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Lysine. Tiny but powerful. It’s an amino acid that’s got tons of health benefits. Everything from helping your body burn fat for energy to warding off the cold sore virus — yep, that’s our bud lysine.
If you want to get some more of this mighty nutrient in your diet, we’ve got 15 foods to keep on your plate. But before we dive in…
Lysine is one of 22 amino acids, or the “building blocks” of proteins (as you may remember from your high school science class onward). It’s also one of nine essential amino acids, which you have to get through your diet because your body can’t produce its own.
Lysine’s got several purposes in the body, one of which is to help produce carnitine — which helps deliver fat to the mitochondria in your cells to be transformed into sweet, sweet energy.
It’s also got several other potential benefits, like:
- Anxiety reduction. According to a 2007 study, lysine may also block receptors in your nervous system associated with stress and decrease your circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Calcium regulation. A 1992 study showed that lysine may help your body absorb more calcium from food. It’s bone protective and a study on rats showed that lysine may help prevent calcium buildup in your soft tissues.
- Collagen production. According to a 2012 review of studies, lysine is necessary for collagen production. Collagen forms a matrix to provide cushioning and support to soft tissues like joints and skin. It’s also found in your bones.
- Less frequent cold sores. This is a big maybe. A small 1984 study showed that lysine blocks the activity of another amino acid, arginine, which the herpes simplex virus needs to replicate and cause cold sores. A research review largely debunked this idea, but there’s a chance lysine might reduce the frequency of breakouts.
Because of all the important roles lysine plays, some signs you may not be getting enough of it include fatigue, irritability, anemia, and even stunted growth.
According to research from 2007, most adults need about 14 milligrams of lysine per pound (or 30 milligrams per kilogram) of body weight per day. For a 150-pound person, this is about 2,100 milligrams of lysine per day. For a 200-pound person, this is 2,800 milligrams of lysine per day.
What if I’m vegan?
If you’re vegan, your lysine needs are similar. Finding vegan sources of lysine can be tough, since lysine is primarily in animal foods.
But it’s not impossible, and there are still plenty of options on the vegan lysine scene. If you typically get enough protein every day, you’re not likely to have a lysine deficiency.
What about arginine?
Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid with health benefits galore (think cardiovascular health, preventing infection, and treating erectile dysfunction). People looking to consume more lysine may want to adjust their arginine consumption schedules, as these nutrients compete with each other when being absorbed by your body. (Don’t worry — we call out arginine-rich foods below.) Just consume these amino acids at different times of the day and you won’t have an issue.
Plain, low fat yogurt is an excellent source of lysine, as are most other yogurts. And while it’s rich in lysine, it’s also low in arginine, making it great for minimizing your arginine intake while getting a calcium boost.
Lysine per 1 cup (245 grams): 1,150 milligrams
2. Navy beans
Navy beans are a great source of vegan protein and are rich in lysine. These beans are super creamy with a mild flavor that lends itself well to most recipes.
Lysine per 1 cup (182 grams), cooked: 946 milligrams
OK, so salmon is already renowned as a mega-healthy food because it’s full of protein and omega-3s. But it’s also loaded with lysine, providing nearly a day’s worth for a 150-pound person.
Lysine per 3 ounces (85 grams), cooked: 1,790 milligrams
Chicken could be named the fountain of lysine, and as a lean protein, it’s pretty much essential in the health-conscious omnivore’s kitchen.
Lysine per 3 ounces (85 grams), cooked: 2,200 milligrams
5. Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese is absolutely bursting with lysine and contains a pretty favorable lysine-to-arginine ratio too. If you’re looking for a lysine boost, then sprinkle this cheesy pixie dust on everything you eat (really).
Lysine per 1 tablespoon (5 grams), grated: 110 milligrams
Tempeh is a vegan protein made from fermented soybeans. You can use it any way you’d use tofu. A warning: It’s got more arginine than lysine, so you may want to avoid it if you’re trying to limit your arginine intake.
Lysine per 1 cup (166 grams): 1,510 milligrams
Quinoa is a chewy, nutritious alternative to rice and a great protein source for vegans. Unfortunately, it’s also got more arginine than lysine, so it’s not a great choice for those trying to limit arginine.
Lysine per 1 cup (185 grams), cooked: 442 milligrams
8. Soy milk
Got soy milk? ’Cause it’s got you, babe. It can pretty easily give your vegan or dairy-free diet a lysine boost. Take note: It’s got a little bit more arginine than it does lysine, so if lysine is a priority, save this drink for later.
Lysine per 1 cup (240 milliliters): 318 milligrams
According to a 2009 study, seitan, or vital wheat gluten, can be used as a vegan protein source. But if you’re on a gluten-free diet, definitely steer clear: It’s literally 100 percent gluten (and some water).
Lysine per 3 ounces (85 grams): 656 milligrams
Like their bigger cousin salmon, tiny little sardines are packed with protein, omega-3s, and — you guessed it — lysine! Their lysine content is nearly double their arginine content, too, so they may work for you if you’re trying to limit arginine.
Lysine per 1 ounce (28 grams): 641 milligrams
Turkey is another powerhouse lean protein. You’ve probably heard that it’s loaded with tryptophan, which is why it makes you sleepy on Thanksgiving, supposedly (but we think it’s probably the 15 sides we have with the turkey). It’s also got lots of lysine!
Lysine per 3 ounces (85 grams), cooked: 2,080 milligrams
The humble lentil. Inexpensive, quick-cooking, delicious, and a rich source of vegan protein. We see you, lentils. You can probably afford to be a little less humble.
Lysine per 1 cup (198 grams), cooked: 1,250 milligrams
13. Black beans
Like many other beans (some of which have made this list), black beans are rich lysine sources. They’re a great vegan protein alternative, and they pair well with almost anything.
Lysine per 1 cup (172 grams), cooked: 1,050 milligrams
14. Goat’s milk
Cow’s milk-free but not opposed to some dairy? Try goat’s milk instead! It’s got lots of lysine, and it’s pretty low in arginine. You can also use goat’s milk cheese as an alternative to cow’s milk cheese (and we all know it makes fabulous soap).
Lysine per 1 cup (244 milliliters): 708 milligrams
15. Adzuki beans
Adzuki beans, or red mung beans, are widely used in Asian countries. They can be used in savory dishes like we’re used to or in sweet dishes like the red bean paste-filled pastries that are popular across the Pacific.
Lysine per 1 cup (230 grams), cooked: 1,300 milligrams