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What Amino Acids Do Vegans Tend to Lack?

author image Nadia Nygaard
Nadia Nygaard has been writing and editing since 2005. She is published in "Farm and Ranch Living" and has edited projects as diverse as grant proposals, medical dissertations and tenant law handbooks. She is a graduate of the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts in English and women's studies.
What Amino Acids Do Vegans Tend to Lack?
Buckwheat and rice field Photo Credit KEITA SAWAKI/a.collectionRF/amana images/Getty Images

Getting enough essential nutrients can sometimes be a concern for those on specialized diets, such as meat, dairy and egg-free vegan diets. A varied diet, fully obtainable with vegan restrictions, can provide all the amino acids required for complete proteins and good health. Choose unrefined grains, whole vegetables and a variety of legumes to meet your need for protein.

Building Blocks

Amino acids compose the building blocks of protein. In addition to helping build the muscular structure of the body, they control or help process nearly every cellular function in your body and catalyze reactions in cells. A diet lacking in amino acids causes everything from general fatigue to a decline in muscle mass to growth retardation in children. Specific deficiencies are linked to each amino acid; lysine deficiency, for example, can lead to nausea, anemia and reproductive disorders.

Amino Acid Production

Humans cannot produce nine of the 20 amino acids required for good health, so they must obtain the nutrients through consumed food. For children, arginine also is considered an essential amino acid, which raises the number not produced in the body to 10. Additionally, the amino acid tyrosine is made from phenylalanine. If your diet does not get enough phenylalanine, tyrosine must be consumed in the diet. If your body does not get the amino acids it needs from your vegan diet, your body will procure it from your proteins, like muscle mass.

Sources of Amino Acids

Eating protein is the only way to get the essential amino acids that your body does not produce on its own. Animal-based forms of protein are complete, containing all 20 amino acids for health. For vegans, who do not consume animal foods, plant-based proteins must provide complete forms of protein. The belief that vegans can't get all the essential amino acids is a myth; it is possible to consume enough protein to supply the vegan with the essential acids required by the body. A vegan with a well-rounded diet does not lack amino acids. Soybeans, quinoa and spinach are sources of complete proteins and suitable for vegan diets.

Combining Proteins

Vegans should pay special attention to proteins that have low levels of essential nutrients. Grains are low in lysine, while legumes are low in methionine, both essential amino acids. Combining proteins is one way to ensure getting adequate amounts of essential amino acids. This means eating legumes with grains or vegetables. However, these foods do not need to be combined at the same meal or even on the same day. Your body stores pools of amino acids to use when needed throughout the day. Instead, focus on incorporating as much variety into your vegan diet as possible, including vegetables, nuts, seeds, unrefined grains and legumes.

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