Serotonin is a chemical messenger that’s believed to act as a mood stabilizer. It’s said to help produce healthy sleeping patterns as well as boost your mood. Studies show that serotonin levels can have an effect on mood and behavior, and the chemical is commonly linked to feeling good and living longer. Supplements can increase your serotonin levels via the amino acid tryptophan. Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan.
But for a more natural approach to possibly increasing your serotonin levels, you can try eating foods that contain tryptophan. While research is ongoing to determine how much tryptophan-containing foods can affect serotonin levels in the brain, it is known that tryptophan depletion is seen in those with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Research has also shown that when a low-tryptophan diet is followed, brain serotonin levels drop. Here we have seven foods that might help.
The protein in eggs can significantly boost your blood plasma levels of tryptophan, according to recent research. Pro cooking tip: Don’t leave out the yolks! They’re extremely rich in tryptophan and tyrosine, choline, biotin, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that are major contributors to the health benefits and antioxidant properties of eggs.
Cheese is another great source of tryptophan. A yummy favorite you could make is mac and cheese that combines cheddar cheese with eggs and milk, which are also good sources of tryptophan.
Pineapples are a major source of bromelain, a protein that can reduce the side effects of chemotherapy as well as help suppress coughs, according to some research. Combine pineapples and coconut with chicken for this delicious piña colada chicken recipe.
Soy products are rich sources of tryptophan. You can substitute tofu for pretty much any protein, in pretty much any recipe, making it an excellent source of tryptophan for vegetarians and vegans. Some tofu is calcium-set, which provides a great calcium boost.
It’s hard to go wrong with salmon, which — as you may have guessed — is also rich in tryptophan. Combine it with eggs and milk to make a smoked salmon frittata! Salmon also has other nutritional benefits like helping balance cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and being a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Pick and choose your faves, because all nuts and seeds contain tryptophan. Studies show that eating a handful of nuts a day can lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems. They’re also good sources of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. For dessert, try some no-bake peanut butter oatmeal cookies.
There’s a reason why the Thanksgiving meal is usually followed by a siesta on the couch — turkey is essentially stuffed tryptophan.
Food and mood
So the common belief is that by eating foods high in tryptophan, you can boost your serotonin levels. But is this true?
Serotonin isn’t found in foods, but tryptophan is. Foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 all tend to contain large amounts of this amino acid. While high-tryptophan foods won’t boost serotonin on their own, there’s one possible cheat to this system: carbs.
Carbs cause the body to release more insulin, which promotes amino acid absorption and leaves tryptophan in the blood. If you mix high-tryptophan foods with carbs, you might get a serotonin boost.
The tryptophan you find in food has to compete with other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, so it’s unlikely to have much of an effect on your serotonin levels. This differs from tryptophan supplements, which contain purified tryptophan and do have an effect on serotonin levels.
While they can’t compete with supplements — which you should not be taking without approval from your doctor — the foods listed above contain high amounts of tryptophan. Your best chance at achieving a serotonin boost without using supplements is to eat them often, with a serving of healthy carbohydrates, like rice, oatmeal, or whole-grain bread.
Food and supplements aren’t the only ways to boost serotonin levels.
- Exercise: Research from the United Kingdom shows that regular exercise can have antidepressant effects.
- Sunshine: Light therapy is a common remedy for seasonal depression. Research shows a clear relationship between being exposed to bright light and serotonin levels. To get better sleep, or to boost your mood, try to work in a daily lunchtime walk outside.
- Positivity: Research shows that facing daily life and your interactions with others with a positive outlook can significantly boost your serotonin levels. As the Spice Girls once sang: “All you need is positivity!”
- Gut bacteria: Eat a high-fiber diet to fuel healthy gut bacteria, which new research shows play a role in serotonin levels through the gut-brain axis. Supplemental probiotics may also be of value.