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Essential Amino Acids

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Important amino acids are necessary protein components for the proper functioning of the body that must necessarily be taken with the diet. Discover their functions and from what foods to obtain them.

Foods are made up of several nutrients. Among them are the macronutrients that provide energy, and the micronutrients: vitamins and minerals, and water. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, lipids and proteins. Each of them is formed by other smaller molecules, which join together to create a larger one. In this way, when we eat food, the macronutrients are separated into their most minor components to cross the intestinal mucosa and be metabolised and used in the cells. These two processes are called digestion and absorption.

In the case of proteins, which are large and complex molecules in their spatial form, their primary components are called amino acids. In nature, as members of proteins, there are 22 amino acids in total. Of these, 10 are classified as essential.

An essential amino acid is one that the body is not able to synthesise by itself and, therefore, must necessarily take it from the outside through the diet. In addition, they are necessary amino acids for the proper development of some functions in the body. The necessary amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, valine, methionine, lysine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, threonine, histidine, arginine.

These last two amino acids are essential depending on the rest of the components of the diet, so they are really considered semi-essential. In the case of histidine, it is an essential amino acid in childhood that becomes non-essential in adulthood.

When food has all the essential amino acids, and in a considerable amount, it is said to contain protein of high biological value. The protein considered of better quality is the one present in the egg, albumin. This protein not only contains all the essential amino acids for man but also they are in an unbeatable arrangement and order for absorption in the intestine.

It can also happen that food contains all the essential amino acids except one, or possesses it in a very small amount. In that case, it is considered that this is the limiting amino acid in that food to be considered as proteins of high biological value.

Importance of essential amino acids in the diet

As already mentioned, the consumption of minimal amounts of essential amino acids is necessary for the maintenance of life. The recommendations establish that a small daily and distributed consumption of these nutrients is preferable to concentrate their intake on specific days. The requirements speak of between 20-150 mg of each amino acid per kg of weight and day.

In addition, with a varied diet that includes all food groups in the recommended amounts, the content of essential amino acids is more than enough to cover the recommendations. In the event that foods of animal origin are restricted, it will be necessary to know and handle very well the appropriate combinations to achieve these components.

Faced with continued deficiencies of these components, symptoms may appear at the level of the nervous system. Still, the involvement will be evident in all organs and systems, such as the musculoskeletal system and injuries at the muscular level. Difficulties can also be seen in wound healing and muscle recovery after an effort. There is also the possibility of altering the metabolism of macronutrients. 

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