7 Foods That Could Boost Your Serotonin: The Serotonin Diet
Medically reviewed by Amy Richter, RD — Written by the Healthline Editorial Team — Updated on August 31, 2020
What is serotonin?
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.
ResearchTrusted Source shows 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. It’s known that tryptophan depletion is seen in those with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
ResearchTrusted Source has also shown 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.
The protein in eggs can significantly boost your blood plasma levels of tryptophan, according to 2015 researchTrusted Source.
Pro cooking tip: Don’t leave out the yolks!
Yolks are extremely rich in tryptophan, along with:
omega-3 fatty acids
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 have been shown for decades to contain serotonin.
Note that while some other plants, like tomatoes, increase in serotonin as they ripen, that’s not the case with pineapples — so get them while they’re fresh!
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 good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Nuts and seeds
Pick and choose your faves, because all nuts and seeds contain tryptophan. Studies show that eating a handful of nuts a day may lower your mortality risk for cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems.
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 siesta 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 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 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:
whole grain bread
Other ways to boost serotonin
Food and supplements aren’t the only ways to boost serotonin levels.
Exercise. ResearchTrusted Source shows that regular exercise can have antidepressant effects.
Sunshine. Light therapy is a common remedy for seasonal depression. ResearchTrusted Source 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.
Gut bacteria. Eat a high-fiber diet to fuel healthy gut bacteria, which researchTrusted Source shows play a role in serotonin levels through the gut-brain axis. Supplemental probiotics may also be of value.
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