Serotonin has long been used as a mood stabilizer, and has even been looked at as a means to combat depression. This chemical messenger is believed to help encourage healthy sleeping patterns as well provide an overall feeling of contentment. While there are drugs that can be prescribed to help increase levels of serotonin in the brain, there are also certain foods that can help naturally elevate these levels as well.
The Link Between Serotonin and Tryptophan
While you can’t find serotonin in foods, you can find tryptophan in them. Why is this important? Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid that’s found in many food sources. Without tryptophan, serotonin won’t be produced. Foods that are high in iron, protein, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 typically have a lot of it.
But simply adding these types of foods won’t necessarily increase your levels of serotonin. That’s because the tryptophan found in food will have to compete with other amino acids in order to be absorbed into the brain.
Other than taking tryptophan supplements (which should only be taken on the advice of your doctor), the best way to ensure you’re brain is able to increase its absorption is to combine foods high in this amino acid with a healthy dose of carbs. Eating carbohydrates in conjunction with foods high in tryptophan can help boost your serotonin levels.
The introduction of carbs in the body causes more insulin to be released into the blood. Insulin stimulates the absorption of amino acids to the organs and muscles. Any tryptophan that’s left behind in the blood means it’s more likely to be absorbed through the brain barrier.
The following foods contain high levels of tryptophan. For the optimal uptake of tryptophan into your system, you’ll need to eat these foods often, and accompany them with a serving of starchy carbs.
It’s widely known that turkey is loaded with tryptophan. This food is often blamed as the culprit behind the much-needed snooze following a hearty Thanksgiving meal. All that tryptophan (and all those carbs at the dinner table) contribute to that relaxed, stress-free feeling that promotes a much more pleasant and calm mood.
High in tryptophan, fresh water salmon is also high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect the heart, and regulate your cholesterol triglyceride levels.
3. Nuts and Seeds
All types of nuts and seeds out there have tryptophan in them. Just one handful of almonds, cashews, walnuts, or sunflower seeds is enough to help you take advantage of their goodness. You’ll also add some rough fiber and antioxidants to your diet by including them.
4. Red Meat
Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb are excellent sources of tryptophan. A nice thick steak with a heaping pile of mashed potatoes makes for the perfect serotonin-boosting meal.
Another excellent source of tryptophan is cheese. Add it to your scalloped potatoes or macaroni to get a healthy dose of tryptophan and carbs.
Thanks to all the protein found in eggs, this healthy food can drive up levels of tryptophan in your blood. Just make sure you eat the whole egg, including the yolk. They’re packed with tryptophan, which is largely what gives eggs their antioxidant properties.
Don’t forget to get plenty of exercise and sunshine to help further boost your serotonin levels. Studies have shown that regular exercise has antidepressant effects, as does light therapy from the sun. Go for a brisk walk or run outdoors, then treat yourself to one of the above foods to help elevate your mood.