There’s always a lot of chatter about maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, but very often what’s missing from the discussion are the actual facts of why eating healthy is so important. One of those “finer points” is how our diet can chemically influence our mood, which is why regular consumption of serotonin foods is a key player in overall health and wellness.
What is a Serotonin Booster?
There are a number of reasons why serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain and largely found in the gastrointestinal system, plays an outsized role in our mental health.
It is a mood-enhancing chemical that’s associated with positive feelings of wellbeing and a balanced emotional state.
Serotonin aids in the development of healthy sleep patterns that actually result in restful, revitalizing slumber that absolutely everyone needs.
The following methods can act as a serotonin booster to increase production of this vital chemical:
As it turns out, living an active life and spending quality time outdoors can improve our levels of this neurotransmitter. Sunlight is also known to increase the production of serotonin naturally.
While we don’t always get to spend as much time outdoors as we’d like, because of work, weather or other factors, we can make up for that by eating foods that increase serotonin.
This also includes foods that contain tryptophan; an essential amino acid that research suggests gives our serotonin levels an added boost.
What Role Does Serotonin Have in the Body?
In addition to boosting mood and aiding in proper sleep, there are a number of bodily functions that serotonin has an important role in and researchers are learning more about these everyday.
Serotonin aids in the following:
Efficient Blood Clotting
When tissue in the body is damaged, platelet cells release serotonin that causes a vasoconstriction, which are blood clots that can be essential for healing.
Low levels of serotonin can cause digestive issues and problems with gut bacteria. Foods that can irritate the intestinal lining exit the body quicker as a result of healthy serotonin levels.
Balanced serotonin levels are important in human sexuality. Too much serotonin can actually inhibit sexual function. Too little of the neurotransmitter can negatively impact mood and therefore, libido.
Serotonin and Mental Health
There is a direct link between our mental wellbeing and healthy serotonin levels.
Low levels of serotonin are associated with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings and our ability to cope with stress.
This is one of the reasons that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIS), which increase serotonin levels, are commonly prescribed for people struggling with mental health problems.
There is also a link between addiction and serotonin.
Because of the havoc low serotonin levels have on mood, some people are driven to self-medicate symptoms of depression or anxiety with drugs or alcohol.
This can become extremely problematic because substance abuse will actually alter the brain’s chemical makeup and diminish serotonin levels.
So, the more a person is trapped in a cycle of substance abuse, and the less serotonin they have in their body, the worse they continue to feel, and the more they struggle with addiction to feel better.
This is a pattern that anyone can be caught in and very often requires addiction treatment for recovery.
Avoiding alcohol and drugs, and getting plenty of exercise and sunlight are excellent ways to maintain healthy serotonin levels.
But perhaps the most efficient way to keep this mood-enhancing neurotransmitter balanced is by eating serotonin boosting foods.
What Are Some Foods That Boost Serotonin?
Many of these foods will contain the essential amino-acid tryptophan, which works hand-in-hand with serotonin. It’s important to understand that our bodies don’t naturally create tryptophan and we must get it from foods.
Here are 8 foods that help to boost serotonin levels:
1. Seeds and Nuts
Seeds and nuts are a good choice for vegetarians and vegans to increase serotonin levels.
They are a good source for tryptophan and can easily be consumed as a snack.
Seeds and nuts can also be sprinkled over salads, oatmeal or yogurt, and they’re often backed into whole grain breads.
Spinach and other dark, leafy greens are a great way to get more tryptophan to increase serotonin.
Whether it is fresh or frozen, cooked or raw, eating more spinach is an ideal way to boost mood and health.
The healthiest way to prepare eggs to reap the serotonin benefits is by boiling or poaching them. Avoid frying eggs in butter or using other added fats for the healthiest option.
When eating eggs, the yolks are important because they contain tryptophan and tyrosine, along with other vital nutrients with antioxidant properties. So don’t just eat the egg whites.
Salmon is a wonderful source of tryptophan for increasing serotonin in the body.
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a type of fish that is also packed with other nutritious essentials like vitamin D for good skin and strong bones.
5. Poultry Like Chicken and Turkey
Lean meats like chicken and turkey are good proteins for boosting serotonin, though the less added fat, the better the health outcome.
Although turkey contains generous amounts of tryptophan, it is not the real cause of why we like to take naps after a big Thanksgiving meal. It’s probably part of the reason we feel so happy though.
6. Soy Products Like Tofu
Another good option for vegans and vegetarians are soy products, like tofu, soy sauce or soya milk.
Soy products have shown to be ideal sources of tryptophan and a welcome substitute for other types of protein.
Not only is this delicious fruit packed with tryptophan, pineapple also has anti-inflammatory properties because it’s rich in the enzyme bromelain.
Pineapples are one of the best foods that increase serotonin while offering other health benefits.
8. Milk and Cheese
Milk and cheese are good sources of tryptophan, protein, and they both contain high levels of bone-strengthening calcium.
As always, moderation is key, so be on the lookout for low-fat dairy options whenever possible.
Serotonin Foods Are Also Healthy Options For the Body
The eight serotonin foods listed here are all excellent choices for increasing feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain to boost mood and mental health.
By improving mood, it enhances all aspects of our daily life and promotes our overall wellbeing.
Besides helping us to feel good mentally and emotionally, many of these foods are also part of a low-glycemic diet that can actually reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol.
Research has shown that a low-glycemic diet can be invaluable for those in recovery from substance use addiction and other metal health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
For anyone looking to make one small dietary change that offers a powerful punch, consider eating more foods that boost serotonin every day as part of a healthy and nutritious regimen.
Dr. Elena Kapustina found her true calling and completed her PsyD in Clinical Psychology after earning her MBA and spending years working as the CFO for major corporations. She founded Iris Healing to holistically work with dual diagnosis patients in order to create a more sustainable recovery. From managing 1,000 employees to creating a top of the line treatment center, Dr. Kapustina harnesses her passion to create positive experiences for others.