Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that can affect mood. Eating foods that contain the essential amino acid tryptophan can help the body produce more serotonin.

Some foods, such as salmon, eggs, spinach, and seeds, can help boost serotonin naturally.

Serotonin is a chemical found in the brain, blood, intestines, and connective tissues. It causes blood vessels to contract, helps transmit information across the nervous system, and has a role in brain function.

Serotonin is essential for overall health and well-being, and people often associate it with positive mood. However, the brain is complex, and further research is necessary to learn more about how serotonin works.

Nevertheless, 2016 research has linked low serotonin to mood disorders, and it may have a role to play in depression.

Reduced levels of serotonin in the brain may be a cause of memory issues and low mood. Low serotonin levels are also more likely to affect a person negatively if they have previously had depression.

This article looks at eight healthy foods that may help boost serotonin. It also covers the difference between serotonin and tryptophan, the importance of carbohydrates, and other tips for boosting serotonin and mood.

Tryptophan is an amino acid important for the production of serotonin in the body. It is also key to brain function and plays a role in healthy sleep.

The body cannot make tryptophan, so people must obtain it from their diet.

Tryptophan can be found in food, whereas serotonin cannot.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an essential way to support mental and physical health. Including sources of tryptophan in the diet can have positive benefits on energy levels, mood, and sleep.

Learn more about serotonin.

Tryptophan, which goes into making serotonin, is commonly found in foods that contain protein. Although meat is often a key source of protein for many people, there are also many vegetarian and vegan sources.

The following foods are good sources of tryptophan:

1. Salmon

This oily fish is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for health. These fatty acids can help support strong bones, healthy skin, and eye function.

Salmon is also a source of vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones and teeth and healthy muscles.

Eating 2 portions of oily fish per week should provide enough tryptophan for most people. Vegans and vegetarians can get omega-3 from pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and soya.

2. Poultry

Poultry includes chicken, turkey, and goose. Lean poultry, such as chicken breast, is usually high in protein and low in fat.

3. Eggs

With eggs, some preparation and cooking methods are healthier than others. Frying an egg adds a lot of fat, making it a less healthy option.

Boiling or poaching an egg does not add any additional fat. Making an omelet and eating it with a salad can be suitable for a light meal.

4. Spinach

Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, are a source of tryptophan.

Spinach is also a good source of iron. Iron helps the body to make healthy red blood cells. A lack of iron in the diet can lead to anemia, low energy, or difficulty breathing.

5. Seeds

Seeds do not contain as much tryptophan as oily fish, poultry, or eggs. However, they are a good source of tryptophan and protein for vegetarians and vegans.

Some easy ways to eat more seeds include:

  • sprinkling seeds onto a salad
  • mixing nuts and seeds for a snack
  • choosing seeded bread
  • adding seeds to cereal, porridge, or yogurt

6. Milk

Milk is also a good source of calcium, which helps build healthy bones and teeth.

Choosing a low fat option can be healthier than full-fat milk, particularly for people monitoring their saturated fat intake.

7. Soy products

Products containing soy, such as tofu, soya milk, or soy sauce, are a source of tryptophan. These can be a suitable option for vegetarians and vegans.

8. Nuts

Nuts are a good source of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Snacking on a handful of nuts between meals can help a person to feel fuller for longer.

Carbohydrates are one of the body’s main sources of energy. Healthy, nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources include fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads and pastas.

The majority of serotonin in the body is made in the gut, while the brain makes a smaller amount. Tryptophan needs carbohydrates to be able to reach the brain and create serotonin.

Foods that contain tryptophan are most effective if eaten alongside carbohydrates.

There are other ways a person can help boost serotonin levels and improve their mood:

  • Keeping energized: A steady supply of energy throughout the day can help balance mood. The body digests whole grains slowly, which means they release energy gradually. Healthy snacks, such as nuts and seeds or fruit, can provide energy between meals.
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids during the day keeps the body and brain hydrated. This is critical for energy levels and correct brain functioning.
  • Promoting good gut health: A healthy gut is vital for the production of serotonin. Including prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods in the diet can promote gut health. It is also important to limit foods that negatively alter gut bacteria, such as artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and processed and refined sugars.
  • Going outdoors: There is a link between serotonin and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People can experience SAD during the winter months when there is less daylight. It can cause low mood, lack of energy, and disrupted sleep. Sunshine may trigger the production of serotonin. Therefore, getting some daylight every day, even in the winter months, could help improve a person’s mood.
  • Exercising: Regular exercise has benefits for mental as well as physical health. It may reduce the risk of depression and provide an immediate mood boost as it releases endorphins, which help cope with pain or stress.
  • Having a positive outlook: Feeling positive is often about balance. Diet, exercise, sleep, and a positive outlook are all key elements to improving mood.

Eating foods that contain tryptophan can help the body produce more serotonin, thereby helping improve mood. Good sources of tryptophan include salmon, eggs, nuts, and spinach.

Alongside a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise and good-quality sleep are also important for helping a person’s mood.