Nitric oxide is a chemical produced in the endothelium of blood vessels that can help reduce the chance of cardiac issues such as heart disease. Heart disease risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure damage the endothelium -- which is the lining of the blood vessels -- and reduce the amount of nitric oxide that is produced. Eating foods rich in L-arginine, which is used to make nitric oxide, can help increase your body's production of nitric oxide.
Nuts and Seeds
Generally, levels of the amino acid L-arginine are high in foods that contain a lot of protein. This makes nuts and seeds a good source of the amino acid, and therefore makes them a food that increases nitric oxide levels in the body. Foods such as peanuts, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, pecans and cashews are amongs the best gram-for-gram sources of arginine. As well as this, sunflower seeds and flax seeds are also good sources of the amino acid.
Various types of beans are high in protein, and therefore also high in L-arginine. This includes kidney beans, soya beans and French beans. Lentils are also a good source of L-arginine. Unfortunately, however, these must be eaten raw to gain the full benefit of the amino acid content. Exercise caution when eating raw red kidney beans because they contain a toxin when uncooked. Eating as little as four raw kidney beans has been known to produce undesirable effects.
Many different animal products are high in levels of L-arginine. This includes milk and eggs, as well as meat products such as pork, chicken, turkey and beef. Egg yolk actually contains more L-arginine than the white. Seafood is also a good source of the amino acid, with foods such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and prawns containing relatively high amounts. Fish is in many ways a better option than meat because of the lower fat content. Saturated fats have a negative effect on the endothelium activity required to turn L-arginine into nitric oxide.
Areas for Caution
Increasing levels of L-arginine is generally a good idea because of the benefits it provides for your arteries and heart, but it is also known to affect the body's ability to fight viral infection. This is because L-arginine makes lysine less effective at fighting viruses. As a result, people suffering from a virus are advised to lower their L-arginine intake. Pregnant or lactating women should also be cautious of their intake.