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 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. 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.
Are You Getting Enough Protein?
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.
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 vegetable foods high in nucleic acid does not appear to have this effect.
- ScienceDirect: "Nucleic Acids"
- Encyclopedia Britannica: "Nucleic Acid"
- Oxford University Press: "Nucleic Acid Research"
- National Science Review: "Non-Coding RNA: A New Frontier in Regulatory Biology"
- Scientific Reports: "Digestion of Nucleic Acids Starts in the Stomach"
- Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology: "Dietary Ribonucleic Acid Suppresses Inflammation of Adipose Tissue and Improves Glucose Intolerance That Is Mediated by Immune Cells in c57bl/6 Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet"
- Seminars in Nephrology: Uric acid: A Danger Signal from the RNA World that may have a role in the Epidemic of Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome and CardioRenal Disease: Evolutionary Considerations