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Everything food producers & brands need to know about amino acids

Whether actively trying to build muscle or simply eating enough to feel full, consumers care a lot about the protein content of their food. 

But it’s not just the protein content in grams that people care about. Many of today’s consumers also want to know about the quality of the protein they consume. 

Put another way, consumers—especially the more health-conscious ones—want to know what amino acids their protein sources contain.

For this reason, food brands and food producers need to know what amino acids are, why certain amino acids are “essential” for health, and where they come from. 

Additionally, food producers and brands need to know how to determine the content of amino acids in their foods so that they can effectively communicate quality and quantity to their customers. 

So, if you’re wondering what food producers and brands need to know about amino acids, then read on. We explore the basics further in the paragraphs below.

So, what are amino acids?

There are many different types of amino acids. Each of them acts as the building blocks of proteins. The body arranges various amino acids into long chains and, in doing so, creates different types of proteins. 

These proteins then get used to create everything from muscle and brain tissue to stomach enzymes and chemical hormones within the body. 

The Cleveland Clinic compares amino acids to different letters of the alphabet. You can create words with specific meanings by combining different letters in various ways. Even though there are only 26 letters in the English language, you can create thousands of different words depending on how you combine the letters. 

The same principle applies to amino acids—the body can create thousands of proteins depending on how it combines a very select number of amino acids. 

Why are amino acids important for health?

When we think of protein—which amino acids play an essential role in creating—our minds often think about building healthy, lean muscles. However, the body produces proteins to perform a number of other essential functions beyond muscle growth and repair. 

Why are amino acids important for health?

So, what else does the body need amino acids and protein for?

Here are a few of the main needs for amino acids and proteins:

  • Bolster the body’s immune system.
  • Create enzymes that help digest food.
  • Manufacture hormones and neurotransmitters chemicals used by the brain.
  • Act as a source of energy.
  • Maintain and repair healthy hair, nails, and skin.
  • Support the regular activity of a healthy digestive system.
  • Grow and repair different types of tissues within the body, including muscles and connective tissues.

What amino acids are considered “essential”?

While hundreds of different amino acids exist, the body requires nine specific amino acids to maintain proper health that it cannot create on its own. 

These “essential” amino acids include:

  • Histidine: This amino acid gives the body what it needs to manufacture an essential brain neurotransmitter called histamine. Histamine helps govern the body’s immune system, digestion, sleep, and sexual function.
  • Tryptophan: This essential amino acid helps the body regulate its nitrogen balance. The body also uses tryptophan to create the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates sleep, mood, and appetite.
  • Lysine: This amino acid plays a vital role in producing energy and hormones. It also contributes to proper immune function.
  • Isoleucine: Isoleucine plays a pivotal role in the body’s immune function and muscle metabolism. This amino acid also helps create hemoglobin while regulating energy levels within the body.
  • Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine helps the body produce chemical messengers—neurotransmitters—for the brain. These neurotransmitters include dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Additionally, phenylalanine assists with the production of other amino acids created within the body.
  • Threonine: Threonine provides the building blocks used to manufacture collagen and elastin, which help create structure within your skin and connective tissue. These proteins help the body form the blood clots to slow and stop bleeding. Threonine also helps the body with fat metabolism and immune function.
  • Methionine: When it comes to tissue growth, detoxification, and metabolism, methionine performs a key function. This amino acid assists the body with absorbing essential minerals, which include selenium and zinc.
  • Leucine: This amino acid assists with the creation of protein and growth hormones. Additionally, it helps heal wounds, repair and grow muscles, and govern blood sugar levels.
  • Valine: As with other essential amino acids, valine plays a role in muscle growth, energy production, and tissue regeneration.

What foods contain amino acids?

When it comes to providing amino acids, both plant and animal forms of protein provide excellent sources. 

What foods contain amino acids? Eggs, Quinoa, Mushrooms, Legumes, Turkey, Fish, Beef, Soy products, etc.

The following foods offer a variety of amino acids that are plentiful and bioavailable: 

  1. Eggs
  2. Quinoa
  3. Mushrooms
  4. Legumes, such as lentils and beans
  5. Cottage cheese
  6. Turkey
  7. Fish
  8. Beef
  9. Soy products like tofu
  10. Buckwheat

Foods, such as beef and buckwheat that contain all nine of the essential amino acids are referred to as complete proteins. We call foods with some but not all of the essential amino acids “incomplete” forms of protein.

These proteins, like beans, rice, and nuts, can combine with other incomplete proteins to form complete proteins. 

So, if someone were to combine beans and rice in a meal, they would create a complete protein that has all nine of the essential amino acids. 

What types of amino acids are consumers looking for?

While it’s not necessary to consume foods that contain amino acids with every meal, health experts at Cleveland Clinic recommend the average person gets the following daily amount of amino acid for every 2.2 pounds of body weight: 

  • Tryptophan: 5 milligrams
  • Isoleucine: 19 milligrams
  • Phenylalanine: 33 milligrams
  • Threonine: 20 milligrams
  • Valine: 24 milligrams
  • Lysine: 38 milligrams
  • Histidine: 14 milligrams
  • Leucine: 42 milligrams
  • Methionine: 19 milligrams

Again, with a balanced diet, it should be pretty easy for most people to get each of the essential amino acids they need to maintain their health.

What food producers need to know about amino acids in processed foods

Beyond being one of the most important macronutrients, protein is also one of the most reactive forms of food. That’s especially true with proteins in processed foods. 

When processed, essential amino acids, such as methionine, tryptophan, and lysine,  can react with other food components. This process can result in the decline of amino acid bioavailability and a decrease in the digestibility of the entire protein molecule.

The Maillard reaction (or caramelization and browning of food), for instance, can potentially result in the loss of the amino acid lysine. The loss of this particular amino acid can be especially detrimental to babies because of their dependence on a single processed food like baby formula. 

Besides the processing of food, the decline of amino acids can also occur in certain foods due to oxidization. 

Because processing, storing, and handling food and ingredients can lead to the loss of amino acids even while enhancing flavor, food producers and brands would benefit from knowing the amino acid profiles and content levels within their foods. 

That’s where Medallion Labs can help. 

Get to know the amino acids in your food products

Whether you want to measure for specific amino acids within your food products or measure amino acids that are not bound into protein structures (or anything in between), Medallion Labs offers affordable testing solutions. 

If you’re unsure of where to start, the experts at Medallion Labs are more than happy to answer your questions and help you find a testing solution that best meets your needs. 

Discover your testing options and take a definitive step toward ensuring your products are as healthy and packed with amino acids as they can be. 

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