What does it mean that a food or food product contains a source of phenylalanine? Find out what it consists of, if we should consume it and whether or not it is dangerous to our health.
Right now I was eating a skimmed yogurt with bifids and when I took a look at its nutrition label (where all the ingredients that have been used to make it appear), I noticed the following warning: it contains a source of phenylalanine. And, like many of our readers, I asked myself a few questions: what is phenylalanine? What does it mean?
First of all, we must bear in mind that phenylalanine is a fundamental essential amino acid for our body. Since our body is not capable of synthesizing it, it must be provided through food, since it is the only way to obtain it.
We are, therefore, before an essential nutrient. And, precisely, it is essential for the proper functioning of our body since it is used by our brain for the production of norepinephrine, a substance that transmits signals between nerve cells to promote alertness. It also improves mood, memory and learning, reduces the sensation of pain (muscular, head and back), is essential for the formation of collagen and improves the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and depression.
The foods containing phenylalanine are food products in which a source of phenylalanine is used (as a sweetener). In these cases it is usual that together with the ingredients used in its preparation we find sweeteners such as aspartame, as we will comment on the following lines.
Why is its presence noted on the labeling of many foods and food products?
When we analyze the label of the product that we are eating or that we are going to eat, it is normal that we ask ourselves why it is warned about the presence of a certain nutrient, substance or compound.
For example, the same yogurt that I was taking until a moment ago also warns about the presence of “traces of soy, peanuts, nuts and eggs”, and I know that this warning is produced as an alert to those who suffer from some type of food intolerance or allergy to any of these foods. But what about phenylalanine?
When you come across a product that is said to contain a source of phenylalanine, this is a warning for people with phenylketonuria, a rare inherited disease that lacks an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase, which is necessary to break it down. Phenylalanine as an essential amino acid, so that it accumulates in the body to cause damage to the central nervous system, in turn causing brain damage.
When this disease exists, the body is unable to convert phenylalanine to tyrosine, so it becomes phenyl pyruvate instead.
In addition, we must bear in mind that when this product warns about the presence of phenylalanine, it is likely that, in its ingredients, we will also find the controversial aspartame, a sweetener on which many doubts have arisen in recent years in relation to its possible negative health effects and consequences. And, indeed! I found the yogurt I was eating on the label…
Should we continue to eat phenylalanine products?
We cannot forget that phenylalanine is an essential amino acid fundamental for the proper functioning of our body, which in addition to in industrial food products, we can also find it in foods of animal origin (such as milk and dairy products, eggs, meat and fish) and of vegetable origin (such as cereals, legumes, greens and vegetables).
Therefore, a regular but moderate and never excessive consumption would not be dangerous or harmful to our health. As long as there is no type of contraindication in this regard.
However, it is most advisable to opt for natural foods that provide phenylalanine, and not those that have been enriched with it using it as a natural sweetener, as is the case with diet foods, soft drinks and canned juices.