Phenylalanine belongs to the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. Therefore, it must be obtained through diet. The above table shows vegan phenylalanine-rich foods.
The amino acid plays a key role in the production of various catecholamines. Catecholamines are a group of neurotransmitters and hormones, including substances such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. These neurotransmitters are important for signal transmission between nerve cells and influence a variety of brain functions, such as mood, concentration, learning ability, and memory. Dopamine, for example, is associated with reward, motivation, and feelings of happiness. Phenylalanine can also have analgesic effects. It is believed that phenylalanine stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are natural substances that alleviate pain and can create a sense of relaxation and well-being.
Phenylalanine is also necessary for protein synthesis. Proteins are the building blocks of tissues, including muscles, skin, hair, enzymes, and hormones. Adequate intake of phenylalanine, along with other amino acids, is important to provide the body with the necessary components for muscle repair and growth because muscle fibers are damaged during exercise.
Phenylalanine Can Be Converted Into Tyrosine
Phenylalanine can be converted into tyrosine in the body. This conversion takes place in the liver through an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase. Therefore, tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid. It is needed for the synthesis of various important molecules in the body and serves as a precursor for the production of crucial neurotransmitters. This table shows which foods contain tyrosine.
What Is The Difference Between Phenylalanine And L-Phenylalanine?
L-Phenylalanine is a naturally occurring amino acid and one of the two forms of phenylalanine:
The L-form is the natural form found in most proteins and used by our body for protein synthesis. Therefore, this form is often referred to as phenylalanine. The D-form is primarily used in the food industry for the production of artificial sweeteners.
Who Has A Higher Requirement?
The phenylalanine requirement can depend on various individual factors. Here are some groups that could potentially have an increased requirement:
- Intense physical activity, especially strength training and muscle-building exercises, can lead to an increased protein requirement. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that is used to a small extent for muscle building and repair of muscle tissue.
- During pregnancy and lactation, nutrient needs increase, including the need for amino acids. Phenylalanine plays an important role in fetal development and milk production during breastfeeding.
- In some diseases or injuries, the body may have an increased requirement to support the healing process. Phenylalanine is involved in tissue repair and wound healing. Therefore, people with severe burns, postoperative conditions, or chronic illnesses could benefit from phenylalanine-rich foods.
- The body tends to lose muscle mass as it ages, a condition known as sarcopenia. Sufficient protein intake, including phenylalanine, is important to prevent muscle breakdown and support muscle maintenance in older adults.
- In some diets with very low calorie intake or during weight loss phases, the protein requirement may be increased to minimize the loss of muscle mass.
- Chronic stress can increase protein breakdown in the body. Phenylalanine and other amino acids are important for protecting the body from the negative effects of stress and minimizing protein breakdown.
A deficiency of phenylalanine can have negative effects on protein synthesis, growth, neurotransmitter production, and metabolism. It can lead to symptoms such as muscle weakness, fatigue, skin changes, nervous system disorders, and cognitive impairment. With a balanced diet that includes phenylalanine-rich foods, deficiency can be easily avoided.
Too Much Phenylalanine?
There are certain metabolic disorders, such as phenylketonuria (PKU), where the body cannot properly metabolize phenylalanine. People with PKU need to strictly control their phenylalanine intake and may need to follow special diets to prevent excessive accumulation of phenylalanine in the blood, which can lead to severe neurological damage. In such cases, the phenylalanine requirement is individually adjusted, and phenylalanine-containing foods are avoided.
Excessive consumption of phenylalanine, especially in the form of supplements, can lead to undesirable side effects. Possible side effects include high blood pressure, headaches, rapid heartbeat, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Phenylalanine For Weight Loss?
However, phenylalanine can play a certain role in weight loss. The amino acid can promote the feeling of satiety and reduce hunger. It is believed that phenylalanine stimulates the production of satiety hormones such as cholecystokinin (CCK), which signals to the brain that we have eaten enough. Weight loss exercises can be found here.
Phenylalanine is present in many foods, especially in protein-rich foods such as nuts and legumes. Phenylalanine needs can be met well with a vegan diet. The following vegan sources of phenylalanine are recommended:
- Legumes are rich in protein and an excellent plant-based source of phenylalanine. Lentils, chickpeas, beans, kidney beans, peanuts, green peas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans contain high amounts of phenylalanine. Soybeans and products made from them such as tofu, tempeh, and soy milk are also rich in plant-based phenylalanine. The table with phenylalanine in legumes is available here.
- Nuts and seeds also contain high amounts of protein and phenylalanine. Examples according to the table include almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds. This table reveals which other nuts and seeds contain phenylalanine.
- Grains and whole grain products not only provide proteins, but also essential carbohydrates and phenylalanine. These include oats (oatmeal), quinoa, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, bulgur, and barley. This table shows grain products with phenylalanine.
- Vegetables also contain phenylalanine, although not in large amounts. Examples of phenylalanine-rich vegetables are spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, asparagus, bell peppers, mushrooms, celery, and eggplant.
- Seaweeds such as nori, wakame, dulse, and spirulina are rich in proteins and also contain phenylalanine. They are often used in Asian cuisine and can be integrated into sushi, salads, soups, or smoothies.
- Fermented foods like tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso are not only rich in beneficial microorganisms but also contain phenylalanine. These foods can be used as a side dish, in sandwiches, or as the main component of dishes.
- Vegan meat alternatives based on soy, wheat, or pea protein are often rich in proteins and, accordingly, in phenylalanine. Examples include tofu, seitan, vegan burgers, vegan sausages, or vegan nuggets.
- Some fruits that have a certain amount of phenylalanine include avocado, jackfruit, kiwi, apricot, mango, pineapple, peach, and strawberries. Keep in mind that phenylalanine in fruits occurs in relatively small amounts.
Here are vegan recipe ideas on how to incorporate phenylalanine into your diet:
- Lentil Vegetable Soup: Cook lentils with various vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions.
- Quinoa Salad with Avocado: Mix cooked quinoa with avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh herbs.
- Fruit Salad with Nuts: Combine different fruits like apples, oranges, berries, and add chopped nuts.
- Vegan Scrambled Eggs: Use chickpea flour as a base for a delicious vegan scrambled egg with vegetables.
- Bean Salad: Mix different types of beans like kidney beans, black beans, and white beans with onions, bell peppers, and a dressing of your choice.
- Vegetable Stir-Fry with Tofu: Stir-fry tofu with a variety of fresh vegetables and season it to taste.
- Oatmeal with Nuts and Berries: Combine oatmeal with chopped nuts and fresh berries for a nutritious breakfast.
- Quinoa Vegetable Stir-Fry: Cook quinoa and then stir-fry it with a mix of various vegetables.
- Vegan Chili: Prepare a delicious chili with beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and spices.
- Broccoli Almond Salad: Steam broccoli and then add almonds, raisins, and a dressing.
- Quinoa Burger: Combine cooked quinoa with mashed beans, spices, and oats, shape into patties, and fry them.
- Vegan Pad Thai: Cook rice noodles with tofu, vegetables, and a spicy sauce.
- Coconut Chia Pudding: Mix coconut milk with chia seeds and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Serve with fresh fruit.
- Quinoa Bean Burrito: Fill a tortilla with cooked quinoa, beans, avocado, and vegetables of your choice.
- Spinach Avocado Smoothie: Blend fresh spinach, avocado, banana, and plant-based milk into a creamy smoothie.