In my last post about fish tacos, I had marked the term essential amino acids with a star, but then forgot to elaborate on it! That’s okay, though, as it really deserves a whole post about it. Are you ready for a small microbiology lesson? I promise that I will try to be clean and concise.
Essential amino acids are amino acids that can only be provided by food that we eat. Some creatures, called autotrophs, can make all 20 amino acids automatically, usually through the process of photosynthesis. We humans are heterotrophs, which means that some of the essentials that we need must be obtained through other sources.
The essential amino acids are alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine. If we do not obtain these amino acids in our diet, even just one, our body will degrade as amino acids make up the proteins in our DNA.
So where can we get these important micro-essentials? Complete proteins. These consist of most animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. If one is a vegan or a vegetarian, they can be provided through a combination of whole grains (i.e. quinoa, buckwheat, corn) and legumes (i.e. beans, nuts).
Most people should not have to worry about getting all of their essential amino acids. But in case you were ever curious as to what the term meant, as I was, I hope this helped you!