If you’ve been hearing more and more about lysine recently, you may be wondering if good vegan sources of lysine exist. Lysine is increasing in popularity, with many people online recommending supplementation.
With popular supplements like lysine, it can be difficult to know which health claims are accurate or simply hype. Deciphering the best way to get these nutrients can also be confusing – are supplements necessary, or can you get enough from food?
And as for vegans, is lysine a nutrient that we should be concerned about? In this post we’ll discuss what lysine is, its health benefits, and how vegans can get enough in their diets.
What is lysine?
Lysine is an essential amino acid that plays a critical role in protein synthesis and maintaining overall health. Essential amino acids are amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own and must get from food.
Lysine is present in varying amounts in many foods, with higher protein foods being the best sources. Considering that proteins are made up of amino acids, this isn’t surprising.
How much lysine do vegans need?
The daily recommended intake of lysine for adults is around 38 milligrams (0.38 grams) per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person who weighs 150 pounds would need about 2600 milligrams (or 2.6 grams) of lysine per day.
This recommendation holds true for vegans as well, although it’s worth noting that individual lysine requirements may vary depending on factors such as age, sex, activity level, and health status. Lysine needs increase to 51 and 52 milligrams per kilogram of body weight during pregnancy and breastfeeding, respectively.
Some plant foods like grains, vegetables, and fruits are lower in lysine, which may make it difficult for vegans to get enough if they aren’t eating enough lysine-rich foods. If you consume a varied and balanced vegan diet that includes good sources of lysine such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, nuts, and seeds, it’s definitely possible to meet your daily lysine needs.
The 17 best vegan sources of lysine from food
Beans, legumes, and soy foods tend to be the best vegan sources of lysine, although some nuance exists. Below are the best plant-based food sources of lysine:
Pea or soy protein isolate
Considering that lysine is an amino acid (the building blocks of protein), it isn’t suprising that concentrated protein sources like protein powder are the best vegan food source of this nutrient. 4 tablespoons of pea protein isolate provides 1.8 grams, while the same amount of soy protein isolate has 1.6 grams.
Lentils are the best legume source of lysine, with 1.25 grams in 1 cup of cooked lentils.
Delicious in soup or curries, split peas provide only slightly less lysine than lentils with 1.2 grams per 1 cup.
Beloved for their mild flavor and beautiful green color, these immature soybeans have 1.2 grams of lysine per cup.
Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and white beans all provide 1.1 grams of lysine per cup.
Tofu is a versatile soy-based food that can be used in a variety of dishes. A fourth of a block of firm tofu contains about 0.7 grams of lysine.
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans and is a great source of lysine. A standard 3-ounce serving of tempeh provides about 0.7 grams of lysine.
On a gluten-free diet? Learn whether tempeh fits your dietary needs by reading Is Tempeh Gluten-Free? What You Need to Know.
This gluten-free grain is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids in optimal amounts. It contains a good amount of lysine, with about 0.6 grams per 1 cup.
Soy milk is a great dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk and is also a good source of lysine, with about 0.5 grams per 1 cup serving.
Quinoa is another grain considered to be a complete protein. One cup of cooked quinoa has about 0.4 grams of lysine.
Nutritional yeast is a popular cheesy-tasting ingredient in vegan cooking and contains about 0.4 grams of lysine per tablespoon.
For their size, hemp seeds are surprisingly rich in protein and omega-3 fats, with about 0.4 grams per 3 tablespoon serving.
These tiny round seeds are also high in omega-3 fats and provide 0.4 grams of lysine in about 3 tablespoons.
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
TVP is most often made from soy and is used in place of ground beef in many vegan recipes. The lysine content of TVP is difficult to find, but TVP made from a combination of soy and wheat protein provides 0.37 grams per dry (uncooked) ¼ cup serving.
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of lysine, with about 0.35 grams per 1 ounce serving (about a handful). They’re perfect as a topping on oatmeal or as a common ingredient in pozole verde, which can easily be veganized.
Pistachios are delicious on their own or in baked goods. They contain about 0.3 grams of lysine per 1 ounce.
This blue-green algae is a complete protein and contains some lysine, with about 0.2 grams per tablespoon of dried spirulina. Spirulina powder can be added to smoothies, fruit juice, or energy bites and provides an intense blue-green color.
HONORABLE MENTION: Seitan
Seitan is one of the highest-protein foods available to vegans, so you might expect that it would be included in the list above. However, seitan is an anomaly among other high protein foods. When made exclusively from vital wheat gluten (the main protein in wheat), seitan is quite low in lysine since grains are poor sources of this amino acid.
Most of the time, however, other protein foods like chickpea flour, chickpeas, pea protein isolate, or tofu are added when making seitan to break up the gluten strands and prevent the final product from being too tough and chewy. Seitan is a better source of lysine when made this way, although the amount of lysine will differ based on the specific recipe or product.
Health benefits of lysine
One of the most popular uses for lysine is to promote collagen production. Collagen is produced by the body and is important for maintaining strong, elastic skin and connective tissue.
Getting adequate lysine in the diet supports collagen formation and can lead to improved wound healing, but research is limited on how effective lysine supplements actually are for these benefits.
May help the body use calcium more efficiently
Lysine1 supplementation may help the body use calcium more efficiently in two ways – by increasing the amount of calcium absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and by decreasing the amount of calcium excreted through urine.
These were the results of two human studies that used 400 or 800 milligrams of lysine per day, although more research is needed to confirm these effects.
Helps burn fat for energy
Lysine is a component of carnitine, a compound that transports fatty acids into the mitochondria so that they can be burned for energy. Research is mixed on whether lysine supplements are effective for helping the body burn more fat, however, and most of the studies conducted to date have been in rodents.
A 2018 study3 found that lysine supplementation led to weight loss in rats by lowering their food intake, but these results were mainly in rats eating a low protein diet. Based on this limited data, supplementation may not be helpful if you’re already getting enough lysine from food.
May inhibit the virus that causes cold sores
It’s thought that lysine may play a role in stopping or reducing the rate at which the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) reproduces by blocking it from using arginine, another amino acid, as efficiently. HSV-1 is known as a common cause of cold sores.
The research supporting lysine’s role here is limited, however, and more research is needed before lysine supplements can be recommended as a treatment for cold sores.
May help lower blood pressure
According to a 2017 study4, lysine supplementation may help lower blood pressure in people who are deficient in lysine and have hypertension. Note that this benefit was seen specifically in people who were lysine deficient, not people who were already getting enough lysine in their diet.
Should vegans take a lysine supplement?
In general, it isn’t necessary for most vegans to take a lysine supplement as long as you’re consuming a varied diet that includes lysine-rich foods.
If you track your intake and notice that your diet is low in lysine, try incorporating more lentils, beans, soy foods, nuts, seeds, or pea- or soy-based protein powders before considering a supplement.
Keep in mind that supplements shouldn’t take the place of a healthy and balanced diet. A well-planned vegan diet that includes a variety of lysine-rich plant-based foods can provide all the essential amino acids, including lysine.
Additionally, taking high doses5 of lysine supplements may cause side effects such as nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Therefore, it’s always best to speak with a healthcare provider before taking any new supplement, including lysine.
Can you get too much lysine?
While lysine is an essential nutrient with many health benefits, too much of a good thing can be problematic. There haven’t been any negative side effects observed with doses of lysine under 6 grams6 per day, but too much lysine can cause imbalances within the body.
Lysine competes with arginine, another amino acid, for absorption within the gastrointestinal tract. An excess of lysine from supplements can crowd arginine out, leading to an arginine deficiency. This can be problematic for the health of the cardiovascular system since arginine is required for the body to produce nitric oxide7, a molecule that dilates the arteries and helps lower blood pressure.
If you’re concerned about your lysine intake or protein intake in general, it may be helpful to track your food intake using a nutrition app or consult with a vegan registered dietitian to ensure that you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs.
- Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/11537/chapter/53#463 Accessed 3/21/23.
- Civitelli R, Villareal DT, Agnusdei D, Nardi P, Avioli LV, Gennari C. Dietary L-lysine and calcium metabolism in humans. Nutrition. 1992 Nov-Dec;8(6):400-5. PMID: 1486246.
- Xiao CW, Wood C, Bertinato J. Dietary supplementation with L-lysine affects body weight and blood hematological and biochemical parameters in rats. Mol Biol Rep. 2019 Feb;46(1):433-442. doi: 10.1007/s11033-018-4492-1. Epub 2018 Nov 28. PMID: 30488372.
- Vuvor F, Mohammed H, Ndanu T, Harrison O. Effect of lysine supplementation on hypertensive men and women in selected peri-urban community in Ghana. BMC Nutr. 2017 Jul 27;3:67. doi: 10.1186/s40795-017-0187-6. PMID: 32153847; PMCID: PMC7050943.
- WebMD. Lysine – Uses, Side Effects, and More. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-237/lysine Accessed 3/21/23.
- Hayamizu K, Oshima I, Nakano M. Comprehensive Safety Assessment of l-Lysine Supplementation from Clinical Studies: A Systematic Review. J Nutr. 2020 Oct 1;150(Suppl 1):2561S-2569S. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa218. PMID: 33000161.
- Carter BW Jr, Chicoine LG, Nelin LD. L-lysine decreases nitric oxide production and increases vascular resistance in lungs isolated from lipopolysaccharide-treated neonatal pigs. Pediatr Res. 2004 Jun;55(6):979-87. doi: 10.1203/01.pdr.0000127722.55965.b3. PMID: 15155866.
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