Top Foods High in Arginine

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on November 28, 2022
3 min read

Arginine — also called L-arginine — is an amino acid (organic compound that make proteins) that your body naturally makes. 

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is why low levels of arginine are found in many protein-rich foods.

Our body usually makes all the arginine it needs, but it can also be taken orally or topically as a supplement. Talk to your doctor before introducing arginine supplements into your routine as it may interact with certain medications.

Arginine plays a part in various bodily processes, including:

  • Wound healing
  • Helping the kidneys remove waste products from your body
  • Maintaining immune and hormone function
  • Dilating and relaxing your arteries

One important function of arginine is removing ammonia, which is extremely toxic to the central nervous system.

Because it opens blood vessels, many people take arginine to treat cardiovascular conditions and erectile dysfunction. However, the effectiveness of arginine for these conditions is not conclusive. 

In fact, one study found that taking arginine could potentially be harmful to heart attack survivors.

Excess amounts of arginine can also block the production of lysine, which is an amino acid used to treat cold sores. People with cold sores should reduce their intake of arginine by avoiding foods high in arginine.

If taken as a dietary supplement, a common dose of arginine is 2-3 grams, three times per day. Although the safety of long-term use is unclear, people who may benefit from supplemental arginine include those with conditions such as:

  • Protein malnutrition
  • Burns
  • Infections
  • Rapid Growth

You don’t need to rely on supplements to get enough arginine. The following foods are natural sources of arginine:

  1. Nuts
    Many nuts are sources of arginine. This includes:

    • Walnuts
    • Hazelnuts
    • Pecans
    • Peanuts
    • Almonds
    • Cashews
    • Brazil Nuts

    The arginine content in nuts makes them high in protein, but nuts are also great sources of fiber and essential vitamins.

  2. Seeds
    Seeds have a significant amount of arginine. Pumpkin seeds have one of the highest concentrations of arginine. One cup of dried pumpkin seeds contains 6.905 grams of the amino acid. Other seeds with a high amount of arginine include watermelon, sesame, and sunflower seeds.
  3. Dairy Products
    Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are all sources of arginine. Dairy foods provide many other key nutrients, such as:

    • Protein
    • Calcium
    • Magnesium
    • Folate
    • B1, B2, B6, and B12
    • Vitamins A, D, and E

    One study found that consuming a high-protein diet containing dairy products is associated with a lower body mass index.

  4. Meat
    As one of the best sources of protein, meat contains all of the amino acids your body needs, including arginine. White meat has the highest amount of arginine. Its health benefits come from being rich in protein and low in fat. One turkey breast has 16.207 grams of arginine, while one cup of chicken has 2.790 grams. Beef contains 4.131 grams of arginine per pound of cooked meat. Although it also has high levels of arginine, it has more fat than other sources of protein.
  5. Whole Grains
    Whole grains are a rich source of arginine and are believed to help lower blood cholesterol. Their antioxidant properties may also decrease your risk of heart disease. Grains with a high amount of arginine include:
    • Oats
    • Corn
    • Buckwheat
    • Brown rice