All About Nucleic Acid Foods and Functions

Nucleic acid is an essential component of many bodily processes, and many foods can be sources of nucleic acids
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Nucleic acids are polymers of acidic monomeric subunits known as nucleotides, according to a July 2012 Chemical Analysis of Food: Techniques and Applications report.

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In simpler terms, nucleic acids are what make up DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which makes up the genetic information of cells in the body. RNA (ribonucleic acid) is also a common form of nucleic acid, which is key in all living cells and plays a vital role in making proteins.

Nucleic Acid Foods

Any food that comes from a living thing (animals, plants and yeast) will contain nucleic acid. Here are some examples:

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  • Meat:​ Animal muscles are naturally high in nucleic acids, so chicken and red meat, such as beef and pork, are great sources, per a 2016 report in the Encyclopedia of Food and Health.

  • Seafood:​ Fish is also high in nucleic acids, but it isn't only animal-based foods that provide nucleic acids. Chlorella, plant-based edible algae, is also a good source.

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  • Nuts:​ In addition to containing nucleic acids, nuts also have plant protein and healthy unsaturated fats.
  • Vegetables:​ A January 2018 study in the journal Nucleic Acids Research states that vegetables can be high sources of nucleic acids, especially Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, beans and broccoli.

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  • Mushrooms:​ The ​Nucleic Acids Research​ study also shows that mushrooms are among the foods that are high in nucleic acids, especially flat, whitecap and oyster mushrooms.

  • Grains:​ Plant sources like wheat and rye flour have less nucleic acid than animal sources, according to the ​Encyclopedia of Food and Health​ report.
  • Yeast:​ Hydrolyzed and autolyzed yeast, often found in vegetarian microwaveable meals, is also a source of nucleic acids.

Functions of Nucleic Acids

Nucleic acids are made up of nucleotides, which are molecules that are essential to almost every biological process in the human body.

They serve as messengers and as a source of energy (in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP), according to the ​Encyclopedia of Food and Health​ report.

The DNA code contains instructions needed to make the proteins and other molecules necessary for growth, development and overall health, according to Your Genome. RNA's main role is to convert the information stored in DNA into proteins.

Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids, which also make up your DNA. So getting plenty of amino acids — especially essential amino acids, which your body can't make on its own — through a variety of protein-rich foods ensures your body stays in tip-top shape.

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Adults should get at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight, according to the Institute of Medicine. That translates to about 54 grams of protein a day for someone who weighs 150 pounds.

But, many experts recommend getting more than that — 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight. That looks like 81 to 108 grams of protein per day for someone who weighs 150 pounds.

Warning

The nucleic acid in foods is generally converted into uric acid and enters the blood and urine, where it can form crystals, a condition known as gout, according to September 2011 research in Seminars in Nephrology.

Eating more meat and seafood is associated with an increased risk of gout, whereas eating vegetables high in nucleic acids does not appear to have this effect.

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