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Serotonin-Rich Foods

Updated July 18, 2017

A serotonin-rich diet means that you eat foods that promote the synthesis of serotonin. Serotonin is not available in many dietary sources in any significant amount, so foods that contain the building blocks of serotonin must be eaten instead. Serotonin is important, as it regulates temperature, mood, appetite and sleep. Low levels of serotonin can contribute to depression.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid and a primary precursor to serotonin. Tryptophan competes with larger amino acids for transport across the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier preferentially chooses large amino acids, and tryptophan can lose out on making it to the brain if too many larger amino acids are present and not enough tryptophan. Sources of tryptophan include chicken, turkey, cottage cheese, milk, soy milk, soybeans, beans, rice, seafood, eggs and sunflower seeds.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that prevent inflammation in the body. They also provide structure to cell walls in the brain and promote cell signalling from the brain to the body. According to “Food and Mood,” adequate omega-3 fatty acids are important for serotonin creation. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fish such as mackerel, tuna and herring; flaxseed; soy nuts; and walnuts.

Whole Grains

A diet rich in whole grains is important for increasing serotonin in the body. Whole grains take longer to digest, which allows for a slow and steady release of blood sugars into the bloodstream. When this occurs, insulin is able to utilise the larger protein molecules that otherwise would compete with tryptophan for absorption across the blood-brain barrier. Whole grains are healthy carbohydrates and include whole wheat bread and pasta, quinoa, millet, oats, buckwheat and sweet potatoes.

B-6 Food Sources

Vitamin B-6 is needed by the body for generation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, according to “Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease.” B-6 food sources also assist with the breakdown of homocysteine, a very large amino acid that competes with tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier. A B-6 deficiency leads to high levels of homocysteine and is associated with higher rates of depression. Sources of B-6 include beans, meats, legumes, nuts, brown rice, whole grains, wheat germ, and a variety of green, leafy vegetables.

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About the Author

Andrea Johnson began writing professionally during her time as a clinical dietitian in which she was published in the "Journal of Renal Nutrition" in 2006. Johnson completed her Master of Science in nutrition from Appalachian State University in 2005.