Improve Your Mental State: 8 Foods That Boost Serotonin

If life has been getting you down and you cannot find happiness in your surroundings — it’s time to eat your way to joy. This time, though, skip the snacks that will only make you sad later on and go straight for these eight foods that boost serotonin!

What Is Serotonin?

Among the many chemicals and compounds found in the human body, one of the brightest stars is surely serotonin.

As a naturally occurring chemical produced by nerve cells, serotonin works as a neurotransmitter. Its main job is to transmit signals between neurons, which allows it to affect many bodily functions, including memory, sleep, and sexual function.

Still, the feel-good chemical, as many now know it, is mostly famous for its mood regulation effects. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, and a generally low mood. To counteract that, it’s necessary to boost it regularly.

Most notably, people who struggle with anxiety and depression can get antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Another, definitely more delicious method entails eating foods that have shown they could effectively increase serotonin levels.

8 Foods That Boost Serotonin

The chemical to focus on when looking for serotonin-boosting foods is actually tryptophan, its precursor. Your body changes this compound into serotonin, thus alleviating symptoms of depression and generally improving your health. Here are some of the best sources of tryptophan to check out:

1. Salmon


A fan favorite of many health enthusiasts, salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for maintaining healthy eyes, bones, and skin. In terms of mood regulation, it’s an incredible addition to any diet due to its vitamin D and tryptophan levels.

2. Eggs


Eggs are delicious as is, but they seem like an even choice once you learn about their serotonin-boosting properties. A 2015 study examined how taking an egg protein hydrolysate supplement could serve as an alternative treatment for mood disorders.

The study ended on a high note, as it showed that the supplement could positively affect emotional and cognitive functions in middle-aged women.

What’s more, eggs aren’t just rich in tryptophan. The yolks are in particular important to eat as they contain optimal levels of other beneficial nutrients, such as biotin, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline.

3. Turkey


Types of poultry, like turkey, are some of the best sources of not only protein but also tryptophan. The tryptophan content in the turkey should help promote a better (happier) mood and keep you alert. Other than the serotonin precursor, turkey is also rich in vitamins B6 and B12, selenium, zinc, and choline.

4. Milk


If you’re not lactose-intolerant, you can also rely on some dairy products, like cow’s milk, to help improve your mood and sleep quality. Alpha-lactalbumin, a type of protein that occurs in milk, is rich in tryptophan.

Thus, if you were to drink more milk, there’s a good chance you’d be able to raise your serotonin levels and feel generally happier.

5. Fermented and Prebiotic Foods


Although more research is needed to investigate the benefits further, fermented and prebiotic foods could also impact your serotonin levels. These foods are able to nourish the gut microbiome, which results in a healthier gut — the part of your body where most serotonin is produced.

Some great options to consider here include kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso. You can also try eating yogurt or drinking kefir regularly, and the bravest among you may even develop a taste for kombucha!

6. Nuts and Seeds


Tryptophan also appears in various nuts and seeds that most people like to nibble on between meals. Walnuts, in particular, showed great promise in a 2019 study where it was suggested that they significantly reduced depression symptoms.

Other great options to snack on include cashews, peanuts, almonds, flaxseed, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

7. Fruits and Vegetables


Dark leafy vegetables like spinach and nutrient-packed fruits like pineapple and bananas could also provide your body with enough tryptophan to help boost your serotonin levels. One of the best ways to consume these would be to eat them raw or in the form of a salad.

You can also create your own combinations by combining a few tryptophan-rich veggies and fruits into a serotonin powerhouse snack. For instance, you can add pineapple to your yogurt or pair spinach with eggs to create a filling, healthy breakfast!

8. Tofu


Finally, vegetarians and vegans can also enjoy solid bursts of serotonin even though they avoid consuming meat, dairy, or eggs. Tofu is also rich in tryptophan, and it’s a fantastic source of isoflavones, which may alleviate some depression symptoms on their own!

What Foods Destroy Serotonin?


Just like some foods can increase serotonin levels, some of your favorite snacks may actually decrease them.

A well-balanced diet full of protein, vitamins, and minerals is vital for having enough serotonin and other neurotransmitters. If you, however, regularly binge on snacks and generally lead a fast-food lifestyle, an imbalance occurs because there aren’t enough “building blocks” to make more of these chemicals. How much protein should an athlete eat in a day?

Unfortunately for some, sugary and highly processed foods full of trans fat are notorious for this effect. They may seem to boost your mood for a while. In fact, you may even believe that the only thing that would make you happy is to eat some potato chips or chocolate.

Nevertheless, most sugary snacks actually lower the amount of tryptophan in your body, which in turn prevents proper serotonin production. Even worse, highly processed food can damage your gut health in the long run, which is bad news for serotonin as that’s where about 90% of it is produced!

Other Ways to Boost Serotonin


Of course, even food may not help everyone struggling with depression and anxiety, so some people may have to take SSRIs to alleviate moderate to severe symptoms. Others, however, may work on their lifestyles. Here are a few other activities that could have a serious impact on your serotonin levels:

1. Regular Exercise

Going to the gym or exercising at home won’t just help you maintain your figure. Exercise, especially the aerobic kind, affects the uptake of branched-chain amino acids, which are actually direct competitors of serotonin’s precursor, tryptophan.

As aerobic exercise can reduce the amount of these acids, tryptophan has a better chance of turning into serotonin, thus boosting your mood.

Ideally, you should aim to spend at least 150 minutes every week doing moderate-intensity cardio. To keep your body toned, remember to throw in some strength training as well (at least twice a week).

2. Taking Supplements

If eating certain foods isn’t possible for you, supplements can become your best friends while trying to boost serotonin. Some famous ones include pure tryptophan, 5-HTP, SAM-e, St. John’s wort, and probiotics.

Other than those, there are a number of vitamin and mineral supplements you can look into if you suspect you have some deficiencies.

3. Massage Therapy

If you’ve ever felt both mentally and physically better after a massage, there is a reason for that. Curiously enough, a massage doesn’t only feel good but can actually affect your mental health.

There is a study that suggests that during massage therapy, cortisol levels go down while serotonin and dopamine levels go up. Effectively, treating yourself to regular massages could keep stress at bay while activating the feel-good hormones.

4. Sun Exposure

Finally, it is widely assumed that seasonal depression occurs because people aren’t exposed to enough sunshine in fall and winter. A study from 2015 actually showed there is a correlation between exposing people to light therapy and alleviating seasonal depression.

That doesn’t mean light therapy is the only way to go. Even just spending at least 15 minutes outside every day should help both make you feel better and increase vitamin D, which is also necessary for serotonin production.

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