Exposure of food proteins to certain processing conditions induces two major chemical changes: racemization of all L-amino acids (LAAs) to D-amino acids (DAAs) and concurrent formation of cross-linked amino acids such as lysinoalanine (LAL). The diet contains both processing-induced and naturally-formed DAA. The latter include those found in microorganisms, plants, and marine invertebrates. Racemization impairs digestibility and nutritional quality. Racemization of LAA residues to their D-isomers in food and other proteins is pH-, time-, and temperature-dependent. Although racemization rates of LAA residues in a protein vary, relative rates in different proteins are similar. The nutritional utilization of different DAAs varies widely in animals and humans. Some DAAs may exert both adverse and beneficial biological effects. Thus, although D-Phe is utilized as a nutritional source of L-Phe, high concentrations of D-Tyr in such diets inhibit the growth of mice. Both D-Ser and LAL induce histological changes in the rat kidney. The wide variation in the utilization of DAAs is illustrated by the fact that, whereas D-Meth is largely utilized as a nutritional source of the L-isomer, D-Lys is not. Similarly, although L-CysSH has a sparing effect on L-Meth when fed to mice, D-CysSH does not. Since DAAs are consumed as part of their normal diet, a need exists to develop a better understanding of their roles in foods, microbiology, nutrition, and medicine. To contribute to this effort, this overview surveys our present knowledge of the chemistry, nutrition, safety, microbiology, and pharmacology of DAAs. Also covered are the origin and distribution of DAAs in food and possible roles of DAAs in human physiology, aging, and the etiology and therapy of human diseases.