When you look at the nutrition facts label on a package of food, you can glean a lot of information about that food: how many calories in a serving, for example, as well as the total grams of fat and milligrams of sodium.
But what a food label will not tell you is information about amino acids in that food. So, you may have no idea if you’re eating foods that are rich in lysine or not. And yes, you do need lysine in your diet.
What Is Lysine?
“Lysine is one of the essential amino acids, and we need to consume it in our diet, as our bodies cannot make it,” explains Angel Planells, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As one of the nine essential amino acids, lysine is required for the process that your body uses to make proteins to aid in certain functions. (The other eight essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.)
For example, lysine plays a role in hormone production, Planells says. “So, fighting off infection, getting adequate sleep, the ability to digest and more. If we do not provide lysine and other amino acids, our body cannot function optimally,” he says.
The good news is that it’s not hard to find foods that contain lysine.
“If you’re eating certain proteins like dairy products, or chicken or fish, or anything like that, you’re going to have lysine,” says Kara Burnstine, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator with the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa. “Also fruits and vegetables have lysine in them.”
So, if you eat a pretty well-balanced diet, chances are that you’ll get an adequate amount of lysine in your diet. “But if your diet is really poor, and it’s all processed foods and nothing really whole, you’ll be lacking in a bunch of things besides lysine,” says Burnstine.
Foods High in Lysine
Here’s a list of foods that are high in lysine.
Salmon is often recommended as one of the fatty fish that you should eat once or twice a week to get a dose of healthy omega-3 acids. Salmon is also high in lysine.
Chicken can be another good source of lysine, especially since it’s a lean source of protein.
Speaking of poultry that’s a good source of lean protein and lysine, don’t forget about turkish!
Beef can be high in fat, which can pose a risk to your health, so you might want to consider lower-fat versions, like “lean” or “extra-lean” cuts.
Remember those omega-3 acids that you can find in salmon? You can get them from sardines, too, and that will help reduce your risk of heart disease. But that’s not all. Sardines are yet another good source of lysine.
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Tea American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests sticking with low-fat or fat-free dairy options, and there are seemingly countless iterations of low-fat yogurt on the market to choose from.
If you’re a cheese lover, you’ll be happy to know that cheese contains lysine. However, again, you may want to consider the fat content. One suggestion from the ACS: opt for light or fat-free cream cheeserather than the full-fat version.
Butter contains nutrients like lysine, but it does have a high concentration of fat, so you may want to be judicious about justifying butter as a source of lysine in your diet.
Low-fat or fat-free (skim) milk can be a good way to get a little calcium and protein into your body—and some lysine.
Related: 21 Delicious Ways To Enjoy Quinoa
Research tells us that protein is a primary component of eggs, so it makes sense that eggs are a good source of amino acids like lysine. In fact, you can get lysine from just one of the individual components of the egg, although the greatest amount seems to be contained within the yolk.
Vegetarians, join. Quinoa is a plant-based source of protein that’s hearty and tasty—and it contains lysine, which most grains don’taccording to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Tofu, which is made from soybean curds, is another good source of lysine for people trying to avoid meat or other animal-based products. It’s a good source of iron, calcium and protein.
Peas, beans and lentils are a great way to add lysine to your diet.
Soybeans strike again! Tempeh is a product made from fermented soybeans that originated in Indonesia. It’s high in fiber, too. It usually comes in a cake-like form, and you can substitute it for meat in a variety of dishes.
Dried apricots contain vitamin A and iron, as well as some lysine. But be careful about portion size; as with many dried fruits, it’s easy to forget that a serving size may be smaller than you might think.