Sports and sugary drinks should be avoided for the time being, as should refined sugar foods.

Protein is more important than ever, as many surgeries by nature involve cutting through tissue and muscle, and the amino acids in protein can help speed post-surgical recovery. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are all strong sources of protein, but if a doctor tells you to take a protein supplement, look for a comprehensive amino acid supplement. For recovering after surgery, you may need more protein than a normal diet or your appetite can provide, and supplementing may be a necessity.

3. Follow-up, Ask For Help, and Get Moving Gradually

Surgical recovery may take a while and involve follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and/or at-home assistance. During this time, it’s important to keep all appointments with your health care team, because a diagnostic such as bloodwork could alert your doctor to a problem before it becomes an infection. Likewise, physical therapy could help you correct something like a limp before it becomes a misalignment.

Asking for help from your family or your medical team may not be your usual tendency, but it is necessary and encouraged for the sake of a speedy and successful recovery. If problems are allowed to fester, you could end up back in the hospital or on bedrest, and in danger of new problems altogether, like muscle atrophy.

4. Don’t Smoke

This is a tip that may not apply to all, so if you don’t smoke or have never smoked, skip ahead. However, if you are a smoker or live with one, the effects of cigarette smoking can counteract your wound healing.

Nicotine tightens blood vessels, and the more constricted your blood vessels are, the harder it is for all the other recovery work you’re doing to matter. The nutrients you eat won’t be going to the right places, the muscle you’re building takes longer to thrive, your wounds take longer to heal, and more carcinogens and harmful substances are coming in at the same time. If you’ve ever wanted to quit smoking, after a surgery it’s more important than ever, and can make even more of a positive health impact.

The Need for Speed

Some things can’t be rushed, and a lot of the time your health is the tortoise racing against the hare: slow and steady wins the race. Diet and exercise are long-haul habits that make all the difference. While that’s also true when it comes to a lot of aspects of healing, the more you can do to support your body’s healing mechanisms and get out of their way, the faster the process goes and the lower the chance you’ll have any more problems arising from the initial issue.

Whether it’s a cut, a sunburn, a broken limb, or a surgical operation, anything can go from bad to worse if you’re not careful. Luckily there are resources you can use and advice to be had on how to speed up healing in a successful and sustainable way. Take these tips into consideration, seek medical advice if needed, and know that we wish you a speedy recovery.

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.

Top 12 Foods with Zinc

Find out the symptoms and consequences of zinc deficiency, plus the top 12 foods that contain zinc and can provide you with this essential nutrient for your senses, growth, and healing. 

Zinc is a trace mineral found throughout the body that is necessary for our immune system’s function, cell growth and division, wound healing, and our senses of taste and smell. Zinc is needed in over 300 enzyme functions in the body, and yet the body doesn’t store zinc as a reserve. Instead, zinc is used as needed to metabolize nutrients, and so we need to get a regular supply of it via our food or dietary supplement. For men this means 11 milligrams of zinc per day, and for women, it’s 8 milligrams unless they are pregnant or breastfeeding, when the requirement jumps up to 12 milligrams per day. This article will explore the symptoms and consequences of zinc deficiency, plus arm you with a list of the top 12 foods with zinc, so you’ll never have to go without this important nutrient.

Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency and Those at Risk

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you might be more prone to zinc deficiency due to a lack of meat in your diet. Likewise those with digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or ulcerative colitis may develop a deficiency due to poor absorption rates. Those with certain cancers, alcohol addiction, or diabetes are also at a higher risk. Breastfeeding and pregnant women, the elderly, as well as children and teens run the risk of becoming zinc deficient more easily. What follows next is a list of symptoms, so you can better recognize the signs of zinc deficiency.

  • Slowed growth
  • Poor immune functioning
  • Appetite loss
  • Hair loss
  • Impaired wound healing
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Compromised night vision
  • White spots on nails
  • A funny-tasting sensation
  • Lethargy
  • Fine tremors (unintentional muscle movements)

A moderate deficiency can be fixed with dietary changes. A severe deficiency may require zinc supplements and advice from a medical professional on how to best restore zinc levels.

The Top 12 Foods with Zinc

If you’re looking for foods high in zinc, look no further than the following list of top 12 zinc-rich foods.

The top 12 foods with zinc.

1. Legumes

Legumes include lentils, beans, and chickpeas, and are some of the best foods around for those who don’t eat meat to gain plant sources of protein and zinc. In 100 grams of lentils for example, you can get 12% of the daily recommended intake of zinc (for a man or pregnant/nursing woman).

Animal sources of zinc are better absorbed due to the fact that legumes also contain phytates, which can inhibit the absorption of zinc and other minerals. Regardless, legumes are an excellent source of fiber and protein that can be easily included in stews, salads, and soups—an easy and beneficial addition.

Bioavailability can also be increased with sprouting, fermenting, and soaking plant sources of zinc, which is great news for those seeking foods with zinc for vegan diets.

2. Meat

Meat is a strong source of zinc, especially red meat. Lamb, pork, bison, and beef are foods with high zinc and iron content, plus creatine and B vitamins. For zinc, raw ground beef contains 4.8 milligrams of zinc, 43% of a man’s RDI.

Though not everyone will want to eat large amounts of red meat due to its association with heart disease, it can still nevertheless be included moderately in a balanced diet to gain the positives without risking much in negative effects.

3. Seeds

Squash seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds: all of these seeds help increase your zinc intake. They can be easily added to other foods like yogurts and salads, or enjoyed on their own as snacks in trail mixes or granola bars.

Some seeds contain more zinc than others. Hemp seeds in particular have 31% of a man’s RDI in just 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of seeds. That being said, sesame, squash, and pumpkin seeds each have significant amounts of zinc, as well as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Including more seeds in your diet can help to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol, so they’re a fantastic resource for your health.

4. Shellfish

Shellfish like oysters and shrimp are low-calorie, healthy sources of zinc. Just six medium oysters can provide 32 milligrams of zinc, 290% of a man’s recommended daily intake. This category includes Alaskan crab, clams, scallops, mussels, and lobster.

It’s recommended that you cook shellfish thoroughly to avoid food poisoning, and also that you use a wet heat method of cooking like steaming, boiling, poaching, or braising instead of dry heat methods like grilling, broiling, sautéing, roasting, or baking, as those tend to reduce the zinc levels in shellfish.

5. Eggs

Eggs have about 5% of a man’s RDI per large whole egg, and they also bring 5 grams of healthy fats, 6 grams of protein, and vitamins and minerals. One of the foods with high zinc and selenium content, eggs also have an assortment of B vitamins and choline, which is important for many of the steps in our metabolism, and a nutrient that most of us do not get enough of from our diets.

6. Nuts

Cashews, almonds, peanuts (yes, we know technically they’re legumes but we’re eating them like nuts!), pine nuts, and more: all of these nuts can boost your zinc intake, as well as provide healthy fats, fiber, and a dazzling array of other vitamins and nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin E, and folate.

Nuts are foods with zinc and magnesium, and among the nuts, your best source of zinc are cashews, with about 14% of a man’s RDI amount in a 1-ounce serving. Convenient, hearth healthy, and excellent for reducing the risk factors of diabetes, nuts have also been associated with greater longevity.

7. Certain Vegetables

Though vegetables and plant foods tend to be poorer sources of zinc than animal products, it’s nevertheless possible to get zinc from certain vegetables. For those who don’t eat meat, both sweet and regular potatoes have about 1 gram of zinc per large spud, 9% of a man’s daily recommended. Green veggies like green beans and kale contribute a small portion of zinc as well, about 3% of the RDI per 100 grams. While they may not contain a lot of zinc, greens like kale do contain chart-topping portions of vitamin K and vitamin A, and a vegetable-rich diet is associated with risk reduction for conditions like heart disease and cancer.

8. Dairy Products

Dairy products like milk and cheese have high amounts of particularly bioavailable zinc, meaning it’s more easily absorbed by your body. Just 100 grams of cheddar cheese has around 28% of a man’s RDI of zinc, and 1 cup of full-fat milk has about 9%. With calcium for bone health, vitamin D, and protein, dairy products are good sources of zinc, especially for any lacto-vegetarians.

9. Certain Fruits

Zinc-rich fruits include avocados, blackberries, pomegranate, raspberries, guava, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, kiwifruit, and blueberries. With healthy fats in avocados and the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of berries, though they don’t have very much zinc content compared to animal sources, these fruits are nevertheless more food sources that can help keep your body plentiful with zinc.

10. Whole Grains

Wheat, rice, oats, and quinoa each contain some zinc, though like the legumes listed above, they also contain phytates that can bind with zinc and inhibit its absorption. Whole grains contain more phytates than refined grains do, but they are still better for your health overall, as they also contain nutrients like B vitamins, selenium, magnesium, iron, and valuable fiber. Eating whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and so very much worth including in your diet for the other health benefits they bring.

11. Dark Chocolate

Among the foods with zinc and copper, dark chocolate has pretty fair amounts of zinc, about 30% of a man’s daily recommended intake with 3.3 milligrams of zinc per 100 grams. The only issue, of course, is that 100 grams of dark chocolate means 600 calories worth of food, so though dark chocolate has valuable nutrient content, it’s still a food that is best eaten in moderation, and not thought of as a main source of zinc.

12. Fortified Breakfast Cereals

Fortified breakfast cereals are a good source of zinc because they’re designed to make up the difference in specific vitamins and nutrients we’re often lacking in our diets. Great for growing children and adults, certain breakfast cereals will not only provide you with the benefits of zinc, but also with calcium, dietary fiber, and a cavalcade of vitamins.

From A to Zinc

Good sources of zinc like meat, nuts, seafood, dairy, and legumes are great to have as staples in your diet. The foods containing only marginal amounts of this essential mineral are still important too, as they round out your diet in a balanced fashion. Now you know that foods containing zinc are as diverse as they come, from just about every building block on the food pyramid. With their help, you could get regular amounts of zinc every day, and hardly notice the effort!

When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?

The best time to take protein supplements depends on your activity level, your personal goals, and the types of workouts you engage in. This article will provide you with specific, scientifically backed recommendations, and the reasoning behind that advice.

When taking protein supplements, people often wonder when exactly is the best time of day to consume them. Pre-workout? Post-workout? Is it okay to drink a protein shake before bed? Protein supplements can help people lose weight, build muscle, and recover from tissue damage due to injury or surgery. Because they’re so effective, most people want to be sure they’re utilizing protein the right way. So when is the best time to take protein? Short answer is: that depends on your health goals and the kinds of workouts you’re doing. For the longer answer and more detail, read on.

The Different Types of Protein Supplements

Protein is a source of energy for the body, essential for muscle growth, repairing damaged tissue, and preventing certain infections and diseases. Normal dietary protein comes from foods like meats, eggs, fish, dairy, grains, legumes, and seeds. Though animal products contain the most amount of protein, vegetables are sources of protein too, a fact well-known by those living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Of the most popular protein powders on the market in fact, a significant portion are plant-based.

Plant-based proteins include:

  • Soy protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Rice protein, which is lower in the essential amino acid lysine.
  • Pea protein, which has lower levels of the essential amino acid methionine and nonessential amino acid cysteine.
  • Hemp protein, which is low in lysine but high in fiber, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential, meaning your body can’t make them on its own, and needs to gain them from the foods you eat.

Dairy-based proteins include:

  • Whey protein, which is absorbed relatively quickly and contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Casein protein from milk curds, also containing the essential amino acids, and with a slower digestion rate than whey (which is why people often take casein before they sleep, so it will digest throughout the night… more on that timing below).

Animal-based proteins include:

  • Egg protein powder made from pure egg white protein.
  • Creatine, which is not found in plants but can be synthetically created. Though it is an animal protein, depending on its origin source, it may nevertheless be possible for vegans to use creatine as a supplement.

These are among the most commonly known protein powders available to buy, but we here at the Amino Co. have also developed an essential amino acid (EAA) blend that isn’t lacking or low on any of the amino acids required for protein synthesis and new muscle growth. It also blends free-form amino acids with whey protein and creatine, a nonessential protein that nevertheless has great value as a supplement. These forms of protein are used to help those who want to build muscle rapidly, and can even benefit those with muscle, neurological, or neuromuscular diseases.

The Varied Uses of Protein Supplementation

From muscle building to weight loss, here’s a quick look at all that supplemental protein can do to benefit your body.

Exercise Performance and Recovery

Added protein has been shown to increase endurance during training and workouts, as well as reduce soreness and speed up post-workout recovery. The timing of your protein intake matters here, whether you’re eating high-protein foods or taking supplements. Read on to learn about workout-specific timing recommendations.

Muscle Building

Muscles can only be built when you have the proper amount of amino acids for protein synthesis, and when you’re consuming more protein than your body breaks down during workouts. Taking a protein supplement, especially one that contains all the necessary EAAs for muscle growth, can make a huge difference. Finding the right anabolic window, the period of time when the protein you take in will go directly to your muscles, is something the International Society of Sports Nutrition has done extensive research on, and we, too, will provide specific scientific reasoning below.

Muscle Loss Prevention

Muscle mass is lost not only during intensive workouts, but also naturally as we age. Each decade you live after the age of 30 brings with it a higher risk of losing muscle (anywhere between 3-8% per decade). Proper protein intake is not only valuable to athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who works out regularly, but it’s also important for each and every one of us as we age. Most Americans reserve their protein more for dinner than breakfast (3 times the amount on average is the difference between the two meals), and could use a supplemental boost of protein first thing in the morning to shore up their protein stores and help prevent the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Fat Loss Facilitation

Protein is filling enough to help curb hunger pangs and chemically contributes to appetite suppression by reducing the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. A high-protein diet raises your metabolism and increases levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). More satiety means fewer calories consumed throughout the day, which quickly leads to safe, maintainable weight loss and the reduction of dangerous body fat.

The Enduring Power of Protein

Popular because they’re convenient and effective, protein powders and supplements are here to stay and can offer you a wide variety of options, from self-mix formulas and powders to ready-to-drink protein shakes. If you’ve got your preferred protein supplement ready to go, then it’s time to wonder: when should you drink protein?

The Best Time to Take Protein Depending on Your Workout

Depending on your goals and activities, there are recommended times to take protein for the greatest effectiveness for your energy levels and muscle-building needs. Here are specific recommendations based on different types of workout activity.

The best time to take protein supplements.

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout and post-workout

The amino acid leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and it promotes muscle recovery after workouts. Not only that, it activates protein synthesis, prompting new muscle to be built. One might think that due to leucine’s ability to boost endurance and stamina, one should take a BCAA supplement before a workout, but the science contradicts that idea. Not only are BCAAs only three of the nine essential amino acids needed to construct new muscle, leucine and the other BCAAs (isoleucine and valine) experience oxidative degradation during aerobic activity.

BCAAs are Insufficient Pre-Workout

Adding these limited amino acids before your workout, especially in the unbalanced form of BCAAs instead of a complete EAA formula, means that a greater percentage will be oxidized and used for energy instead of muscle building. Your body does not want to be out of balance, so a sudden overabundance of a few amino acids will cause the body to clean up and reduce them in order to maintain equilibrium.

Rather than risk burning off the protein you put in because your body is only looking for energy sources, it’s better to take a full measure of EAAs within the hour after your aerobic workout, when your body is looking for supplies to rebuild. Leucine will be there to prompt muscle protein synthesis, and the rest of the essential amino acids will all be included in the ideal ratio for generating new muscle growth.

EAAs are Effective Pre- and Post-Workout

That being said, taking a complete amino acid protein supplement before an aerobic cardiovascular workout (like a high-intensity interval training or HIIT class), not only provides the necessary ingredients for muscle building, but also helps fight fatigue in a way that only taking BCAAs can’t, by fueling your body with the amino acids that help produce dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Whether you’re walking, cycling, running stairs, or jumping rope, start by taking your EAA supplement 30 minutes before your workout session. The biggest benefit comes when you take your EAA supplement within an hour after your workout, when your blood flow is strong and active. Not only will the amino acids rush in to replace damaged muscle fibers with new muscle, EAAs can also help calm unnecessary inflammation. That will help quicken your recovery, allowing you to feel only the good side effects of working out, like increased energy and light euphoria, instead of soreness and fatigue.

Resistance Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout, during, and post-workout

Research has shown that EAAs given 30 minutes before a resistance exercise workout prompt muscle protein synthesis much more effectively than consuming EAAs afterwards does. Taking a protein supplement before this type of workout helps prevent the breakdown of muscle protein during the activity, and also increases blood flow to the muscles, thus getting the amino acids quickly into the muscle where they’re needed.

Consuming EAAs after a resistance workout is not harmful by any means, as that method, too, will prompt the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, but it’s not ideal to leave the consumption of EAAs until after your resistance training is complete. Our recommendation is to first and foremost take a complete protein supplement before a resistance workout, and if possible take them throughout and/or after as well to get the most benefit.

Bodybuilding

Best time to take protein: Pre- and post-workout, and also before bed.

Immediately before and after a weight-lifting workout, we recommend that you take 15 grams of EAAs each. An EAA supplement has been shown to have a faster effect on muscle protein synthesis than either whey or casein protein alone. However, our Amino Co. blend of free-form EAAs with whey and creatine support ensures that you get a fast dose of EAAs and that the EAAs from whey will digest more slowly as you work out, offering a steady supply to help prevent muscle breakdown. Creatine helps prevent catabolism by supplying faster energy than your body can naturally generate from muscle cell mitochondria. This means more energy for more reps, which ultimately means more work put in and more muscle gained.

An hour after your post-workout dose of EAAs, we recommend another 15-gram dose. On off days, continue taking these same doses, measured between meals instead of surrounding your workout. Lastly, it’s also recommended you take another 15-gram dose before bed to keep your muscles fed as you sleep and to help prevent muscle breakdown as much as possible. You work hard to gain your muscles, and we encourage you to protect those gains at every opportunity. Set your alarm to take one more dose around 4 am if you know you won’t have a problem falling back to sleep, that way your muscles never go hungry for fuel.

It should be noted here that bodybuilders aren’t the only ones who benefit from taking extra protein before bed. One study of 16 elderly men showed that those who consumed casein protein (which digests slowly) before bed had increased muscle growth over those who took a placebo, despite being less active individuals. When you’re sleeping, it’s the protein that counts, and not the activity.

Is There Any Downside to Taking Protein Supplements?

The majority of scientific studies into how our bodies process high amounts of protein show that you can safely consume plenty of protein without risk of harmful side effects. Unless your doctor advises against protein supplements or you have a known kidney issue like rhabdomyolysis, there is no need to worry about excessive protein intake; merely take your products as recommended and spread them throughout your day.

Timing Is Everything

At the end of the day, it’s true that people who work out need more protein, but even those with a less active lifestyle benefit from consuming extra protein for strength, for maintaining healthy weight levels, and for preventing the loss of muscle mass we all experience as we age.

Make a protein shake for breakfast, have another to curb your appetite between meals, and make another as a beneficial treat before bed. Know that the more regularly you take in balanced forms of protein like Amino Co.’s complete EAA blend, the more good you can do for your body. Whether you’re working out or not, upping your daily protein intake is safe and smart. Bulk up, slim down, and stay strong with protein!

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

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

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

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

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

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

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

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

Cottage Cheese

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

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

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

Sweet Potatoes

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

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

Baking Spices

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

Coffee

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

Turmeric

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

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

Oatmeal

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

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

Bananas

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

Peanut Butter

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

Nuts and Seeds

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

Manuka Honey

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

Green Tea

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

Cacao

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

Tart Cherries

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

Salmon

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

Eggs

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

Spinach

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

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.