Foods High in L-Arginine

L-arginine is a popular ingredient in preworkout formulas and other sports supplements. Its benefits, though, go beyond enhanced athletic performance. This amino acid stimulates the production of human growth hormone, improves blood flow and may help treat certain disorders, such as angina and congestive heart failure. Depending on your needs, you can either eat foods high in l-arginine or take dietary supplements containing this nutrient.

The amino acid l-arginine plays a key role in physical endurance and cardiovascular health. (Image: bogdankosanovic/iStock/GettyImages)

What Is L-Arginine?

This conditionally essential amino acid regulates several processes in the body, including nitric oxide synthesis, protein synthesis and blood circulation. Most studies emphasize its vasodilatory effects. After ingestion, your body converts arginine into nitric oxide, a chemical compound that dilates the blood vessels and helps increase blood flow.

As WebMD notes, l-arginine is commonly used in the treatment of high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, chest pain and other ailments. It may also relieve some of the symptoms associated with diabetes, dementia, polycystic ovary syndrome and even cancer. As a dietary supplement, it may help prevent and reduce inflammation and increase physical endurance in angina sufferers.

Arginine is considered a semiessential or conditionally essential amino acid. Even though your body can produce it on its own, certain factors — such as stress and illness — can deplete arginine in the bloodstream.

According to a 2017 review published in the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice, low arginine levels may increase the risk of developing heart disease, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis and even cancer. That's why it's recommended that you eat foods high in l-arginine or take arginine powder and tablets when you're ill, stressed or recovering from surgery.

Discover the Healthiest L-Arginine Foods

This amino acid occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, from meat, fish and dairy to nuts and whole grains. Sesame and peanut flour, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mollusks, spinach, turkey and spirulina are among the best sources.

In addition to l-arginine, these foods are rich in protein, complex carbs, fiber and healthy fats. Some also contain large amounts of lysine, an essential amino acid that promotes tissue growth and repair.

Many people take lysine for problems such as cold sores, canker sores and herpes. Its effectiveness is, however, subject to debate.

Read more: Arginine & Lysine

Fill Up on Turkey

Turkey breast is one of the best dietary sources of arginine. It's also chock-full of protein and minerals. One serving delivers 26 grams of protein, 1.8 grams of fat and 3.4 percent of the daily recommended intake of iron. Plus, it's low in calories and boasts large doses of potassium.

The amino acid tryptophan in turkey meat can lift your mood and ensure a good night's sleep. According to a 2016 review featured in the journal Nutrients, tryptophan plays a key role in the production of serotonin, the so-called "happiness hormone." This natural compound elevates serotonin levels, which may help prevent depression, boost cognitive function and improve sleep quality.

Snack on Pumpkin Seeds

One serving of roasted pumpkin seeds provides 2,076 milligrams of l-arginine. These crunchy treats are also rich in protein, omega-3s, fiber and slow-digesting carbs. A quarter cup delivers 64 percent of the recommended daily intake of manganese and 57 percent of the recommended allowance of phosphorus.

A 2018 clinical trial published in Nutrition Research highlights the hypoglycemic effects of pumpkin seeds. Subjects who added 65 grams of these seeds to high-carb meals experienced a significant reduction in postprandial glycemia.

These findings indicate that pumpkin seeds may help prevent blood sugar spikes and lower your risk of diabetes in the long run. However, more research is needed in this area.

Swap Salty Snacks for Peanuts

Peanuts deliver both flavor and nutrition. According to a 2016 review featured in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, these healthy snacks have the highest level of arginine among foods. They also provide all the 20 amino acids along with large doses of coenzyme Q10, resveratrol, phytosterols and flavonoids.

Researchers point out that a high arginine intake can improve immune function and help in liver detox by offsetting the harmful effects of ammonia and other harmful compounds in the body. Furthermore, the antioxidants in peanuts may lower your risk of stroke, arteriosclerosis and age-related brain disorders.

These crunchy treats have higher antioxidant levels than red wine and green tea. When consumed boiled or roasted, their antioxidant capacity increases twofold to fourfold.

Power Up Your Diet

There are many other foods high in l-arginine. Lentils, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, nuts and chicken are just a few examples.

Consume these products on a regular basis to prevent arginine deficiency. Keep your diet varied by trying out new foods and experimenting with different recipes.

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