10 Foods to Boost Serotonin and Improve Mental Health and Mood

Would you refuse the chance to fight the blues, feel happier and more productive? Given all the stresses and demands of modern life, who wouldn’t want to feel a natural mood lift? It might as simple as adding certain healthy foods to your diet.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced by your body and is often called the “happy hormone.” Serotonin can help promote a sense of well-being, happiness, and act as a mood stabilizer. On the other hand, low levels of serotonin might lead to feelings of sadness and depression (though this theory has been questioned in recent studies).

Because your body cannot make tryptophan on its own, serotonin must be obtained from food. Tryptophan-rich foods can boost serotonin levels, and give you a little more energy.

What Foods Can Boost Serotonin?

#1. Turkey

Let’s start with turkey, the most famous high-tryptophan meal. It’s a common Thanksgiving Day myth that turkey makes you sleepy. After digesting the turkey, tryptophan becomes serotonin. This leads to a feeling of relaxation and sleepiness.

But eating turkey doesn’t make you sleepy. Scientists explain that the main reason you probably feel tired after your Thanksgiving meal is that it was a larger meal than normal, which diverts blood flow to your digestive system away from your brain.

#2. Chicken


High-protein foods contain the highest levels of tryptophan because amino acids make up protein. Like turkey, chicken is high in tryptophan.

Your body can make more serotonin by eating protein. It may also improve your mood. Eating protein might help your body produce more dopamine and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters (like serotonin) that are also important for brain health and mood.

#3. Eggs


The yolks of eggs are high in tryptophan. But, don’t throw them out! The yolks of eggs are richer in tryptophan than the whites. They also contain other important nutrients, such as biotin.

A study used protein from eggs in a supplement form and administered it to participants. The egg protein supplement resulted in a greater feeling of happiness, and participants were less likely to pay attention to negative stimuli. You would be surprised at the mood-boosting power of an omelet.

#4. Cheese


It’s rich in tryptophan and easy on the palate. It’s no wonder many foods with cheese are considered “comfort foods.” According to a food database powered by USDA data, cottage cheese, hard mozzarella, and cheddar cheese contain the most tryptophan compared to other types of cheese.

#5. Milk


Natural milk is rich in protein and essential amino acids tryptophan. This helps to produce serotonin. Whole milk has more tryptophan than lower-fat milk. Vitamin D is also found in milk, which may play a part in your mood and mental well-being. Vitamin D was found to improve mood in women who had anxiety and were also vitamin D deficient. Other studies conclude that vitamin D consumption can help reduce negative emotions.

#6. Tuna


One can of tuna contains more tryptophan than a pound of raw turkey. Canned tuna is more economical than other types of fish and has a longer shelf life. Tuna can also be a source of omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart and help to reduce inflammation.

#7. Oats


While they aren’t as high in protein or tryptophan as many of the other high-protein foods in this list, one cup of oats provides almost 60% of the lower end of the recommended daily amount of tryptophan.

Oats, like eggs and tuna, are another healthy staple that is budget-friendly. Oats contain beta-glucan, a fiber that is rich in oatmeal. Interestingly enough, a beta-glucan supplement was found to improve mood in people who were considered stressed. Although it may seem a stretch to claim that oatmeal can reduce stress, there are many health benefits that could help you feel better.

#8. Salmon


Salmon is another high-protein, high-tryptophan food. It’s also a nutritional powerhouse. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, making it one of the most important sources for brain health and fighting inflammation.

#9. Pumpkin Seeds


One ounce of pumpkin or squash seeds contains more than half the daily recommended amount. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of magnesium, which helps muscles relax and may lessen the symptoms of anxiety.

#10. Tofu


Tofu is an excellent protein option for vegans and vegetarians. It also contains tryptophan, which may increase low levels of serotonin. Firm tofu is better than soft tofu for replacing meat in stir-fries and other dishes. Softer tofu won’t keep its shape. Smoothies are great with silken tofu (softer).

Calcium, along with magnesium is believed to play a part in mental disorders and may promote mental health. In one study, women with higher calcium intakes had lower self-rated depression scores, whereas those with lower calcium intake rated higher on the depression scale.

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