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Desert Diary
Culture/Amino Acids


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There's more to eating right than just wolfing down whatever's set in front of you. Our desert's Native Americans must have learned this early, because they managed to live in reasonable health. Many plant foods lack essential amino acids. Now before you recoil in horror at the thought of eating acids, rest assured that this isn't bad—that's what proteins are made of. The trouble is, humans can't make some of them even though they're necessary for our body to manufacture our own proteins. Thus, these essential amino acids have to be obtained from the diet. There are a couple ways to do this.

One is to supplement a plant diet with animal protein, and this was done, though not always dependably in a desert environment. The other is to combine the kinds of plants eaten so that they complement each other in the kinds of amino acids present. Beans and maize (corn to Mid-westerners) do this very nicely, and the Three Sisters of the Native Americans—beans, maize, and squash—helped assure a healthy diet.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest. rule

Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.