Foods rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps increase serotonin production, may have a positive effect on your mood and overall health.
Serotonin is linked to mood regulation and is known to be a key factor in overall mental health. Low levels of serotonin can cause depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health conditions. While many people turn to medication to help regulate their moods, some foods may actually help boost serotonin production in the body.
Here’s an overview of serotonin and 7 foods that could boost serotonin levels and help improve mood.
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.
Supplements can increase your serotonin levels via the amino acid
But for a more natural approach to possibly increasing your serotonin levels, you can try eating foods that contain tryptophan. It’s known that tryptophan depletion is seen in those with mood-related conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
Here are 7 foods that might help increase serotonin levels.
Pro cooking tip: Don’t leave out the yolks!
Yolks are extremely rich in tryptophan, along with:
Cheese is another great source of tryptophan. A yummy favorite you could make is mac and cheese, which combines cheddar cheese with eggs and milk — also good sources of tryptophan.
Pineapples have been shown for decades to contain serotonin.
Yet it’s best to get them while they’re fresh. Though some other plants, like tomatoes, increase in serotonin as they ripen, that’s not the case with pineapples.
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.
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 good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Pick and choose your faves, because all nuts and seeds contain tryptophan. According to a research review from 2018, studies show that eating nuts regularly also lowers your risk for heart disease by improving your lipid and apolipoprotein profile.
Nuts and seeds are also good sources of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
There’s a reason why the Thanksgiving meal is usually followed by a nap on the couch — turkey is essentially stuffed tryptophan.
So the common belief is that by eating foods high in tryptophan, you can boost your serotonin levels. But is this true?
Foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 all tend to contain large amounts of tryptophan. While foods high in this amino acid 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 shouldn’t take without approval from a 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:
Food and supplements aren’t the only ways to boost serotonin levels. These factors also help:
- Exercise. A
2017 research reviewshows that regular exercise can have antidepressant effects.
- Sunshine. Light therapy is a common remedy for seasonal depression.
Research from 2015shows 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.
- Gut bacteria. Eat a high fiber diet to fuel healthy gut bacteria, which
research from 2016shows play a role in serotonin levels through the gut-brain axis. Supplemental probiotics may also be of value.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about serotonin and food.
What foods help boost serotonin the most?
The highest sources of tryptophan include eggs, salmon, cheese, pineapple, tofu, nuts and seeds, and turkey.
Can eating foods high in tryptophan make a difference in my mood?
Eating foods high in tryptophan may have an effect on your serotonin levels, but they must be paired with healthy carbohydrates in order to make an impact.
Should I take tryptophan supplements?
If you’re considering taking tryptophan supplements, consult a doctor for advice. Supplements may have side effects and should be taken with caution.
What natural alternatives are there for improving mood?
Aside from eating foods high in tryptophan, exercise, light therapy, and a high fiber diet are all good ways to naturally boost your serotonin levels and overall mood. Probiotic supplements may also help. Additionally, engaging in activities such as yoga or mindfulness can provide mental health benefits.
If you’re looking for natural alternatives to help manage your depression or anxiety, tryptophan-rich foods may be helpful. Remember that these foods must be combined with healthy carbohydrates in order to affect serotonin levels.
Exercise, light therapy, and a high fiber diet are also good ways to naturally boost your serotonin levels and overall mood. If you’re considering taking tryptophan supplements, consult a doctor for advice.