A complete protein is a protein that contains all nine amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. A few examples of complete proteins are quinoa, tofu, chicken, and beef. However, there are a few nonessential amino acids that many people do not get enough of in their diet. One of these amino acids is arginine; so keep reading to learn about 10 foods high in Arginine, and why that is important!

Arginine is often overlooked because many assume that, since it is not one of the essential amino acids, that we get enough in our daily diet. Arginine, though naturally synthesized in our bodies, is not always consumed in the amounts that our bodies require. Foods high in arginine should be eaten regularly to make sure our bodies function properly and healthily.

What is arginine?

As mentioned above, arginine is an amino acid. It is one of the nonessential amino acids that our body needs for daily function. Arginine is naturally synthesized as an intermediate in what is called the urea cycle pathway, which is how the body gets rid of ammonia. Arginine is considered one of the metabolically diverse amino acids, because it is involved in the synthesis of nitric oxide, glutamate, and creatine. 

Why do we need arginine?

Arginine is incredibly vital to bodily functions because of its diversity. Arginine deficiency has been found to contribute to various inflammatory and oxidative processes that are related to heart disease and metabolic disorders. For example, arginine is directly involved in production of nitric oxide, which acts as a signaling molecule. 

Changes in the nitric oxide production pathway are related to the development of diseases such as cardiorenal syndrome, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Since arginine is involved in so many processes, having adequate or high levels of arginine can be highly beneficial for health. 

What are the health benefits of arginine, and how does it work?

There are many health benefits of arginine. While the health effects of arginine are still being studied to this day, there are a few notable benefits that you may want to take note of!

1. Lower blood pressure

Arginine was found to lower blood pressure in adults with hypertension and in pregnant women with gestational hypertension. Additionally, lower arginine levels have been found in women with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia. Pregnant women with preeclampsia have lower amounts of circulating nitric oxide, which increases blood pressure; since arginine is directly related to the production of nitric oxide, adequate arginine consumption can lower blood pressure by raising nitric oxide levels.

2. Better hospital recovery

Arginine was found to reduce infection rates in surgical patients and the length of their stay in the hospital. Additionally, patients that were provided arginine therapy showed increased levels of CD4 T-cell counts, which regulate immune cell activity. CD4 T-cells are vital to the creation of adaptive immune responses that help our bodies fight off future infections. 

Arginine also promotes protein synthesis and speeds up the process of healing a wound. This is because arginine is involved in the production of collagen and is a precursor for polyamine synthesis, which encourages cell growth. 

3. Improved fertility in men

Arginine, when administered to infertile men for 6-8 weeks, was found to increase sperm counts and motility in most of the patients in the study and ultimately led to successful conception. This could be because of better synthesis of arginine proteins in sperm and the role of nitric oxide in sperm motility. Nitric oxide, produced in part by arginine, also plays a part in sustaining healthy fertilized eggs

4. Healthy fetal development

Nitric oxide is important in the growth of the placenta and new blood vessels. In a study conducted on a group of pregnant women carrying fetuses that had restricted growth, the women that were given 20 grams of arginine every day for a week produced children with increased birth weight.

5. Possible treatment for obesity

Patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes that were given an arginine supplement were found to have lower levels of glucose, fatty acids, and triglycerides, along with improved insulin sensitivity. Arginine supplementation is seen as advantageous over other drug-based treatments such as metformin because arginine reduces adiposity and improves insulin sensitivity. 

6. Anti-aging effects

Due to arginine’s cumulative positive health effects, arginine has been said to have anti-aging properties. These effects include reduced risk of vascular and heart disease, improved sexual function, improved immune response, and prevention of increased acid in the stomach. A study found that participants that were administered arginine reported higher energy, a clearer mind, increased stamina, improved hair and nail growth, improved skin quality, improved circulation and temperature in fingers and toes, and overall improvement of bowel movement and urine output.

Foods high in Arginine

The most natural way to get arginine in our bodies is to consume it in the food we eat. However, if you are unfamiliar with arginine, it can be difficult to know what you are looking for. We have made it easier by creating a list of the top 10 foods that are high in arginine. 

Foods High in Arginine - Steamed Crab

1. Steamed crab

Steamed crab is low in saturated fat, but high in vitamin B12, a vitamin which helps create DNA and keeps nerves and blood cells healthy. Steamed crab also has 1.8 grams of arginine per 3 oz serving. However, steamed crab is often served with butter or salty seasonings, so it may be wise to skip those seasonings and stick with a squeeze of lemon for maximum health benefits. 

Foods High in Arginine - Watermelon Seeds

2. Watermelon seeds

A surprising addition to this list is watermelon seeds. Although they are often discarded, watermelon seeds can actually be dried, roasted, and consumed like many other seeds. A quarter cup of watermelon seeds has 1.3 grams of arginine. Watermelon seeds are also extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids and high in magnesium. These seeds, once roasted, can be seasoned and then added to salads, or blended into a powder to be added to smoothies. 

Pumpkin Seeds

3. Pumpkin seeds

A quarter cup of roasted pumpkin seeds has 3.1 grams of arginine. This comes in handy during pumpkin carving season, so make sure you save the seeds. These seeds are high not only in arginine, but also in vitamin K and fiber. When roasted with a pinch of salt and oregano, pumpkin seeds are delicious as a healthy addition to a salad or as a light afternoon snack.

Foods High in Arginine - Spirulina

4. Spirulina

This blue-green algae is packed full of nutrients, including arginine. A quarter cup of spirulina has 1.2 grams of arginine and is high in thiamine and riboflavin, two vitamins that aid in energy metabolism. Spirulina can be blended into a smoothie or put into a pesto to brighten up any meal. Take a look at our article “6 Amazing Health Benefits of Spirulina!” to learn more about this algae’s great health effects.

Foods High in Arginine - Turkey

5. Turkey

One cup of turkey has 2.9 grams of arginine. Turkey is known as one of the leanest meats due to its extremely low fat content of 4.5 grams per one cup serving. Because turkey is an animal-based protein, it is a complete protein. A simple way to incorporate turkey into your diet is to add it to a sandwich or salad, or eat it roasted with a side of steamed vegetables and brown rice.

Foods High in Arginine - Soy Milk

6. Soy milk

Soy milk contains soy protein isolate, and soy protein isolate is extremely high in arginine. In 100 grams of soy protein isolate there are 6.7 grams of arginine, along with all the nine essential amino acids. Soy milk is a great way to get a complete protein in if you are vegan or vegetarian. If the “beany” taste of soy milk is too overpowering for you to drink it by itself, try adding frozen fruit and a handful of spinach to make a smoothie.

Foods High in Arginine - Chicken Breast

7. Chicken breast

Similarly to turkey, chicken breast has a reputation for being high in protein and low in fat. One cup of chicken breast has 2.6 grams of arginine, and is high in niacin, a vitamin involved in metabolic processes. An easy way to season chicken breast is with a variety of herbs and spices such as black pepper, thyme, oregano, paprika, and salt (in moderation of course!). 

Foods High in Arginine -  Braised beef without fat

8. Braised beef without fat

This item may seem quite bland, but 3 oz braised beef with its fat trimmed off has nearly 2 grams of arginine. To make it flavorful, season the beef with your favorite spice mix or rub. To ensure optimal health benefits, make sure that your spice mix or rub is low in sodium! 

Foods High in Arginine - Pine Nuts

9. Pine nuts

Pine nuts are a delicious, flavorful nut that is high in omega-6 fatty acids, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and manganese, which is a mineral that is essential in enzyme synthesis and activation, as well as glucose and lipid metabolism. You will find 2.3 grams of arginine in 100 grams of pine nuts, and they make a delicious addition to pesto. Pesto is made of basil, olive oil, parmesan, and pine nuts, but can be made even healthier when kale or spinach are added.

Also see our article “The World’s Healthiest Nuts!” for other nutritious and delicious nuts to add to your diet.

Foods High in Arginine - Shrimp

10. Steamed shrimp

Shrimp is yet another seafood that made it to this list. Steamed shrimp is low in fat and has 1.6 grams of arginine in 3 ounces. It can be seasoned and eaten cold or hot and goes great with cold soba noodles, in a salad chopped up with some peppers and tomatoes, or alone with a squeeze of lemon and some black pepper. 

How much is too much arginine?

There is such a thing as too much arginine. Consuming more than 9 grams of arginine per day can lead to gastrointestinal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. However, only certain people have these side effects, which are caused by nitric oxide being created too quickly and in excess. For those who are very sensitive to arginine supplementation beyond 9 grams, citrulline supplementation may be a better option for you. Excess production of nitric oxide can be dangerous to people with severe infections, active inflammatory disorders, active autoimmune disorders, pathological angiogenesis or late stages of cancer. With arginine, it is important to intake an adequate amount each day rather than over supplement, due to the potential negative effects. The goal with arginine, as with many nutrients, is to have regular intake in order to have normal availability and prevent an imbalance of nutrients in the body. 

Final thoughts

Arginine is an amino acid that plays an important role in many different, important processes. The most important production process seems to be the production of nitric oxide, since it plays a part in lowering blood pressure, improving fertility, promoting healthy fetal development, and reducing risk of diabetes, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. With its various beneficial health effects, having adequate amounts of arginine on a regular basis is necessary. However, arginine consumption should be monitored, as excess nitric oxide can irritate the stomach and cause unpleasant side effects. Overall, it is important to eat foods high in arginine, and as represented in the list above, arginine can be found in foods that we already consume such as chicken breast, turkey, and soy milk. 

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