Food to Boost Serotonin
Serotonin is one of the brain’s most important neurotransmitters and plays a vital role in improving mood and feelings of happiness. Pharmaceutical drugs to boost serotonin are used to treat depression but these antidepressants are problematic. They are associated with a range of adverse side effects and estimates suggest they do not work for around half of those who take them.
Because of its importance with regards to emotional well-being, scientists have conducted much research on natural ways to boost serotonin levels.
Boosting your serotonin by natural means is not easy but studies have uncovered some encouraging results including exercise and light treatment.
But, what about food? Is it possible for you to raise your serotonin levels and improve your mood through diet?
Can food rich In serotonin boost your mood?
The simple answer to this question is no. You might have heard that eating bananas can raise your serotonin or that munching on turkey can help your mood. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
A very limited amount of foods contain serotonin but eating them has no impact on your serotonin levels.
The list of food that contains serotonin is very short indeed. Here it is:
- hickory nuts
- kiwi fruit
So why can’t you just eat a handful of bananas or plums or walnuts, raise your serotonin and feel happy?
The reason is that serotonin found in food is unable to cross the all important blood-brain barrier. This barrier is vital to our health because it acts as security against harmful foreign substances. Unfortunately, this protective barrier means that simply eating serotonin rich food will not help to improve your mood.
Tryptophan and Serotonin
While eating the few foods that contain serotonin may not have much effect, the same may not be true of food rich in tryptophan. In fact, most lists of serotonin food are really just lists of food containing tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin.
The list of foods that contain tryptophan is much longer than those that contain serotonin. In fact, the majority of protein rich foods are also great sources of tryptophan. These are some of the best sources of tryptophan:
- fish and other types of seafood
- all kinds of meat
- all poultry
- nuts and seeds of various kinds
So, if tryptohan is a precursor to serotonin, will eating more of this yummy food help boost your levels of the ‘happy molecule’ and help boost your mood?
Unfortunately, the answer is probably not and this is the reason why….
To increase your serotonin levels from your diet, you need to eat foods that are rich in protein to get the tryptophan necessary to synthesize serotonin in the brain. The problem here is that protein actually blocks the formation of serotonin and paradoxically, the level of both serotonin and of tryptophan drops after you have eaten a high protein meal.
According to research, even a little protein combined with carbs an inhibit the formation of serotonin.
So what is the solution and remember we are talking about food here rather than any other natural booster?
If consuming serotonin rich food and food containing tryptophan do not increase your level of serotonin, does anything?
The answer may come as a surprise to many of you.
Carbohydrates and Serotonin
According to Dr. Judith Wurtman who co-authored a book called the serotonin diet, there is a reason why people crave sweets and binge on carbohydrates when they feel anxious, angry and depressed. Dr Wurtman who also researched the subject at MIT claims that people binge on these ‘unhealthy’ foods because they raise the brain’s serotonin levels which makes them feel happy. (1)
And according to the research she conducted, eating strategically can ensure more of the tryptophan you have consumed can enter the brain to form serotonin. So it is not simply a case of what you eat, but exactly how you consume it.
Boosting Serotonin by Eating Carbohydrates Strategically
According to the research by Dr. Wurtman, eating carbohydrates alone without any protein can avoid the paradox of protein blocking the synthesis of serotonin.
This may come as a surprise to people who have been told to cut down on carbohydrates because they are not healthy and make you gain weight. Many popular diet plans recommend eating carbs only in extreme moderation while others recommend that you only eat them along with protein and fats.
If you would like more information on the serotonin diet, you can find it by clicking the following link. The Serotonin Power Diet.
Foods that Raise Serotonin Levels Naturally
The list of food that actually works naturally to increase serotonin levels is very short. According to research the following foods may have the desired effect.
Turmeric has been very well researched with regard to its health benefits. According to research, it can have a very beneficial effect on your mood and feelings of happiness. The spice contains an active ingredient called curcumin which is able to pass the brain’s protective blood barrier and increase both serotonin levels and dopamine levels. (2)
Adding turmeric to your cooking can have plenty of positive health effects but in order to get the most out of the spice, you will probably need to take a curcumin supplements. Research has actually demonstrated that curcumin supplements were just as effective as the prescription antidepressant – Prozac. (3)
2) Dark Chocolate
When we are talking about the brain boosting power of chocolate and its impact on serotonin levels and mood, we are talking about good quality dark chocolate with at least 95% cocoa.
Perhaps surprisingly, the vast majority of serotonin resides in your gut rather than in the brain. According to research, eating dark chocolate can increase serotonin levels both in a person’s brain and in their digestive tract. (4)
Of course, the problem with eating too much chocolate is the high sugar content and the potential to gain weight. Cacao nibs are a great alternative to chocolate bars since they contain all of the same mood boosting compounds without the sugar. Like everything else; make sure that you eat it in moderation.
3) Cold Water Fatty Fish
Research suggests that there is a correlation between low serotonin levels and low levels of an omega 3 fatty acid called DHA – an important building block within the brain.
Fatty types of cold-water fish such as salmon are extremely rich sources of healthy omega-3 fats and according to studies, they can potentially help us to raise our serotonin levels. (5)
4) Green Tea
Green tea is absolutely brimming with unique antioxidants like catechins. It actually contains well over 700 active compounds making it one of the healthiest drinks that you can consume.
Among those bioactive compounds is l-theanine. Research shows that this amino acid has natural, relaxant properties. According to studies, L-theanine can increase many of the brain’s mood boosting chemicals including dopamine, GABA and of course – serotonin. (6)
5) Fermented Food
Fermented food products such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and good quality yogurt contain probiotics which are essential to ensure good intestinal health. Probiotics like the ones found in these fermented products help to balance the good and bad bacteria in the gut.
When the bad bacteria outweighs the helpful bacteria, it can create toxic byproducts that research shows can have negative effects on the brain. One of these side effects is a drop in serotonin levels which leads to depression. (7) (8)
Your intestinal flora can also be disrupted by a range of other factors including certain medications, artificial sweeteners, stress, chlorinated water and inflammation.
- Eating food that contains serotonin is unlikely to have much of an effect on your serotonin levels and neither is eating tryptophan foods because of the protein problem.
- Strategically eating carbs can have a positive effect.
- Research shows that certain foods like turmeric, fatty fish and green tea can help improve brain health including boosting your serotonin.
- Avoid food and other factors that may cause a drop in serotonin.