If you’re like most people – you’re asking ‘what the heck are nucleic acids!? And what do they have to do with food?!’.
And understandably so. They are certainly not commonly discussed or thought about in relation to food – especially the two different types of nucleic acids (ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid).
But they are a vital part of all living things. Certain foods have a higher nucleic acid content compared to others.
Nucleic acids, essential for various biological processes, are found in a variety of foods. Rich sources include animal-based products such as fish, shellfish, and meats, particularly organ meats like liver and kidney, which have high concentrations of DNA and RNA. Plant-based foods like spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms also contain significant amounts of nucleic acids. Incorporating these foods into your diet can support cellular functions and overall health, as nucleic acids play a crucial role in genetic information storage and protein synthesis.”
In this article, we will discuss 6 top foods that contain nucleic acids, and some surprising potential health benefits that may be associated with them.
DISCLAIMER: While this information was prepared by a Certified Dietitian, it is NOT a medical advice. Please consult your own medical professional before altering your diet. The information is strictly for educational purposes.
Top Foods That Contain Nucleic Acids
Meat is considered one of the richest sources of nucleic acids.
Since, of course, meat containing animals were once living beings, this makes a lot of sense (under this logic, foods such as eggs and yeast may be assumed to contain higher amounts of nucleic acids).
A study (although notably an older study) states that 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of meat contains 1.5–8 grams of nucleic acids.
More research is needed to verify this amount, but this would make meat one of the richest sources of nucleic acids.
Aside from being high in nucleic acids, meat is also an excellent source of protein, iron, and vitamin B12.
Not all meat is ‘made equally’ though – processed meats and meats high in saturated fat such as certain cuts of beef and pork should be consumed in moderation.
Saturated fat is known to increase your risk of heart disease and other heart related conditions.
Opt for leaner cuts of meat such as skinless poultry, pork tenderloin, or turkey bacon.
Seafood is another food considered rich in nucleic acids. Like meat, seafood was once living so it makes sense that a high nucleic acid content would be found in it.
Also like meat, seafood contains 1.5-8 grams of nucleic acids. Again, more research is needed to verify this amount.
Apart from its high nucleic acid content, seafood is also rich in many other nutrients.
Perhaps the most associated nutrient with seafood (in particular fatty fishes such as salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, and caviar) is omega-3 fatty acids.
Many studies show that eating fatty fish and other types of seafood as part of a healthy diet helps keep your heart healthy.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating one to two servings of seafood per week to reduce your risk of some heart problems.
For people with heart disease, the AHA recommends consuming about 1 g per day EPA plus DHA.
Seafood is also a great source of protein, vitamin D, and iodine.
It is important to note that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume between 8 and 12 ounces per week of a variety of seafood from choices that are lower in mercury.
Acute exposure to high levels of mercury can permanently affect your infant’s central nervous system.
Below is a chart from the FDA that can guide you in selecting seafood lower in mercury.
Mushrooms are thought to contain 0.5–1.5 grams of nucleic acids per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), which is about the same amount found in seafood.
Mushrooms come in all sorts of varieties. In fact, there are thousands of them!
Mushrooms are a great source for nutrients such as antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, potassium, and vitamin D.
Mushrooms exposed to sunlight (AKA wild mushrooms) have a notably higher and more bioavailable amount of vitamin D.
Beans are one of the healthiest foods on the planet! It has even been suggested that the people who live the longest regularly consume beans.
Beans are a great source of nutrients such as digestive healthy fiber, iron, folate, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium (just to name a few).
They are also a great plant based protein option optimal for vegans and vegetarians. Beans are inexpensive and relatively easy to prepare.
Older research suggests that beans provide 0.5–1.5 grams of nucleic acids per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, keeping them on par with seafood and mushrooms.
It is suggested that peas also contain 0.5-1.5 grams of nucleic acids per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving.
Like beans, peas are cheap and easy to prepare – making them a great healthy option for all.
Peas are a great source of fiber, plant protein, vitamins A, C, & K, thiamin, folate, manganese, and iron.
They also just so happen to be one of this Registered Dietitian’s favorite vegetables! They are extremely versatile. I love throwing them in my pasta dishes!
The same study previously cited estimates that lentils provide 0.5-1.5 grams of nucleic acids per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, just as much as mushrooms, seafood, beans, and peas.
Lentils are highly nutritious; they are a great source of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and potassium.
They are also a great plant protein source – making them a great option for vegans and vegetarians.
Notably, lentils are extremely rich in folate. One cup of lentils provides you with 90% of your daily value of folate – that’s a lot!
Folate is necessary for cellular division and tissue growth, therefore it plays essential roles in fetal growth and development – so it is very important to maintain high folate intake before and during pregnancy. So ladies – eat your lentils!
What Are The Components of Nucleic Acids?
Nucleic acids are long-chain polymers composed of nucleotides.
A nucleotide is one of the structural components, or building blocks, of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid). All living beings contain them.
Of course, you’ve heard of DNA. It’s the ‘irrefutable evidence’ used to nail that murderer down in the last Dateline episode you watched.
DNA is the hereditary material found in humans and almost all other organisms. Most of it is located in the cell’s nucleus, while some of it is located in the mitochondria (yanno, the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell).
Nearly every cell in your body has the same DNA. The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T).
Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people.
You are probably familiar with DNA’s double helix composition, but below is a reference picture just in case you’re blanking on science class.
DNA has the very important capability of being able to replicate itself. This occurs just before cell division, which ensures growth and renewal of different cells in your body.
AKA – it has a very important role! Yanno, other than being mentioned a million times in your favorite crime shows.
Fun fact – exercise can actually reduce DNA damage. One study found that 16 weeks of combined physical exercise training increased physical fitness and reduced DNA damage in lymphocytes, with an increase in total antioxidant capacity.
Poor RNA may not be as talked about as DNA, but it’s just as important! Essentially, RNA is what makes DNA meaningful! So really, DNA should be thanking its less famous nucleic acid sister.
RNA is a molecule that is similar to DNA, but it is single stranded. It is found in the nucleus and cytoplasm of the cell.
RNA’s four bases include adenine (A), uracil (U), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). RNA consists of messenger RNA, or mRNA.
Messenger RNA is the nucleic acid information molecule that transfers information from the genome into proteins by translation.
Another form of RNA is tRNA, or transfer RNA, and these are non-protein encoding RNA molecules that physically carry amino acids to the translation site that allows them to be assembled into chains of proteins in the process of translation.
In short, RNA does a lot of important stuff! It translates genetic information and regulates the activity of genes during development, cellular differentiation, and changing environments.
Here is a very science-y illustration of RNA, via the National Human Genome Research Institute.
The Benefits of Nucleic Acids in Foods
OK, now that I have perhaps triggered you with all that biology and science-y stuff – let’s talk about some more exciting stuff! Food!
While it is important to understand that your body usually produces enough nucleic acids to cover all of your bodily needs – illness, injury, or growth may sometimes require more nucleic acids than your body naturally creates. In this case, foods high in nucleic acids may benefit you.
These benefits may include:
- A stronger immune system
- Improved digestion
- Quicker muscle recovery
- Reduced oxidative stress
- A better-regulated metabolism
Like many things, more research is needed to conclude the importance and abundance of nucleic acids in foods.
While nucleic acids are existent and essential in all living things, our bodies are genius enough on their own to naturally produce exactly what we need of them.
I hope you have learned some interesting info from this article, maybe I even reminded you of some fond science/biology class memories? No? I tried!
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.