Many people who lack much knowledge about nutrition think that proteins are one thing. However, there are thousands of different types of proteins or even millions. Proteins are large molecules that are made up of amino acids. Amino-acids are building blocks of proteins. Thus take amino acids as alphabets, and proteins as words.
To speak and write English, we need to know few thousand words and just 24 alphabets. Similarly, each cell of our body contains thousands of proteins, and each of it contains just 20 different amino acids in various combinations.
Essential amino acids are those which our body cannot synthesize or manufacture, hence they are required to be supplied by the diet. While non-essential are those, which our body can synthesize, thus if the diet does not supply them, our body will still not suffer. As we already told that our body needs just 20 amino acids to make just any type of protein, and out of these nine are essential. Further, six are semi-essential, meaning that the body can make them but not in substantial quantity. It means that just five amino acids that can be abundantly produced by the body and can be easily made by our body.
However, this does not mean that if these nine essential and six semi-essential cannot be made at all. In case of extreme need, our body has capabilities to convert one type into another, though that would be a complicated process requiring the expenditure of energy.
Names of the nine essential amino acids are histidine, threonine, tryptophan, valine, phenylalanine, leucine, methionine, lysine, and isoleucine.
So good protein source is one that is rich in essential and semi-essential amino acids. Their high intake is especially important if you are involved in sports that need building lots of muscular mass in a short time. Thus supplements rich in these amino acids would be better. Hence it is not just about total protein content, but about how much a particular protein source has essential amino acids.
Just said, essential amino acids can be regarded as the parameter of protein quality, higher are they in protein, better is the protein source.
So how to ensure that a person is getting enough of essential and semi-essential amino acids?
Most animal protein sources are rich in essential amino acids, be it lean meat, poultry, or milk. If a person is vegan than high protein sources are soy, tofu, nuts, legumes, and cereals. Proteins of plant sources are often criticized as they are deficient in one or another type of essential amino acids. Thus the secret of getting high-quality protein (and all of the essential amino acids) from plants is in mixing two three products. Let's say eating beans with rice would be better than having beans alone, in that way they complement each other.
When we talk about balanced diet, combining various food sources is always good. Because if red meat is rich in essential amino acids, it may be poor in certain microelements, vitamins, and may not give enough calories. By combining various plant and animal-based products, one can ensure that perfect harmony is achieved. Richer your vocabulary, better are the chances of writing a beautiful poem or prose.
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