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Amino acids

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Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life.

When proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are left. The human body uses amino acids to make proteins to help the body:

Amino acids can also be used as a source of energy by the body.

Amino acids are classified into three groups:

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

Nonessential means that our bodies produce an amino acid, even if we do not get it from the food we eat. Nonessential amino acids include: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

CONDITIONAL AMINO ACIDS

You do not need to eat essential and nonessential amino acids at every meal, but getting a balance of them over the whole day is important. A diet based on a single plant item will not be adequate, but we no longer worry about pairing proteins (such as beans with rice) at a single meal. Instead we look at the adequacy of the diet overall throughout the day.

References

Binder HJ, Mansbach CM. Nutrient digestion and absorption. In: Boron WF, Boulpaep EL, eds. Medical Physiology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 45.

Dietzen DJ. Amino acids, peptides, and proteins. In: Rifai N, ed. Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Diagnostics. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2018:chap 28.

Trumbo P, Schlicker S, Yates AA, Poos M; Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, The National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(11):1621-1630. PMID: 12449285 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12449285.

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Review Date: 2/2/2019  

Reviewed By: Emily Wax, RD, CNSC, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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