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Although the most surefire way to make sure you’re getting enough of the essential amino acids involves taking a supplement each day, you can also get them directly through your diet as long as you know what to eat. Here, you’ll learn about all of the best foods with essential amino acids, whether you’re a meat eater, a vegetarian, or a vegan.
Before diving into a list of foods with essential amino acids, it often helps to understand the difference between complete proteins and incomplete proteins. Simply put, a complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids in the same food and in roughly the same amounts. In almost all cases, complete proteins are meat, eggs, and dairy products – all from animals. However, soy is also a complete protein and the only one of its kind. If you are interested in making sure you’re treating your body to everything it needs, make sure you get plenty of meat, eggs, dairy, and/or soy each day.
Meats are foods with essential amino acids in the highest concentrations, and this is particularly true of red meat. 100 grams of red meat contains an average of 28 grams of protein, which makes it an excellent source of essential amino acids. Of course, most fitness enthusiasts prefer lean turkey and chicken to red meat as it contains more saturated fat. Lean turkey contains about 17 grams of protein per 100 grams, and 100 grams of chicken breast meat contains about 27 grams of protein.
Other great sources of complete proteins include eggs and dairy products. One whole egg provides just over six grams of complete protein, but don’t skimp on the yolk. That’s where you’ll find 43% of the protein in the egg, and it’s loaded with nutrients. Dairy foods with essential amino acids include milk, which contains 8 grams of protein per cup, regardless of whether you choose whole milk or skim. Fat-free plain Greek yogurt is a phenomenal protein source; it provides 23 grams of protein per serving. Traditional yogurts with fruit still offer up 11 grams of protein per serving, which is a healthy dose. Finally, if you’re a fan of cheese, Swiss is going to give you the most bang for your buck with 8 grams of protein per one-ounce slice.
Vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians get their protein directly from plant sources. Fortunately, there is one amazing source of complete plant protein in soy. This means that each half-cup serving of tofu you consume contains about 10 grams of complete protein. Although beans and grains aren’t complete proteins, eating a wide variety of them can provide you with all of the essential amino acids you need. For example, quinoa contains a little more than 8 grams of protein per cup, and chia seeds offer a fantastic 4.5 grams per ounce.
Whether you’re a fan of a rare steak each day or you prefer a vegan diet that consists mainly of plant proteins, there are dozens of amazing foods with essential amino acids that taste amazing. You can also supplement your diet with amino acid supplements to make sure your body gets enough of the good stuff.