Nature’s Forgotten Nutraceutical

by Darrell L. Tanelian, M.D., Ph.D.

That the Hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) is used as a food source initially surprises and confuses most people. The public misinformation system has largely restricted knowledge of “Hemp” as it being Marijuana … which is actually derived from the Cannabis Indica plant (same family .. different plant – like broccoli and cauliflower, same family, different plant), with its leaf content of the psychoactive substance delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Oil, Shelled Seed, Flour, Hemp Cake, paint and more are made from the seed, while rope and cloth is made from the Fibre of the Cannabis Sativa plant and paper from the plant stalk.

Both the oldest Chinese agricultural treatise, the Xia Xiao Zheng, written in the 16th century BC and other Chinese records discuss Hemp as one of the major grain crops grown in ancient China.

Besides its propagation in China, the cultivation and use of Hemp has, since the beginnings of recorded history, also been documented by many other great civilizations, including: India, Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt and other nations of the Near East and the Aztec and Mayan civilizations of South America; as well as by native cultures in North America and Europe. Indeed, it might be said that over these thousands of years, Hemp has always followed humankind throughout the world, or vice versa. Nutritionally, the key point about Hemp is that its edible portion – the meat of the shelled seed – resembles the seeds of other cultivated grains including wheat and rye and does not contain THC. Moreover, the strains of Hemp plant used for food have been naturally selected so as to produce little or no THC, generally. These nutritional varieties of Hemp plant grow in temperate climates to heights of 14 feet and as with many agricultural grains, their seeds can be harvested in a conventional manner with a combine. Since the most modern handling and shelling of the seed minimize its contact with leaf resins, the shelled seed itself and the oil, nut butter and other foods prepared from the seed have been made with THC concentrations as low as 1 ucg/g (ppm) to non-detectible. These modern Hemp products, when consumed in normally recommended amounts, should all but eliminate positive urine tests for THC.

Studies conducted on older versions of Hemp seed oil found some to contain THC concentrations that resulted in positive urine tests

Nutrients in Hemp Seed

The most basic Hemp seed product is the shelled seed, sometimes referred to as the “Hemp Nut.” The other major Hemp food products are Hemp seed nut butter – which resembles peanut- and other nut butters – cold-pressed Hemp seed oil and Hemp seed flour. These basic products can be consumed alone or used along with or instead of other grains, seeds, nuts and oils in any appropriate recipe. In terms of its nutrient content, shelled Hemp seed is 34.6% protein, 46.5% fat and 11.6% carbohydrate.

The most important feature of Hemp seed is that it provides both of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed in the human diet – GLA, Linoleic and Alpha-Linolenic acid -as well as a complete and balanced complement of all essential amino acids.

Fats in Hemp

As compared with most nuts and seeds, the 46.5% fat content of shelled Hemp seed is relatively low and Hemp food products have a low cholesterol content and high content of the natural phytosterols that reduce cholesterol levels. Hemp Seed Oil has on average the highest mono- and poly-unsaturated fat content of all oils, taken collectively, of between 80% and 89%.

The polyunsaturated Linoleic acid, an Omega-6 fatty acid, is present in Hemp seed oil in a content of 55.6g/100g and Alpha-Linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acid, is present at 17.2 g/100 g. The ratio of the two EFAs is 3.38, closely approximating the 4.0 average ratio recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), Sweden and Japan for the human diet.

Conveniently, Hemp Seed Oil is also one of the only food oils to contain the direct metabolites of Linoleic and Alpha-Linolenic acid – Gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA) and Stearidonic acid (SDA), respectively. Because of this, it can circumvent the impaired EFA metabolism and physical compromise that can result from genetic factors, intake of other fats, aging and lifestyle patterns.

By contrast with unsaturated fat, only 6.6% of the total calories in shelled Hemp seed come from saturated fat – a percentage that contrasts sharply with the 13 to 14% of saturated fat calories in the modern western diet.

This gives Hemp seed oil a polyunsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio of 9.7, in comparison to the current ratio of 0.44 in the western diet, 6 and indicates that consuming even a small portion of Hemp seed oil daily can contribute strongly to bringing this dietary imbalance back toward the World Heath Organisation recommended goal of 1.0.

Hemp Protein

Besides providing the human EFAs and having a favorable unsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio, Hemp seed is an excellent dietary source of easily digestible, gluten-free protein. Its overall protein content of 34.6 g/100 g is comparable to that of soy beans and better than that found in nuts, other seeds, dairy products, meat, fish, or poultry. Hemp protein provides a well-balanced array of the 10 essential amino acids for humans. An important aspect of Hemp seed protein is a high content of arginine (123 mg/g protein) and histidine (27 mg/g protein), both of which are important for growth during childhood and of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine (23 mg/g protein) and cysteine (16 mg/g protein), which are needed for proper enzyme formation. Hemp protein also contains relatively high levels of the branched-chain amino acids that are important for the metabolism of exercising muscle.

Other Hemp Nutrients

The carbohydrate content of shelled Hemp seed is 11.5% and its sugar content is 2%. Of the shelled Hemp seed carbohydrate, 6% is in the form of fiber. The fiber content of Hemp seed flour is 40%, which is the highest of all commercial flour grains. In addition to containing the basic human nutrient groups, Hemp foods have a high content of antioxidants (92.1 mg/100g) in the form of alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherol and alpha-tocotrienol. Additionally, Hemp seed contains a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals.

Hemp in Health and Disease Prevention

The high content of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids and the relatively high phytosterol content of Hemp foods and oils, make them beneficial to cardiovascular health. Numerous human and animal studies have shown that substitution of polyunsaturated for saturated fats can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest and fatal cardiac arrhythmia, as well as reducing blood cholesterol levels and decreasing the cellular proliferation associated with atherosclerosis.

A high polyunsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio, especially when it includes Linoleic acid, has also been positively associated with reduced arterial thrombosis.

Additionally, phytosterols, of which Hemp seed contains 438 mg/100g, have been shown to reduce total serum cholesterol by an average of 10% and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by an average of 13%.

Poly-unsaturated fatty acids and especially GLA, have also been found beneficial in treating various human cancers, 13-17 and studies have shown that phytosterols may offer protection against colon, breast and prostate cancers.

Besides the importance of a proper dietary ratio of Linoleic to Alpha-Linolenic acid in maintaining the polyunsaturated fatty acid composition of neuronal and glial membranes, membrane loss of polyunsaturated fatty acids has been found in such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and it has been suggested that a diet with a proper balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids may help delay or reduce the neurologic effects of these diseases. A fatty acid preparation with a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids of 4, which is practically identical to that in Hemp oil, has been shown to improve the quality of life of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Additionally, GLA has been found effective for treating rheumatoid arthritis and active synovitis and the GLA and vitamin D content of Hemp foods may make them beneficial in preventing and treating osteoporosis.

Moreover, supplementation with products containing EFAs has been found capable of reversing scaly skin disorder, inflammation, excessive epidermal water loss, itch and poor wound healing caused by EFA deficiency and GLA has been shown to be beneficial for atopic eczema and psoriasis.

Hemp in Cosmetics and Processed Food Products

The critical importance of EFAs and especially GLA, for healthy skin makes Hemp seed oil a highly effective skin care and cosmetic product. Its lipid constituents allow it to permeate through intact skin and to thereby nourish skin cells directly while also carrying therapeutic substances with it into the skin. These properties have led to a multitude of soaps, shampoos, skin lotions, lip balms, conditioners and other skin-care products containing Hemp seed oil.

Among food products made from Hemp seed, oil and flour are beer, pasta, cheese, cookies, waffles, granola, candy, ice cream and others, with new products now being regularly developed.

In short, Hemp can constitute an important element in nutrition, health and cosmetics, with the prospect of playing a major role in preventing disease and reducing health care expenditures.



1.      Yu Y. Agricultural history over seven thousand years in China, In: Feeding a Billion: Frontiers of Chinese Agriculture, ed. S Witter, 1987.

2.      Li H. “The Origin and Use of Cannabis in Eastern Asia: Their Linguistic Cultural Implications,” in Cannabis and Culture, ed. V Rubin, The Hague: Mouton, 1975.

3.      Leson G, Pless P, Grotenherman F, Kalant H, ElSohly MA. Food products from Hemp seeds: Could their consumption interfere with workplace drug testing J Anal Toxicol, Accepted, 2000

4.      Bosy TZ, Cole KA. Consumption and quantitation of D9 tetrahydrocannabinol in commercially available Hemp seed oil products. Anal Toxicol, 7:562-6, 2000.

5.      Kris-Etherton PM, Taylor DS, Yu-Poth S et. al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in the food chain in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr, 71:179S-88S 2000.

6.      Eaton SB, Eaton III SB, Konner MJ. Paleolithic nutrition revisited: A twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications. Eur J Clin Nutr 51:207-216, 1997.

7.      Brousseau ME, Schaefer EJ. Diet and Coronary Heart Disease: Clinical Trials. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2:487-493, 2000.

8.      Siscovic DS, Raghunathan TE, King I et. al. Dietary intake of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. Amer J Clin Nutr, 71:208S-212S, 2000.

9.      Kang JX, Leaf A. Prevention of fatal cardiac arrhymias by polyunsaturated fatty acids. Amer J Clin Nutr, 71:202S-207S, 2000

10.  Fan YY, Ramos KS, Chapkin RS. Modulation of atherosclerosis by dietary gamma-linolenic acid. Adv Exp Med Biol 469:485-91, 1999.

11.  Hornstra G, Kester AD. Effect of the dietary fat type on arterial thrombosis tendency: systemic studies with a rat model. Atherosclerosis 131:25-33, 1997

12.  Moghadasian MH, Frohlich JJ. Effects of dietary phytosterols on cholesterol metabolism and atherosclerosis: Clinical and experimental evidence. Amer J Med 107:588-94, 1999.

13.  Vartek S, Robbins ME, Spector AA. Polyunsaturated fatty acids increase the sensitivity of 36B10 rat astrocytoma cells to radiation-induced cell kill. Br J Cancer 77:1612-20, 1998.

14.  Kenny FS, Pinder SE, Ellis IO, et. al. Gamma-linolenic acid with tamoxifen as primary therapy in breast cancer. Int J Cancer 85:643-8, 2000

15.  Robbins M, Ali K, McCaw R, et. al. Gamma-linolenic acid-mediated cytotoxicity in human prostate cancer cells. Adv Exp Med Biol 469:499-504, 1999.

16.  Rizzo MT, Regazzi E, Garau D, et. al. Induction of apoptosis by arachodonic acid in chronic myeloid leukemia cells. Cancer Res 59:5047-53, 1999.

17.  Southgate J, Pitt E, Trejdosiewicz LK. The effects of dietary fatty acids on the proliferation of normal human urothelial cells in vitro. Br J Cancer 74:728- 34, 1996.

18.  Awad AB, Fink CS. Phytosterols as anticancer dietary components: Evidence and mechanism of action. J Nutr 130:2127-30, 2000.

19.  Fenstrom JD. Effects of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids on neuronal function. Lipids 34:161-9, 1999.

20.  20.Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Essential fatty acids and the brain: possible health implications. Int J Dev Neurosci 18:383-99, 2000.

21.  Yehuda S, Rabinovitz S, Carrasso RL, Mostofsky DI. Essential fatty acids preparation (SR-3) improves Alzheimer’s patients quality of life. Int J Neurosci 87:141-9, 1996.

22.  Leventhal LJ, Boyce EG, Zurier, RB. Treatment of arthritis with gamma-linolenic acid. Ann Intern Med 119:876-873, 1993.

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24.  Zurier RB, Rossetti RG, Jacobson EW, et. al. Gamma- linolenic acid treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum 39:1808-17, 1996.

25.  Kruger MC, Coetzer H, Winter R, et. al. Calcium, gamma-linolenic acid and eicosapentaneoic acid supplementation in senile osteoporosis. Aging 10:385-94, 1998.

26.  Wright S. Essential fatty acids and the skin. Br J Derm 125:503-515, 1991.

27.  Horrobin DF. Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema. J Am Clin Nutr 71:367S-72S, 2000.


Blueberry Hemp Shake

 BlueberrySmoothieServes 1

1 Cup Frozen Blueberries

3 Heaped Tbsp Hemp Seeds

2 Tbsp Hemp Protein Powder

1 Cup Hemp Milk

2 Pitted Dates

1 Cup Spinach

1 Tsp Cinnamon

1 Tsp Maca*

Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender. Add more almond milk if the texture is too thick. Enjoy!

*Maca is an herbaceous plant native to the high Andean Mountains of Bolivia and Peru. It is one of the only food plants in the world able to thrive at such a high altitude. Maca, and more specifically the root of the plant, has a long history as a superfood. The maca root was prized throughout the Incan empire for its adaptogenic-like qualities that enable it to nourish and balance the body’s delicate endocrine system, and to help cope with stress. It also energizes naturally, without the jitters and crashes of caffeine, and it can aid in reproductive function, helping to balance hormones and increase fertility. 

Edestin, a globulin protein found only in Hemp Seeds…increases DNA repair!

hemp-protein-2Almost two-thirds of hemp protein is made up of Edestin, a globulin protein found only in hemp seeds. This makes hemp the superior source for this protein in the plant kingdom. Edestin is a type of plant protein that is similar to protein found in the human body and thus is perfectly suited to aid in meeting the body’s cellular needs such as DNA repair. Since much of hemp’s protein resembles that found in human blood, hemp protein is very easily digested and assimilated. In addition, another one-third of hemp’s protein is albumin, another high quality globulin protein also found in egg whites.

With a protein structure of 66% Edestin and 33% Albumin, hemp seeds contain all 8 Essential Amino Acids plus 2 conditionally Essential Amino Acids. In addition to its surprising protein profile, it also contains the perfect ratio of Omega Fatty Acids researchers recommend for good health

Why Are Amino Acids Important?hempseeds

A human being needs 21 Amino Acids to survive:  Eight are essential and must be obtained from food; two are conditionally essential and can be synthesized if all the eight essential amino acids are consumed. No other plant or animal source, aside from Hemp, contains the first ten amino acids necessary for health. Nor do any of them contain the balanced fatty acid ratio essential for life.

Hemp seeds are not unique among plant seeds in having all the essential Amino Acids. However, they are unique in that they have them in the correct ratio and they are in the form of Globulin Edestin at 65% of the protein content. The other 35% of the protein content is Albumin.

The globulins contained in hemp seeds are one of the seven classes of 100% pure Amino Acids. Globulins make up the portion of seed between the embryo and the seed coat and they are a fraction of all animal and human blood. Edestin globulin comes from seed;  globulin is in blood plasma. Globulin and Albumin are classified as globular proteins. All the enzymes, antibodies, many hormones, hemoglobin and fibrogin are made from globular proteins.

Albumin, Globulin and Fibrogin make up the fluid part of blood plasma. The protein portion of the blood answers the call of tissues in need by providing nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

When purchasing a hemp protein powder you should be looking for a brand that supplies at least 50% protein by weight, supplying 15 grams of protein per 30 gram serving.

Hemp Seed Nutrition – Protein

hemp-protein-powderThe seed of Cannabis Sativa has been an important source of nutrition for thousands of years in Old World cultures. Non-drug varieties of the Cannabis family i.e. Sativa, commonly referred to as Hemp, have not been studied extensively for their nutritional potential in recent years, nor has Hemp Seed been utilized to any great extent by the industrial processes and food markets that have developed during the 20th century. Technically a nut, Hemp Seed nutritional make-up is basically 34.6% protein, 46.5% fat, and 11.6% carbohydrate. For diabetics, the glycemic index of shelled Hemp Seed is considered low because of its low carbohydrate content. They are also full of nutrients that moderate blood sugar. The carbohydrate content of hemp protein powder ranges between 5 and 7 g. Of that, 1 g or less comes from natural sugars. The remaining carbohydrates consist primarily of dietary fiber, making hemp protein powder helpful for controlling blood sugar and maintaining digestive health.

Hemp protein is free of the tryspin inhibitors that block protein absorption and it is also free of the oligosaccharides found in soy, which cause stomach upset and gas. It is a lactose-free alternative to whey and is also free of gluten. There is no genetically modified hemp so all products are GMO free.

Although both hulled and powdered protein sources are approximately equal in protein content, they differ in carbohydrate and essential fat content. The hulled/shelled Hemp Seeds are a balance of protein and Essential Fats and relatively low in carbohydrates. The powdered Hemp alternatively contains roughly an equal portion of easily digested protein and dietary fibre. The interesting feature of this protein form is that the dietary fibre completely eclipses the carbohydrate content. This means none of this carbohydrate is absorbed in the system, as dietary fibre is considered roughage, which is essential to clearing the intestinal tract. In particular, fibre helps with diets designed for weight loss because it takes up room in the digestive tract without adding sugars. Fiber, in fact, is a powerful broom: it cleans the house fast and controls the sugar’s behavior, preventing it from falling into our blood current all at once. This means that it has a low glycemic index.

Hemp Seed Oil contains over 80% Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) and is an exceptionally rich source of the two Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) Linoleic Acid (18:2 Omega-6) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (18:3 Omega-3). The Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio in Hemp Seed oil is normally between 2:1 and 4:1, which is considered to be optimal for human health. In addition, the biological metabolites of the two EFAs, Gamma-Linolenic Acid (18:3 Omega-6; ‘GLA’) and Stearidonic Acid (18:4 Omega-3; ‘SDA’), are also present in Hemp Seed Oil.

The two main Proteins in Hemp Seed are Edestin and Albumin. Both of these high-quality proteins are easily digested and contain nutritionally significant amounts of all Essential Amino Acids. In addition, Hemp Seed has exceptionally high levels of the Amino Acid, Arginine. Hemp Seed has been used to treat various disorders for thousands of years in traditional oriental medicine. Recent clinical trials have identified Hemp Seed Oil as a functional food and studies demonstrate the long-standing utility of Hemp Seed as an important food resource.

Both the ripened seed of Hemp and the Seed Meal are excellent sources of dietary Oil, Fiber And Protein.

Hemp Seed as food

For various reasons, Hemp has been reconsidered as a valuable industrial crop for both food and fiber in Canada, the USA and European countries during the last decade. As a result, Hemp Seed and Hemp Seed food products have become available to the general public in these countries. While the human food potential for Hemp Seed has not yet entered mass markets in the west, its nutritional properties have long been recognized and valued as food for both humans and domesticated animals throughout Asia, India, Russia and Eastern Europe. In China, roasted Hemp Seed is still sold as snacks by street venders. In Russia, ‘black’ oil has been pressed from Hemp Seed and used as a substitute for more expensive (and less healthy) sources of dietary fat, such as butter and hydrogenated margarines.

The natural dark color of Hemp Seed Oil is from chlorophyll within the mature seed, which can hasten auto-oxidation of oil that is exposed to light.

Typical nutritional values (mg/100 g) for vitamins and minerals in Hemp Seed :

Hemp Seed
Vitamin E 90
Thiamine (B1) 0.4
Riboflavin (B2) 0.1
Phosphorous (P) 1160
Potassium (K) 859
Magnesium (Mg) 483
Calcium (Ca) 145
Iron (Fe) 14
Sodium (Na) 12
Manganese (Mn) 7
Zinc (Zn) 7
Copper (Cu) 2

Protein and other nutrients in Hemp Seed

As mentioned, Albumin, a globular protein and Edestin, a Legumin and easily digestible storage protein, the two main proteins in Hemp Seed and both are rich in the Amino Acids that are essential to human health. A direct comparison of Protein Amino Acid profiles from egg White, Hemp Seed and Soy Bean shows that Hemp Seed protein is comparable to these other high quality proteins. Hemp Seed protein has good amounts of the sulfur-containing Amino Acids Methionine and Cystine (Odani & Odani, 1998), in addition to very high levels of Arginine and Glutamic Acid. As an industrial source of vegetable nutrition, both Hemp Seed and Hemp Seed meals are rich sources of protein and polyunsaturated oils, in addition to considerable amounts of vitamins and useful minerals (Table 4). The individual tocopherols in Hemp Seed, presented as vitamin E in are Alpha-Tocopherol (5 mg/100 g) and Gamma-Tocopherol (85 mg/100 g), for a total of 90 mg/100 g of vitamin E which is made up of alpha- beta-, delta-, and gamma-Tocopherols sand Alpha-Tocotrienol.

Not only do hemp seeds contain Essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the proper ratio required by humans, but also all the essential Amino Acids and dietary fiber required for good health. The fiber content of Hemp Seed Flour is 40%, which is the highest of all commercial flour grains.

No other single plant source provides balanced protein nutrition with all the Essential Amino Acids in a favorable ratio for digestibility. The absence of trypsin inhibitory activity is a major advantage over the type of protein found in soybeans. (Trypsin inhibitors are chemicals that reduce the availability of trypsin, an enzyme essential to nutrition and protein assimilation in many animals, including humans. Soybeans contain several inhibitors).

It is also high in such minerals as the following:

  • Potassium supports the nervous system and regular heart rhythm and, with the help of sodium, aids in the body’s balance of water.
  • Calcium is also essential for a regular heartbeat, strong teeth and bones, and nerve impulses.
  • Magnesium is needed to transmit the nerve and muscle messages.
  • Sulfur helps the body resist bacterial invasion and protects it against toxic substances.
  • Iron, in moderate amounts, facilitate the production of red blood cells and energy.
  • Zinc is important for a healthy reproductive system and the male prostate gland. It improves wound healing and strengthens the immune system.

The following are also found in Hemp Seeds:

  • Lecithin is a type of liquid found in the protective sheaths surrounding the brain and nervous system. Lecithin helps in the breakdown of fats and enhances liver activity and enzyme production.
  • Choline is produced from lecithin. It is needed for nerve impulses from the brain throughout the nervous system and for liver and gall bladder function. Its derivative acetylcholine, lacking in Alzheimer patients, is crucial for short-term memory.
  • Inositol promotes hair growth, reduces cholesterol levels, prevents artery hardening, and is calming to the nervous system.
  • Phytosterols, sometimes described as ‘plant hormones’ or phytoestrogens, affect cholesterol absorption, hormone regulation and cell metabolism.

Scientists are studying the use of hemp seed extracts to boost the immuno-depressed who have such illnesses as AIDS and cancer.Edestin, so compatible with the human digestive system that, in 1955, a Czechoslovakian Tuberculosis Nutrition Study found Hemp Seed to be the only food that successfully treated tuberculosis – a disease in which nutritive processes become impaired and the body wastes away.

Graphical representation of Protein Amino Acid profiles for Soy Bean, Hemp Seed and Egg White. Individual Amino Acids are represented by their IUPAC abbreviations :

Typical protein content (%) of each food is given directly below the name :

Amino Acid Potato  Wheat  Rice  Soy bean  Hemp Seed  Rape Seed  Egg White  Whey Powder
Alanine 0.9 0.5 0.56 1.39 1.28 1.05 0.83 0.61
Arginine 0.1 0.61 0.62 2.14 3.1 1.49 0.68 0.39
Aspartic Acid 0.34 0.69 0.86 3.62 2.78 1.82 1.23 1.49
Cystine 0.02 0.28 0.1 0.54 0.41 0.39 0.29 0.17
Glutamic Acid 0.37 4 1.68 5.89 4.57 4.41 1.67 2.4
Glycine 0.1 0.71 0.47 1.29 1.14 1.28 0.5 0.29
Histidine* 0.03 0.27 0.19 0.76 0.71 0.72 0.28 0.29
Isoleucine* 0.08 0.53 0.35 1.62 0.98 1 0.74 0.85
Leucine* 0.11 0.9 0.71 2.58 1.72 1.8 1.08 1.4
Lysine* 0.1 0.37 0.31 1.73 1.03 1.49 0.74 1.15
Methionine* 0.02 0.22 0.17 0.53 0.58 0.46 0.47 0.23
Phenylalanine* 0.08 0.63 0.43 1.78 1.17 1.05 0.76 0.49
Proline 0.09 1.53 0.4 1.65 1.15 1.59 0.5 0.43
Serine 0.08 0.7 0.48 1.54 1.27 1.1 0.92 0.64
Threonine* 0.07 0.42 0.34 1.35 0.88 1.13 0.58 1.02
Tryptophan* 0.02 0.51 0.09 0.41 0.2 0.31 0.2 0.25
Tyrosine 0.06 0.4 0.33 1.14 0.86 0.69 0.46 0.47
Valine* 0.1 0.61 0.51 1.6 1.28 1.26 0.98 0.91

What are Amino Acids?

There are about eighty Amino Acids found in nature, but only twenty to twenty-nine are required for human growth. This figure depends upon the source consulted but most agree the figure is twenty or twenty-one. Once again, depending on the source, eight to ten Amino Acids are considered essential for life. The reason for the classifications of Amino Acids into “essential” and “non-essential” was to distinguish between those the body could manufacture and the ones that had to come from diet.

Essential Amino Acids are those that must come from the diet. These include: Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Valine.

Non-essential Amino Acids are those that the body can manufacture from an available source of nitrogen and a carbon skeleton. These include: Alanine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Carnitine, Citrulline, Cysteine, Cystine, GABA, Glutamic Acid, Glutamine, Gluthathione, Glycine, Hydroxyproline, Ornithine, Proline, Serine, Taurine and Tyrosine.

Semi-essential Amino Acids are ones that can sometimes be made internally if conditions are right. Arginine and Histidine can be converted from other Amino Acids if needed. Methionine can be converted to Cystine, but Cystine cannot be converted to Methionine. Phenylalanine can be converted to tyrosine, but not the other way around. Therefore, when Cystine and Tyrosine are present in the diet, the requirements for Methionine and Phenylalaine are reduced. Thus, Cystine and Tyrosine are sometimes classified as “semi-essential.” The liver is able to produce 80% of the Amino Acids it needs for protein construction, while the remaining 20% must be consumed.

Proteins are classified according to:

  1. composition and chemical properties, i.e., simple, conjugated, compound, or derived
  2. nutritional quality, i.e., complete, partially complete, or incomplete
  3. structure, i.e. fibrous or globular
  4. solubility in water, acid or alcohol.

Based on their content of Amino Acids, foods are often classified as complete, partially complete, or incomplete protein sources. In order for a protein to be complete, it must contain all of the essential Amino Acids. This is the reason that many nutritionists rank non-meat foods as being incomplete. The foods do contain all Amino Acids, but some may be in lower proportions than are required and, therefore, should be combined with another food containing higher amounts of these Amino Acids.

Amino Acid construction consists of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen with some containing sulfur.

In order for the protein-building process to occur in the body, there must be enough quality protein in the diet; and that protein must be easily digestible in order for the breakdown (catabolism) and rebuilding (anabolism) of vital nutrients to occur. The body continually breaks down protein molecules and rebuilds the resulting Amino Acids into other usable chains required by particular areas of the body. Amino Acids compete with each other for entry to the brain. Therefore, to avoid this competition, Amino Acid supplements should be taken on an empty stomach.

In addition to their main functions of building needed proteins, Amino Acids also assist vitamins and minerals to do their jobs properly. Even if vitamins and minerals were absorbed and assimilated rapidly, they would not be as effective as they are in the presence of Amino Acids. In order to be properly assimilated, Amino Acids particularly require the help of Vitamins B12, Bw, C and T, chromium and sleep.

Vegans must be aware that most of the Amino Acid supplements available have an animal-base. There are supplements – derived from vegetable sources – in a crystalline free form that are more stable and preferable because of their rapid absorption. However, labels must be read carefully.

Also, beware of alkali-treated soy products. This treatment tends to reduce three Amino Acids – lysine, serine and cystine – as well as produce a toxic Amino Acid derivative called lysinoalanine. In addition, more people are showing allergy symptoms toward soy products, which may or may not be as a result of products using genetically engineered soybeans.

Amino Acids are actively transported, but also require a carrie and each carrier is specific to certain Amino Acids. For example:

Carrier 1 is for Serine, Threonine and Alanine.
Carrier 2 is for Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Methionine, Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine.
Carrier 3 is for Proline and Hydroxyproline.
Carrier 4 is for Taurine and B-Alanine.
Carrier 5 is for Lysine, Arginine, Cysteine.
Carrier 6 is for Aspartic Acid and Glutamic Acid.

Chemical Division for Amino Acids :

  1. Aromatic Amino Acids : Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Tryptophan
  2. Sulfur Amino Acids : Cysteine, Gluthathione, Taurine, Methionine, Homocysteine
  3. Urea Cycle Amino Acids : Arginine, Citrulline, Ornithine
  4. Glutamate Amino Acids : Glutamic Acid, GABA and Glutamine; Proline and Hydroxyproline; Aspartic Acid-Asparagine
  5. Threonine Amino Acids : Threonine; Glycine; Serine; Alanine
  6. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA): Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine
  7. Important Metabolite Amino Acids : Lysine; Carnitine; Histidine

Individual Amino Acids :

Alanine – a non-essential Amino Acid whose main function is the metabolism of tryptophan and pyridoxine

Arginine – an essential Amino Acid for children and possibly for adults

Asparagine – a non-essential Amino Acid

Aspartic Acid – a non-essential Amino Acid which aids in the formation of RNA and DNA

Carnitine – not a true Amino Acid but sometimes referred to as Vitamin BT

Citrulline – a non-essential Amino Acid involved in the urea cycle

Cysteine – a non-essential, sulphur-containing Amino Acid

Cystine – a non-essential Amino Acid created when two cysteine molecules bond together

Gaba – a non-essential Amino Acid formed from glutamic acid with the help of Vitamin B6

Glutamic Acid – a non-essential Amino Acid that can be synthesized from a number of Amino Acids

Glutamine – a semi-essential Amino Acid

Glutathione – not considered a true Amino Acid but a tripeptide of glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine

Glycine – a non-essential glucogenic Amino Acid that readily converts to serine

Histidine – considered an essential Amino Acid for children, but usually not for adults

Isoleucine – an essential or semi-essential Amino Acid because it sometimes cannot be made in the body

Leucine – an essential branched chain Amino Acid classified as semi-essential by some

Lysine – an essential Amino Acid because it cannot be synthesized in the body and its breakdown is irreversible

Methionine – an essential Amino Acid that cannot be synthesized in the body

Ornithine – a non-essential Amino Acid found free in the body tissues, but not used as a protein building block

Phenylalanine – an essential Amino Acid that is converted to tyrosine in the body

Proline – an aromatic non-essential Amino Acid that requires Vitamin C for its synthesis

Serine – a non-essential Amino Acid derived from glycine, contributing to the formation of cystine from homocysteine

Taurine – a “conditionally essential” Amino Acid for adults and essential for normal infant development

Threonine – an essential Amino Acid, serving as a carrier for phosphate in phosphoproteins

Tryptophan – an essential Amino Acid, the only one with an indole nucleus responsible for the peculiar odor of feces

Tyrosine – an aromatic non-essential Amino Acid produced from phenylalanine

Valine – a branched chain essential or semi-essential Amino Acid

Individual Amino Acid values for each food is given in grams per 100 g. Essential Amino Acids are indicated by an asterisk (*).


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Abbreviations: AL: alpha-Linolenic acid (18:3 Omega-3); GLA: gamma-Linolenic acid (18:3 Omega-6); EFA: Essential Fatty Acid; LDL: Lowdensity Lipoprotein; n6/n3: Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acids; PUFAs: Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids; SDA: Stearidonic Acid (18:4 Omega-3); THC: delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol