This article was reviewed and approved by
Dr. Brittany Ferri PhD
Most of us are familiar with the rhetoric that we must eat a balanced diet for healthy teeth, growing bones, and physical development. This message is mainly for children in schools and other learning centers. But, somehow, it is not common practice to discuss the role diet plays in our mental health.
We know that certain foods boost serotonin, heighten mood, enhance mental health, and improve our life outlook. It is a feel-good neurotransmitter so that everyone can benefit from increased levels in the brain and body. In addition, when it is from natural means, such as via food or drink, it can help people who do not experience mental health concerns such as mood disorders.
- Did you know the bacteria in the “gut” manufacturers 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin?
There is serotonin throughout the body, but it is primarily in the digestive system. When someone has healthy levels of this chemical messenger, they are more likely to have stable and level emotions.
It also regulates other bodily processes, such as the restful sleep we get and habits and routines. As a result, the quality of our day-to-day lives is highly dependent on our body’s ability to produce normal levels of this chemical.
Some data even suggest that low levels might contribute to the development of mood disorders. For example, one of the most effective treatments for depression (the most widely-known mood disorder) is to increase the levels with prescription medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are a standard class of antidepressants used to treat clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder.
It has a significant impact on mood, but it is also essential for:
- Libido, or sex drive
- Blood clotting, which helps our body respond to injuries
- Digestive processes such as nutrient absorption and metabolism
- Bone density, which helps prevent fractures or other skeletal injuries
With so much at stake, it makes sense for someone to naturally look for ways to increase their serotonin stores.
Before diving into the menu of foods with the potential to boost the levels, it’s important to note that living a well-balanced lifestyle will help maintain proper amounts of this vital neurochemical.
Protect your body’s supply by taking good care of your body and mind in equal parts. You can do this by incorporating the following practices into your daily routine:
Adopt a positive outlook
Lower stress levels by focusing on priorities, spending time with loved ones, and engaging in meaningful leisure activities.
Hiking, biking, swimming, and even walking are all great forms of exercise for people with any tolerance to physical activity.
Spend at least 5 minutes each day in a quiet, safe space.
Get plenty of sunshine.
Sunshine is commonly known to provide Vitamin D, but it also triggers the release of serotonin in the brain.
Maintain healthy gut bacteria
Avoid antibiotics whenever possible since they kill good and bad bacteria. If you get a prescription for antibiotics, follow them up by taking probiotics to rebuild good bacteria.
Though you can take supplements of it, one of the best ways to naturally produce it is to eat foods that contain tryptophan. This amino acid helps in the production of the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. Here are some familiar food sources of it:
Oily fish is known to be very good for the body. Fish like salmon contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation in the body. In addition, vitamin D is vital to build solid muscles and assist with calcium absorption. The good news is that salmon also contains a healthy dose of tryptophan, which helps boost your levels.
If you enjoy eating fish and want to incorporate more salmon into your diet, try eating at least two servings per week to give your body an adequate amount of tryptophan.
Turkey and Other Poultry
You may already know that turkey is a rich source of tryptophan. It’s a fun fact that people like to reference when they explain that tryptophan is why people often get so sleepy after a big Thanksgiving dinner.
It is lesser-known than other birds such as chicken and goose can also be good sources of this powerful amino acid. These meats are also a great way to get a quick dose of protein without consuming too much unhealthy fat in red meats.
I’m sure we’re all relieved that our morning staple makes a list. But remember, the way we cook our foods can make a difference in how healthy they are.
Try eating more hard-boiled or poached eggs without unhealthy fats (like butter) added for a healthier start to the day. You can substitute butter for olive oil, avocado oil, or even coconut oil to help with the cooking process, add a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, and even make your eggs a bit tastier! Hard-boiled eggs are also a great on-the-go snack at all hours of the day.
This tropical fruit is a great summertime treat, but it’s an excellent addition to your diet year-round. Sweet and refreshing, pineapple is tasty on its own, but it can also be in smoothies, used as a garnish, or combined with other foods to enhance their flavor. As a bonus, pineapple is loaded with bromelain to help curb inflammation in the body.
Cashews, Seeds, and Other Nuts
While nuts and seeds may not have as much tryptophan as some fish and meats, they are a good source of amino acids, healthy fats, and protein. If you like salty snacks, they are an excellent substitute for chips, pretzels, and other junk foods. They can easily be added to homemade trail mix or eaten conveniently, like at your desk as a mid-morning snack. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, nuts and seeds are also an excellent source of protein instead of meat.
Tofu and Soy
Soy products, like tofu and soy milk, are excellent protein alternatives containing reasonable amounts of tryptophan to boost levels and mood simultaneously. These serve as another superb meat substitute for vegans, vegetarians, and others wanting to focus more on a plant-based diet.
Milk and Cheese
Both milk and cheese products contain tryptophan and make an excellent addition to any meal. But, as with all foods, moderation is key. In addition, cheese and milk typically have a lot of fat, so read your labels and watch your portion sizes. Fortunately, these dairy products are widely available in low-fat options for people looking to maintain a healthy weight.
Not only does this leafy green veggie pack a punch with a lot of tryptophan, but spinach is also an excellent source of iron. Iron is a critical nutrient that can help in boosting energy levels, which may also be low in people with low levels or mood disorders. Spinach can be eaten raw in salads, added to meals like soups, or steamed as a side dish. Regardless of how you get it, spinach retains the necessary amino acid to offer a good mood boost.
When you are looking to increase your serotonin, simplicity is the key. For others recovering from addiction or mental health issues, boosting mood and increasing happiness will aid recovery and decrease the chance of experiencing a relapse.
Along with a good diet, be sure to get outside, exercise, stay positive, and refrain from alcohol, drugs, and other substances that can deplete healthy serotonin stores. Before you know it, you might feel like a completely new person.