What is an amino acid? Are amino acids important to your diet?
If there was a single substance that could be considered the raw material which your body is made of, it would have to be amino acids. While there are many substances, vitamins, and minerals which your body relies on to stay healthy and perform, no other substance plays as essential a role in the actual building of the tissues of your body. In short, one of the most essential parts of any healthy diet is one rich in essential amino acids.
If there was a single substance that could be considered the raw material which your body is made of, it would have to be amino acids. While there are many substances, vitamins, and minerals which your body relies on to stay healthy and perform, no other substance plays as essential a role in the actual building of the tissues of your body. This is because the tissues of your body are made of links of protein, and every protein is made up of series of interlocking amino acids. So in short, one of the most essential parts of any healthy diet is one rich in essential amino acids.
What exactly is an amino acid? An amino acid is a compound that your body uses to make proteins. Every part of your body, from your brain cells to your hair, from your teeth and nails to your muscles are made up of proteins. Your body can synthesize many of the amino acids it needs to make proteins on its own, but there are some that your body cannot synthesize and must acquire from the food you eat. These are known as essential amino acids. They are termed essential because if you did not acquire them from your diet your body would no longer be able to form the proteins which rely on a particular essential amino acid, and you would suffer from the symptoms of deficiency!
Interesting, amino acid deficiencies can manifest themselves in many ways. The most obvious of which is the atrophy of tissues of the body. Imagine what would happen to a brick building if a wall fell down but you did not have any bricks to rebuild! It would soon fall into tremendous disrepair until the structural integrity of the building itself was threatened. This is exactly what happens when you are deficient in an essential amino acid. You will find your hair becoming brittle and weak, and perhaps even falling out. Your muscles will begin to shrink and your skin will lose its luster and elasticity. Your eyesight will become blurry and even your fingernails will become brittle and weak. These are all symptoms of amino acid deficiency, and come about because almost all the tissue of your body is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. When your body doesn't have the necessary building blocks-namely amino acids-it will fail to rebuild itself properly and you will suffer a myriad of symptoms.
Now that you understand how essential amino acids are to a proper and healthy diet, where exactly does your body acquire the essential amino acids it needs to grow and repair? The easiest way to get a balanced does of amino acids is to eat meat! Since meat is predominantly protein, it has the perfect balance of essential amino acids that your body needs. Any dietary source of complete proteins like meat, fish, milk, and eggs are excellent sources of amino acids. This is why most people do not suffer from amino acid deficiencies unless they are poor or vegetarians or just do not consume enough meat. Another source of essential amino acids are beans and nuts. While they are rich in some amino acids, they do not have the perfect balance that your body needs like in meats. This doesn't mean you have to eat meat to stay healthy though, because if you mix different legumes, nuts, and grains you can get a proper balance of essential amino acids. The key is to make sure that you consume foods from all the different non-meat sources so that you will get a cocktail of the amino acids your body needs, and therefore your body will be able to attain all the different essential amino acids from your diet.
With a bit of discipline and research, you can continue to eat healthy and enjoy good health and attain your amino acids from any source you'd like. The important thing is balance. As with all things good, moderation and balance is the key to deriving the most benefit.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ron Godlewski has written many articles on health, wellness, and maintaining vitality throughout our lifetime. Read more about the importance of nutrition and the many benefits of vitamins in our daily diets in the article library at the Health and Nutrition Articles Library, and even receive your own complementary copy of a nationally recognized health and nutrition magazine just for visiting!