Understanding Amino Acids and their Importance in Diet

December 7, 2010   Filed under weight loss

Nutritional scientists know the worth of protein in a healthy diet, and it’s also widely recognized by the population at large. In fact, protein directly or indirectly plays important roles in the body’s different systems and functions. To name a few: protein aids in the structural development of cells, ensures tissue integrity, helps in digestion, transports hormones, and boosts the immune system [i].

In recent years however, individuals were somewhat forced to increase their consumption of high protein foods on account of the popularity of such carbohydrate-free and low-carbohydrate diets, like the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet and Isometric Diet. Because of these popular diet programs, millions of people are actually zealously scanning the food labels, and asking relevant questions every time they eat out. Added to this growing number of protein-aware individuals are, after all, the millions of bodybuilders, powerlifters, and athletes who have demonstrated for centuries the irreplaceable value of protein in building and sustaining muscle.

As impressive and inspiring as it is to see that more individuals than ever before are “protein-conscious”, there is still more useful protein info to learn. It’s high time that we augment this understanding of protein with even more information, this time about amino acids.

Understandably, many people don’t understand that amino acids are not really acids per se. They are the molecular units that make up protein. They are, quite simply, the very building blocks of protein.

Amino acids are organic compounds which are also made up of two groups of molecules, amino (-NH2) and carboxyl (-COOH). There are 19 amino acids in all which comprise the human diet: 11 of these are non-essential, while the remaining 8 are essential. This realization – that there are two types of amino acids – is very important and ought to be considered and operated on by eaters everywhere.

Judging by the words alone, it will be quite difficult to associate protein with “amino acids”, and the terms “essential” and ‘non-essential” add much more fuel to this confusion. “Essential” is a word that’s typically thrown around in the nutritional world, either to mean something which is important, critical, or irreplaceable. For instance, a nutritionist might tell her patient that consuming 50 grams of protein daily is essential; the intended meaning here is “very important”.

This specific meaning applies to the terms “essential” and “non essential” amino acids.

Non-essential amino acids are those that the body can produce on its own. This does not mean, in fact, that the body can create these non-essential amino acids out of nothing. Instead, it implies that the body can manufacture these 11 non-essential amino acids out of raw materials in its own inner laboratory. It is because of this that these 11 amino acids are known as non-essential; it has nothing to do with the term “important” or “unimportant”. In alphabetical order, the 11 non-essential amino acids are:[ii]

– Alanine

– Arginine

– Asparagine

– Aspartic Acid

– Cysteine

– Glutamic Acid

– Glutamine

– Glycine

– Histidine

– Proline

– Tyrosine

The remaining 8 amino acids are referred to as essential; and this refers to the fact that they cannot be synthesized. The body can only receive them exogenously (eg. through food). These essential amino acids include, in alphabetical order: [iii]

– Isoleucine

– Leucine

– Lysine

– Methionine

– Phenylalanine

– Serine

– Threonine

– Tryptophan

– Valine

Knowing the value of amino acids is crucial, since the failure to eat foods that carry these important amino acids can lead to deficiency and poor health effects. These results can include – however aren’t restricted to — fatigue, allergies, loss of memory, and even heart disease [iv]. When one considers the pain and suffering brought on by any of those four ill health results, and the myriad of subsequent ailments that they can provoke, it becomes readily apparent that a knowledge of amino acids, and especially “essential” amino acids, must be a part of an intelligent eater’s knowledge base.

While there has been some movement on the part of nutritional supplement companies to supply eaters with convenient and palatable sources of protein, many have put their marketing needs first and ignored amino acids altogether. As a consequence of this omission, some eaters are actually suffering from an “overdose” of incomplete protein. It’s because their diet may not be providing them with the complete, essential protein needed. The only complete proteins on the planet are derived from dairy, meat, fish, poultry, and soy, and these foods are not present in our most common foods. There are, however, protein supplements that also offer proteins with the full spectrum of amino acids.

The answer is actually simple and easily attainable. Quite simply, you simply have to choose foods and nutritional supplements which supply “complete” protein sources. Which means that it should comprise all of the 19 amino acids together with the eight “essential’ amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own.

Even though there are only some of them presently operating, however there are actually some corporations that manufacture nutritional supplements which are guaranteed to have all amino acids present. It’s worth noting that they’re not really required to do that because the consumers or the Food and Drug Administration aren’t demanding that they put this info on their food labels; or at least not yet. This is all the more motive to laud those corporations that are putting individuals and nutrition first, and marketing a distant second.


[i] Source: “Amino Acids. Diet-and-health-net. http://www.diet-and-health.net/Nutrients/AminoAcids.html

[ii] Source: “Amino Acids”. About.com. http://exercise.about.com/library/Glossary/bldef-amino_acids.htm

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Source: “What are Amino Acids?”. Vanderbilt University. http://vanderbiltowc.wellsource.com/dh/content.asp?ID=759

Protica Research (Protica, Inc.) specializes in the development of Capsulized Foods. Protica manufactures Profect, IsoMetric, Pediagro, Fruitasia and over 100 other brands, including Medicare-approved, whey protein liquid for dialysis patients. You can learn more at Protica Research – Copyright


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