The essential elements

Why amino acids are critical for our existence

milk and fruitsOur body is a complex structure made up of proteins. The proteins, in turn, are made up of amino acids.

In all, we have 22 amino acids in our body. Out of these, eight are termed as ‘essential’ because in addition to being vital to our body, they have to be sourced from foods and supplements, as our body is unable to produce them.

Let’s now understand the role each of these essential amino acids plays in detail.

  • Isoleucine: It aids in regularising blood sugar levels and muscle recovery post workout or trauma. It also helps in blood clotting and formation of haemoglobin.
  • Leucine: It plays a vital role in healing of wounds, regulating energy levels and production of growth hormone. It is also partly involved in regularising the body’s blood sugar.
  • Lysine: It is principally concerned with growth in children and bone development in all. Lysine also helps produce antibodies and is beneficial in treating and preventing herpes. In addition, it helps in collagen formation.
  • Methionine: It mainly works as an antioxidant to fight free radicals and also contributes in regulating energy levels.
  • Phenylalanine: This is an important essential amino acid, as it helps build hormones. It is also required for forming tyrosine, an amino acid required for brain development. Therefore, those who are unable to process phenylalanine also develop a lack of tyrosine.
  • Threonine: It is responsible for maintaining the body’s immunity as it creates antibodies. It also helps in metabolising fat.
  • Tryptophan: It is critical to growth in infants and helps maintain nitrogen balance in adults. It regulates secretion of serotonin, a hormone that helps in sleep and mood regulation.
  • Valine: This too aids in better growth, muscle regulation and energy production.

Get these from.

In general, milk and milk products, wheat, dals, sprouts, nuts, oilseeds and organ meat are good sources of amino acids. But if you are looking to include specific essential amino acids in your diet, you have to source them from particular foods.

Here’s some help with that.

  • Isoleucine, leucine and lysine: brown rice, milk, eggs, beans and meat.
  • Methionine: garlic, fish, beans, lentils, onions and yogurt.
  • Phenylalanine: poultry, soy, pork, milk and milk products, and certain nuts like peanuts.
  • Valine: mushrooms, soy, peanuts and dairy products.

This was first published in the November 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Malavika Athavale
Malavika Athavale is a post graduate in Dietetics from SNDT University and a consulting nutritionist with varied experiences across clinical nutrition, individual consulting and corporate nutrition assignments. She runs her nutrition clinic in Mumbai and also conducts educational workshops.


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