Most amino acids fall into one of two categories: essential or nonessential. L-arginine, or arginine, is different. While it's essential for children, arginine is only conditionally essential for adults. If you’re healthy, your body makes enough to meet metabolic needs, but if you’re sick you need to get extra amounts through food or supplements, reports an article in the July 2009 issue of the “British Journal of Pharmacology.” Either way, you can count on getting it through a variety of protein-containing foods.
As an amino acid, arginine helps build proteins, but it also stimulates the secretion of growth hormone, helps remove ammonia from your body and has a role in healing wounds. Your body uses arginine to produce nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels. New York University's Langone Medical Center says studies show that arginine improves symptoms related to congestive heart failure. It may also lower blood pressure, according to a study published in the May 2010 issue of “Medical Science Monitor.”
Best Animal Sources
Since healthy adults don’t need to obtain arginine through their diet, a recommended daily intake has not been established, but you can count on getting a high amount of arginine from protein-rich foods, including pork, beef, chicken, turkey and dairy products. The top choices for seafood are tuna, salmon, halibut, trout, tilapia and canned anchovies.
Top Plant-Based Choices
A variety of plant-based foods provide arginine. Some of the best choices are soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts and walnuts. You'll also get it from sweet green peppers and the seaweed spirulina. Grains such as quinoa, oats and wheat germ deliver arginine, as do a variety of ready-to-eat cereals made from oats, rice and wheat.
It's hard to track arginine intake because individual amino acids are not listed on the nutrition facts label. However, you should get a sufficient amount of arginine if you consume the recommended dietary allowance for total protein. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 46 grams of protein daily, while men should aim for 56 grams. If you're concerned about your arginine intake, talk to your health care provider about taking supplements.