Home & Leisure

Environmental Nutrition: Amino acid overview; understanding umami

Kristen N. Smith, Ph.D., RDN, Environmental Nutrition on

Q: What are amino acids and how do I get them in my diet?

A: Amino acids are “building block” compounds that make up the proteins in the body. There are 20 amino acids that fall into three different groupings: essential, nonessential, or conditional. The term “essential” means that the body cannot produce the compound itself so it must be obtained through the diet. Though there are 20 amino acids, only nine are essential:

Amino acids are involved in many bodily processes, helping boost athletic performance, decreasing muscle breakdown, and improving the process of muscle repair. To ensure a diet rich in amino acids, look for a range of protein types — and you don’t have to be a carnivore to meet these needs. Sources of amino acids include animal sources, like eggs, turkey, fish and dairy (cottage cheese) but also vegetarian and vegan sources such as mushrooms, quinoa and a wide range of beans and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, edamame, peanuts and black beans). Including a variety of different amino acid sources helps to ensure that all nine essential amino acids are in your diet.

Q: What is umami and what are its benefits?

A: Umami is the fifth flavor (in addition to sweet, salty, sour and bitter), discovered in Japan


over a hundred years ago. The term umami, meaning “delicious,” embodies a flavor profile

of savory, brothy, rich or meaty taste sensation. This complex flavor experience helps to deepen or complete flavors and aromas and improve mouthfeel. Foods that provide the umami flavoring include Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, meat, fish, dried shitake mushrooms, along with soy sauce and fermented sauces from grains, fish sauce, and more. The use of umami is important for a range of reasons including:

(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit

©2021 Belvoir Media Group, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




Bill Bramhall David M. Hitch David Horsey Adam Zyglis Drew Sheneman Bill Day