Maintaining a healthy diet is usually associated with keeping a slimmer waistline, and it’s rare that people understand certain foods that increase serotonin are also essential for mental health.
However, there is now plenty of research to suggest that the kinds of foods people eat are likely to have a direct impact on the structure and function of the brain, and as a result, can improve mood and behavior.
That’s one of the reasons consuming foods that increase serotonin naturally is a smart mental health move.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter produced by nerve cells made from the essential amino-acid tryptophan. In short, serotonin helps transmit messages between nerves on a cellular level.
While it can be found in blood platelets and throughout the entire central nervous system, it’s primarily created in the digestive system and not exclusively in the brain as most people assume.
Healthy levels of serotonin are a vital element for good physical and mental health because the neurotransmitter has a broad impact on everything from emotional wellbeing and happiness to physical coordination.
Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer associated with some of the following:
- Happy or positive mood
- Reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms
- Better, more restful, and rejuvenating sleep
- Faster healing of cuts and other wounds
- Good bone health
- Healthy bowel function
Many people are surprised when they discover one of the best ways to increase serotonin naturally and maintain healthy levels of it in the body is achieved through their daily diet.
Because the neurotransmitter is made from tryptophan, it’s necessary to consume serotonin foods that are rich with this amino acid.
Serotonin Foods to Increase Serotonin Naturally
Boosting serotonin in the body requires a simple, but deliberate approach to integrating certain foods into one’s diet, especially those rich in tryptophan.
9 Foods That Increase Serotonin Naturally
1. Poultry, Such as Turkey and Chicken
Not only is poultry a good source for lean proteins, it is also full of the amino acid needed to create healthy levels of serotonin in the body.
Tryptophan in turkey gained some notoriety, thanks to an iconic Thanksgiving episode of the sitcom “Seinfeld,” as the chemical that makes people tired after eating. The actual truth is people tend to get tired after a Thanksgiving meal because they generally eat a lot of food in one sitting.
2. Eggs for Protein
Another good source of protein and a great way to increase serotonin naturally is to look no further than one of America’s favorite breakfast foods – eggs.
What’s important to remember about eggs is that the preparation method is key. Boiling or poaching eggs are the healthiest way to consume them, while frying or scrambling with lots of butter is the least healthy approach.
3. Salmon and Fish are Excellent Foods to Increase Serotonin
Salmon and other fish are another great source of lean protein and an excellent choice for boosting serotonin levels. Not only do salmon and other types of fish contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the heart, bones and skin, but they’re also a valuable source of tryptophan.
4. Soy Products, Tofu, and Soy Milk
For vegetarians who prefer to avoid animal and fish proteins, soy products have become much more accessible in the past decade.
From soy milk to dozens of differently prepared and spiced tofu choices, soy products are an excellent way to get tryptophan to naturally increase serotonin production.
5. Dairy Products, Like Milk and Cheese
Rich in calcium for strong teeth and bones, dairy products like milk and cheese are great sources of tryptophan for those who are not lactose intolerant. Luckily there is now a wide range of lactose-free varieties available on most store shelves.
Whenever possible, choose lower fat dairy options to prevent adding too many unwanted calories for optimal health benefits.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Practically any type of nuts and seeds pack a big punch of tryptophan. They are also a tasty option for vegetarians as a protein replacement and a vital source of food to boost serotonin in the body.
Something of an overlooked fruit, pineapple contains the protein bromelain, which comes with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It is also full of tryptophan for a healthy surge of serotonin production.
8. Dark Green, Leafy Vegetables, Like Spinach
Spinach, well known for being rich in iron, is good for creating healthy red blood cells, and contains hearty amounts of tryptophan. Most types of dark green, leafy vegetables also work well to improve serotonin levels.
9. Sauerkraut and Other Natural Probiotics
Research suggests that fermented foods and natural probiotics, like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt can increase the amount of tryptophan in the blood and lead to an increase of serotonin levels.
Additional Ways to Increase Serotonin Naturally
While consuming serotonin foods through a proper diet is the primary way of generating appropriate amounts of the neurotransmitter in the body, there are other non-dietary methods for maintaining or boosting levels of serotonin.
Other Ways to Increase Serotonin Include:
1. Sunlight is Good for Increasing Serotonin
Studies show that people usually have lower levels of serotonin during the winter when there are fewer hours of sunlight. If possible, try spending at least 10 to 15 minutes a day outside in direct sunlight in order to stimulate serotonin production.
2. Regular Exercise
Aerobic, or any form of regular exercise that increases the heart rate has shown to be an effective method for releasing stores of tryptophan into the bloodstream to naturally boost serotonin. With any exercise though, especially after periods of inactivity, it’s important to start slowly and avoid sudden jumps in intensity levels.
3. Probiotic Supplements
For the same reason as eating the natural version, probiotic supplements can also help promote good gut health to increase serotonin production. Taking supplements may also help release additional tryptophan into the bloodstream.
4. Other Types of Supplements
There are other types supplements that are widely available to improve the production of serotonin. The most popular ones include pure tryptophan, SAMe, St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP.
However, it is always recommended to check with your doctor before taking supplements that may interact with other medications or health conditions.
Why is it Important to Learn How to Increase Serotonin?
Learning how to increase serotonin naturally is a great way for everyone to easily improve his or her own mental health.
Serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy and reduces the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Many people turn to unhealthy ways to cope with stress or depression like drugs or alcohol. Using these substances can help for a while because they increase the activity of many neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that make them feel good.
Long term or excessive drug and alcohol use actually has a negative affect on neurotransmitters over time.
As a person builds a tolerance to the substances, dopamine and serotonin actually stop working as intended. It takes more drugs or alcohol to get the same effect, and prolonged use may lead to addiction.
Boosting feel-good neurotransmitters to promote a positive mood is especially important for people in drug or alcohol addiction recovery.
By learning how to increase serotonin with food and exercise, it can serve as a healthier replacement for the substances they previously used to feel better.