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 the National Human Genome Research Institute.


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.

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Nucleic Acid Foods

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

  • 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.
  • Nuts:‌ In addition to containing nucleic acids, nuts also have plant protein and healthy unsaturated fats.


  • Vegetables:‌ Vegetables can be high sources of nucleic acids, especially Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, beans and broccoli, per a January 2018 study in the journal Nucleic Acids Research.
  • Mushrooms:‌ Mushrooms are among the foods that are high in nucleic acids, especially flat, whitecap and oyster mushrooms, per the ‌Nucleic Acids Research‌ study.

  • 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.

Why Do Humans Need Nucleic Acids?

Nucleic acids have several functions in the body. 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.


DNA is the nucleic acid most people are familiar with. Your cells contain DNA in their nuclei. 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.


There's an intricate relationship between nucleic acids and protein. 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.

Nucleic acid also plays a role in reproduction. It helps pass genetic information from person to fetus. During conception, DNA from egg cells and sperm cells combine, producing a fertilized egg with a full set of DNA. This fertilized egg contains all the genetic information necessary to produce a fully functional human.


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. According to a highly cited March 2016 review in Food & Function, the following dietary intake of protein is recommended to meet your body's functional needs:


  • 1 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight for people with minimal physical therapy
  • 1.3 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight for people engaged in moderate activity
  • 1.6 grams per 2.2 pounds of body weight for people engaged in intense physical activity

Up to two grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight every day is safe for healthy adults over the long term, according to the review.


The nucleic acid in foods is generally converted into uric acid. Uric acid enters the blood and urine, where it can form crystals, a condition known as gout, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

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




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