Nucleic acids are chains of nucleotides that are a vital part of all living beings.
The two most common types of nucleic acids are deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA), which provide the genetic information for all your cells (1).
If you’re like most people, you may have never considered the nucleic acid content of your foods. Yet, several health benefits are associated with nucleic acids.
Here are the 7 healthy foods that are richest in nucleic acid, along with information on nucleic acid’s benefits.
Despite limited research, proponents claim that foods rich in nucleic acids can offer a variety of benefits — from a stronger immune system to improved digestion and quicker muscle recovery (2).
In addition to sourcing them from your diet, your body can make nucleic acids from scratch. In fact, your body typically produces enough nucleic acids to cover 100% of your needs.
You may need larger amounts of nucleic acids than your body can produce, especially in times of illness or injury or periods of growth. In these cases, eating foods rich in nucleic acids can help make up the difference (2).
Before ending up on your plate, most foods were once living. So, these foods contain at least some nucleic acids. It’s important to consider that nucleic acid levels can vary widely among foods.
Nucleic acids may offer a wide variety of benefits, including (2):
- a stronger immune system
- improved digestion
- quicker muscle recovery
- reduced oxidative stress
- a better-regulated metabolism
Although research is limited, nucleic acid may offer a variety of benefits for your metabolism, exercise performance, and immune and digestive health.
Keep in mind that research into food sources of nucleic acids is limited. Moreover, the studies that exist on this topic are quite old. Therefore, more current research is warranted to confirm these amounts.
However, diets rich in red or processed meats are typically linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (
Meat is thought to be a prime source of nucleic acids. If you eat meat, try to favor lean and unprocessed options over red or processed meats.
Fish is another rich source of nucleic acids. Like meat, fish is thought to provide 1.5–8 grams of nucleic acid per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (
The type of fish you eat will influence the type and amount of nutrients you’ll get. For instance, fatty fish tends to be richer in omega-3s and vitamin D, while lean fish tends to contain more iodine (
The AHA encourages eating omega-3-rich fatty fish at least twice per week (
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages children and those who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or nursing to avoid high mercury fish species like king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, and bigeye tuna (
The FDA confirms that salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, and lake trout are all good lower mercury fatty fish options.
Fish will also provide you with a significant amount of nucleic acids — not to mention protein, long-chain omega-3s, vitamin D, selenium, and iodine. When eating fish, try to stick to fatty varieties that are low in mercury.
Seafood can be split into two categories. Both categories provide a significant, albeit smaller, source of nucleic acids than meat and fish. These include:
Older research suggests that a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of seafood could provide 0.5–1.5 grams of nucleic acids (
For this reason, the FDA recommends that young children and anyone who is pregnant or nursing opt for low mercury seafood such as shrimp, clams, oysters, crab, squid, and lobster (
Seafood provides slightly smaller amounts of nucleic acids than meat and fish but remains a good option. Try sticking to low mercury varieties whenever possible.
Beans, lentils, and peas are other interesting sources of nucleic acids. Vegans and vegetarians can still get the benefits of nucleic acids in their diets with legumes.
As with seafood, older research suggests that legumes provide 0.5–1.5 grams of nucleic acids per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving (
In addition to their nucleic acid content, beans, peas, and lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, iron, folate, and magnesium (
Research even suggests that eating legumes may help you live longer (
Moreover, the beneficial plant compounds found in beans, lentils, and peas may also help reduce inflammation, as well as the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and possibly certain types of cancer (
Legumes’ fiber content may also help you feel fuller longer, which could make it easier to lose weight and keep it off (
Beans, peas, and lentils provide a moderate amount of nucleic acids. They’re also rich in nutrients and beneficial plant compounds that may help you live longer, fend off disease, and perhaps even lose weight.
Most vegetables contain very few nucleic acids. Mushrooms may be the sole exception.
Older research suggests that 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of mushrooms will provide you with 0.5–1.5 grams of nucleic acids. That’s the same amount found in an equivalent quantity of seafood or legumes (
Mushrooms are the vegetable richest in nucleic acids. They also contain various other nutrients and beneficial compounds that can help keep you healthy.
Nucleic acids are found in all living things, including the foods you eat.
Based on current research, meat, fish, seafood, legumes, and mushrooms contain the highest levels of these compounds.
In most cases, your body produces enough nucleic acids to meet your needs, so there’s rarely any reason to worry about how much you’re getting from your diet.
However, if you’re ill, injured, or in a period of increased growth such as adolescence or pregnancy, you may need slightly more nucleic acids than your body can make — in which case, a diet rich in nucleic acids may help bridge the gap.
Still, the research on this topic is limited and outdated, and further studies are needed to learn more.
Just one thing
Try this today: Generally speaking, the less processed a food is, the more nucleic acids it’s likely to contain. Nucleic acids are all the more reason to eat minimally processed foods whenever possible.