Is it possible to boost serotonin levels naturally without resorting to supplements or medicines? What foods can increase this “happiness hormone”? Stick with us and you’ll find the answers you’ve been looking for.
But first things first.
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a chemical found in many parts of the human body: connective tissue, gut, brain, blood. Its scientific name is 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT.
It’s one of the 4 “happy chemicals”, often called “the happiness hormone”, because it is believed to have an effect on mood, behavior, sleeping patterns, and many other areas of our lives. The quality of our social interactions, the appreciation or approval received from peers, inclusion in societal groups, all of these aspects are also linked to a good serotonin level because human beings crave for social validation and acceptance after all.
Low serotonin levels are linked to depression and anxiety, which can be further linked to the sad feeling of being isolated from society.
In short, serotonin is linked to overall health, well-being, and positive mood.
What does serotonin do?
Many think of it as a brain chemical and neurotransmitter, while others consider it to be a hormone. As a neurotransmitter, serotonin helps to transmit information and signals between nerve cells or neurons.
Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is produced by the body and it is taken from foods we eat every day. Tryptophan cannot be produced by the human body, therefore we must get it from food. So, when we are talking about foods that boost serotonin levels, we are in fact talking about foods rich in tryptophan, that can have positive benefits on energy levels, mood, and sleep.
Signs of low serotonin levels
What happens when we deal with a serotonin deficiency in the body? Well, we might experience some of these symptoms:
- poor memory;
- low mood;
- lack of appetite;
- difficulty sleeping;
- reckless behavior;
- low self-esteem;
- craving for sweet or starchy foods.
Now that we understand better what serotonin is, what role does it have in the body, and how to recognize low levels of it, let’s move on to the next chapter: how can we boost serotonin levels naturally? Can it be done solely with the help of certain foods?
As we’ve mentioned above, you can’t get serotonin directly from foods, but you can get tryptophan instead, an amino acid that is converted to serotonin in the brain.
Below is a list of foods rich in tryptophan, that can boost serotonin levels naturally.
Serotonin foods: what to eat and what to avoid
Tryptophan is commonly found in protein-rich foods. Although meat is a primary source of protein, there are other vegetarian foods you should include in your daily menu.
Foods that can boost serotonin levels
Eggs are rich in proteins that can improve blood plasma tryptophan, according to this study from 2015. Aside tryptophan, yolks are also rich in choline, biotin, omega-3 fatty acids, so more reasons to eat eggs regularly.
2. Seeds and nuts
Eat a handful of seeds and nuts each day and you won’t regret it. These are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, along with tryptophan. You can easily sprinkle them in your salads or yogurts, for additional flavors.
You can never go wrong with salmon. Despite being rich in tryptophan, it’s an incredible source of omega-3 fatty acids that help balance cholesterol levels in the body.
Mix salmon with eggs and milk and you’ll immediately get a delicious smoked salmon frittata. Or simply serve it oven-baked, next to a salad garnish to boost serotonin levels naturally.
You can also get tryptophan from cheese. For an extra boost of serotonin, you can combine cheese with milk and eggs.
Fresh pineapples are to be added to the menu because they contain 17 micrograms of tryptophan per gram. What’s more, these fruits also contain bromelain, which is an anti-inflammatory enzyme.
6. Tofu and soy products
Tofu can be a healthy substitution for pretty much any protein, which makes it an excellent source of tryptophan for all vegetarians out there. Furthermore, if you’re a vegetarian, you can also rely on other soy products rich in tryptophan, such as soy milk or soy sauce.
Think of it as an essentially stuffed tryptophan. Delicious, healthy, and packing a good opportunity to boost serotonin levels naturally, all in one meal.
One banana has 15 micrograms of tryptophan per gram. You can savor this fruit in any way you want: freshly ripped, baked, cooked, in desserts and puddings, there is no limitation to get your happy mood up!
Every once in awhile, delight yourself with a lean chicken breast meal, high in protein and low in fat. In addition, you’ll increase your serotonin levels.
Dark leafy greens are a must in your day to day nutrition, but we bet you’ll be happy to know you have one more reason to eat spinach: it’s a source of tryptophan and iron.
Does a serotonin-rich diet actually help?
After all, the common belief is pretty simple: if you eat foods high in tryptophan, you can actually boost serotonin levels naturally. But is it really true?
The tryptophan obtained from foods has to compete with other aminoacids in the body that get absorbed into the brain, so it’s a long shot to think that enough of it will get to the brain in order to see an impact on your serotonin levels.
So, foods rich in tryptophan won’t boost serotonin on their own but combined with carbohydrates, you might have a better shot. Why carbohydrates? Because they make the body release more insulin, which in turn promotes aminoacid absorption, leaving tryptophan in the blood and with a better chance of being absorbed in the brain. Thus, mixing high tryptophan foods with carbs can help increase the serotonin boost.
In conclusion, if you don’t want to rely on supplements or medication to increase your serotonin levels, and you prefer a natural approach to it, eat foods high in tryptophan with a serving of healthy carbs, such as whole grain bread, rice, oatmeal.