Did you know what you eat can impact your mood? It’s a complex topic, but there are certain “serotonin foods” most likely to affect low mood and other common brain-related complaints.
Serotonin is a chemical in your body and brain that’s vital for stabilized mood and overall wellness. More research is needed to fully understand serotonin’s role—but we do know that low levels have been linked to mood disorders like depression and memory problems [*].
Three things you can do to help boost serotonin include:
- Exposing yourself to light (especially during low-light winter months)
- Getting regular exercise
- And eating the right serotonin foods
Today, we’re focusing on the third category. Although everyone is different, the serotonin foods below have been shown to help promote more serotonin production, which may help you feel better.
1. Complex Carbohydrates
There’s a reason eating carbs makes us feel so good—at least initially.
Since carbohydrates cause your body to release insulin, this encourages more amino acid absorption while leaving the chemical tryptophan in your blood. Tryptophan also has a positive connection with mood.
Serotonin is actually not found directly in foods, but that’s where tryptophan comes in. If you eat foods high in tryptophan as well as carbs, it may support more serotonin.
Refined carbs like cookies, bread, and white sugars taste great, but they spike blood sugar and soon lead to a crash. Instead, focus on whole, complex carbohydrates like:
- Oatmeal, brown rice, other whole grains
- Beans and lentils
- and starches
3. Spinach and Other Colorful Veggies
Vegetables fall into the category of complex carbohydrates, which are good for promoting serotonin. Also, they are “slow carbs,” which means your body uses them slowly over time. This is a good contrast to the quick spike then dip in energy you experience with refined carbs.
Veggies are also high in important microminerals and fiber that supports good gut health.
Try to focus on a variety of all colors, especially the leafy greens like spinach.
Eggs, especially the yolks, are high in tryptophan as well as healthy fats, B-vitamin biotin, choline, and the amino acid tyrosine. Eggs are another food that can help boost blood levels of tryptophan.
5. Nuts and Seeds
All nuts and seeds are dietary sources of tryptophan. Plus, they contain vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and can help reduce your risk of the most common chronic diseases [*].
Good nuts and seeds to each daily include:
- Walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds (all good sources of omega-3s)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- And more
6. Tofu and Tempeh
Many people are wary of soy these days, but for vegans and vegetarians, they can provide good sources of tryptophan. That includes whole tofu and tempeh, soy milk, miso, and even soy sauce.
The protein α-Lactalbumin in milk has more tryptophan than most other proteins. Consuming α-Lactalbumin has been shown to help improve cognition and mood in some humans, likely because it increases serotonin [*, *]. This makes dairy products a good option for serotonin foods.
Getting enough protein is helpful in many ways. It increases satiety and helps maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day, which may promote a more balanced mood.
You may have heard that eating turkey is good for mood because it’s full of another chemical called tryptophan. While it’s true turkey contains tryptophan, it’s actually a myth that the food raises tryptophan in the brain.
However, eating lean proteins like turkey make up a healthy diet, which allows you to stay full, satiated, and feeling your best during your day.
Although it’s not actually a food, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a popular serotonin supplement and may provide more support than tryptophan alone.
The best mood-boosting options vary per person and situation. These serotonin foods, along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, may help support higher levels of this vital chemical.
At Nature’s Ideal, we’re dedicated to the best-quality foods and supplements for you and your family. For more products addressing mood, see our Stress, Sleep, and Cognitive Function section.
Disclaimer: Statements made have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.