7 Foods That Could Boost Your Serotonin Levels

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.

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a chemical messenger that’s believed to act as a mood stabiliser. It’s said to help produce healthy sleeping patterns as well as boost your mood.

Serotonin levels can have an effect on mood and behaviour, 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 synthesised (made) from tryptophan.

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.

Research from 2016 suggests that when you follow a low tryptophan diet, brain serotonin levels drop. However, research is ongoing to determine how much tryptophan-containing foods can affect serotonin levels in the brain.

Here are 7 foods that might help increase serotonin levels.

1. Eggs

The protein in eggs can significantly boost your blood plasma levels of tryptophan.

Pro cooking tip: Don’t leave out the yolks!

Yolks are extremely rich in tryptophan, along with:

  • tyrosine
  • choline
  • biotin
  • omega 3 fatty acids
  • other nutrients that are major contributors to the health benefits and antioxidant properties of cheese.

2. Cheese

Cheese is another great source of tryptophan. A yummy favourite you could make is mac and cheese, which combines cheddar cheese with eggs and milk — also good sources of tryptophan.

3. Pineapples

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.

4. Tofu

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, meaning that the manufacturer has added calcium. This provides a great calcium boost.

5. Salmon

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.

6. Nuts and seeds

Pick and choose your faves, because all nuts and seeds contain tryptophan. According to a research 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 fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants.

7. Turkey

There’s a reason why the Christmas Day meal is usually followed by a nap on the couch — turkey is essentially stuffed tryptophan.

Serotonin and your diet: Does it work?

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 nB6 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:

  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Wholegrain bread

Other ways to boost serotonin

Food and supplements aren’t the only ways to boost serotonin levels. These factors also help:

  • Exercise – regular exercise can have antidepressant effects.
  • Sunshine. Light therapy is a common remedy for seasonal affective disorder.  To get better sleep, or to boost your mood, try to work in a daily lunchtime walk outside.
  • Gut bacteria. Eat a high fibre diet to fuel healthy gut bacteria.

Summary

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 fibre 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.

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