Taurine is a rather mysterious little nutrient that’s not easily classified. It’s very much like an amino acid but is not considered to be one by biochemists. Taurine’s functions are not entirely understood, but a fair bit of it is in your body, so it must have important roles. Some animals such as cats can’t manufacture it and must rely on dietary sources, whereas people can make it from certain amino acids. Taurine is prevalent in animal-based foods, especially seafood and meat.
Taurine is not classified as an amino acid despite containing an amino group within its molecular structure. Taurine has certain chemical bonds that make it behave a little differently. However, it's important for many bodily processes such as bile salt production, fluid regulation and antioxidation as well as for the healthy development and functioning of your heart, muscles, nerves and eyesight. Aside from being found naturally in many foods, taurine is also a relatively common ingredient in energy drinks because some researchers believe its ability to regulate fluid and mineral salts in your blood may help to improve muscle function and athletic performance.
Shellfish is an excellent natural source of taurine, and very high levels are typically found in clams, scallops and shrimp. For example, raw shrimp contains almost 50 milligrams of taurine per ounce. However, taurine is heat sensitive and often destroyed with cooking, so you’ll have to weigh the importance of getting some taurine against the mushy taste and potential health hazards of eating raw shellfish. In general, the fresher the seafood is, the smaller the risk of bacterial contamination.
Most types of fish are also very good sources of taurine, especially cold-water varieties such as salmon, tuna and sardines. Most cold-water fish contain between 30 and 40 milligrams of taurine per ounce of raw flesh. Eating raw fish is arguably easier and tastier than shellfish and it’s commonly found in Asian restaurants as sushi. There are no established dietary requirements for taurine because it’s not considered an essential nutrient, although most Americans who eat meat consume about 200 milligrams daily. Consuming up to 3,000 milligrams of taurine daily is considered to be safe by many researchers.
Other good natural sources of taurine include beef, lamb, dark chicken meat, eggs, most dairy products, seaweed, krill and brewer’s yeast. Raw meat is fairly rich in taurine, comparable to fish, but cooked varieties typically have only 10 milligrams of taurine per ounce. To increase the amount of taurine in your meat, consider eating it rare or medium-rare. Organ meats such as liver and heart contain more taurine than choice cuts of flesh.
- Human Biochemistry; Charles Dreiling
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- PDR for Nutritional Supplements; Sheldon Hendler and David Rorvik
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.