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What is a Serotonin Diet & Foods That Are High in Serotonin?

Serotonin is commonly known as being a mood stabilizer in our body. It can be described as a chemical messenger in the human body that not only helps in boosting our mood but also helps in establishing a healthy sleeping pattern. Serotonin levels are known to have a direct effect on our behavior and mood. Therefore, this chemical is typically associated with living longer and feeling good. There are now supplements also available that increase the serotonin levels through the amino acid known as tryptophan. The chemical serotonin is actually synthesized from tryptophan itself. However, there is also a more natural and healthier way to increase your serotonin levels. This is where a serotonin diet comes in. Serotonin diet simply means consuming foods that contain tryptophan. Let us take a closer look at what is a serotonin diet and foods that are high in serotonin.

What is a Serotonin Diet?

Serotonin is a very important hormone for our body as it has a profound effect on our mood and sleeping patterns. Serotonin is also known to control the body’s blood pressure levels. Serotonin is actually made up of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan can easily be obtained from food and then transported to the brain. Once it reaches the brain, tryptophan gets converted to serotonin. Therefore, a serotonin diet simply refers to a diet that is rich in foods containing tryptophan. While serotonin supplements are also available, it is always a better option to increase the content of tryptophan-rich foods rather than resorting to supplements. Eating foods high in tryptophan will help increase your serotonin levels.

Research is still ongoing to understand just how much tryptophan-rich foods you need to consume to effectively increase the serotonin levels in the brain. However, studies have shown that the depletion of tryptophan is usually associated with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. A diet that is low in tryptophan levels is also shown to decrease the serotonin levels in the brain.

Foods High in Serotonin

Let us look at some foods that contain high levels of tryptophan and can help boost the serotonin levels in the brain.

  1. Seafood

    Many types of fishes are known to contain high levels of tryptophan. You can choose fatty fishes such as salmon, tuna, clams, crabs, oysters, mackerel, sardines, and even herrings. Even fish oil supplements are known to be a good source of serotonin. Salmon, in particular, is also known to have other great health benefits such as lowering the body’s blood pressure, helping balance the level of cholesterol, and also being a rich source of omega 3-fatty acids.

  2. Eggs

    Eggs are an excellent source of tryptophan. In fact, recent studies have shown that the protein present in eggs is known to increase the blood plasma levels of tryptophan. However, a point to keep in mind is that you cannot benefit from eggs if you only consume the egg whites. You have to have the yolk as well as they are rich in both tyrosine and tryptophan, and also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, and choline. Eggs are today considered to be a superfood as they contain many such nutrients that contribute in different ways to your health and also have antioxidant properties.

  3. Meat

    Meat is a good source of proteins and serotonin. In fact, meat is known to be a natural source of serotonin. Beef, liver, pork, chicken, and turkey are all known to be a good source of serotonin and help boost the hormone’s level naturally in the body. Even bacon is known to contain high levels of serotonin.

  4. Cheese

    Cheese contains high levels of tryptophan. Not only is a favorite with most people, but even having cheese in a dish as simple as mac and cheese will provide you the benefits of tryptophan.

  5. Other Dairy Products

    Apart from cheese, dairy products such as buttermilk, milk, and curd are a great source of tryptophan and are known as serotonin boosting foods. Cottage cheese also contains high levels of tryptophan. A great dairy product is tofu, which not only contains tryptophan but is also rich in many other vitamins and nutrients. Made from soy, you will benefit from soy vitamins as well. Even if you have soy milk, you will still be getting the required levels of tryptophan and other nutrients at the same time.

  6. Pineapples

    Known to be a great source of bromelain, which is an effective remedy for a cough, pineapples are also known to be a good source of tryptophan.

  7. Certain Vegetables

    Vegetables such as carrots, garlic, okra, asparagus, squash, broccoli, green beans, spinach, cabbage, potatoes, lettuce, onions, and beets, all help in boosting the levels of serotonin in the body. All these veggies are known to contain tryptophan and are also available easily in the market. Vegetables, in any case, also provide great health benefits, and should be a part of your daily diet.

  8. Popcorn

    Now, this may come as a surprise, but popcorn and other carbohydrate-rich foods containing fiber are all known to be high in tryptophan and should be consumed from time to time to keep yourself feeling happy and relaxed.

  9. Seeds and Nuts

    Not only are nuts and seeds a great health booster, but all types of nuts and seeds are known to contain tryptophan. Almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashew nuts, and even hazelnuts and walnuts are all helpful in boosting tryptophan levels. Many research studies have indicated that just by eating a handful of nuts daily can not only lower your risk of cancer, but it will also reduce the risk of respiratory problems and heart disease. Seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, and others are also known to be a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.

  10. Grains

    Let us not forget the many health benefits we derive from grains. Bran is an excellent source of tryptophan and it also helps in ensuring the proper functioning of cells throughout our body. Bran is also rich in fiber and can be found not just in rice bran, but also in toasted wheat germ brands, potatoes, rice, and cereals.

How Effective is a Serotonin Diet?

While we have come across many studies that claim that eating foods that are rich in tryptophan will increase your serotonin levels, but is this really true? Even before starting a serotonin diet, it is important that you understand that serotonin is not found in foods. It is only manufactured from tryptophan, which is commonly found in foods. Foods that have a high protein content, iron, vitamin B6, and riboflavin are all known to be rich in tryptophan.

In fact, a study conducted by Michael E. Trulson showed that upon the consumption of tryptophan-rich food in cats, there were significant changes in brain serotonin levels as well as the major metabolite of serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid. However, there was no change in the activity of serotonin-containing dorsal raphe cells in the cats. Therefore, the study concluded that dietary tryptophan does not necessarily alter the levels of serotonin in the body.

The trick to a serotonin diet is that tryptophan-containing foods will not work to increase your serotonin levels by themselves. You need to add a very important factor to your diet in order to make it successful. This is where carbohydrates come into play.

Carbohydrates make your body release more insulin, which is what helps with the absorption of amino acids in the blood. As tryptophan is an amino acid, consuming carbs will help tryptophan get absorbed into the blood. So the trick to achieving success with a serotonin diet is to mix these tryptophan-containing foods with a certain level of carbohydrates as well in order to boost your levels of serotonin.

Many experts also say that due to the fact that tryptophan coming in from your food needs to compete with many other amino acids in order to get absorbed into your blood and brain. Therefore, it is unlikely that having tryptophan-rich foods will have much effect on your overall serotonin levels.

This is why tryptophan supplements are preferred by many as they contain purified tryptophan and have an immediate effect on serotonin levels. However, do not start taking these supplements without consulting your doctor.


Tryptophan-containing foods can obviously not compete with the supplements. However, having natural tryptophan-rich foods is perhaps your best chance of increasing serotonin levels without any side effects. Have these foods with a serving of carbohydrates on the side, such as whole grain bread, oatmeal, and rice.

Apart from these foods and supplements of tryptophan, there are also some other ways through which you can increase your serotonin levels. Some of these include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting a lot of sunshine
  • Having a positive outlook
  • Having a diet high in fiber content to promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

Whether or not these tryptophan-rich foods work, you should not start the tryptophan supplements without consulting your doctor.

Also Read:


  1. Fernstrom, J.D. and Wurtman, R.J., 1971. Brain serotonin content: increase following ingestion of carbohydrate diet. Science, 174(4013), pp.1023-1025.
  2. Fernstrom, J.D. and Wurtman, R.J., 1972. Brain serotonin content: physiological regulation by plasma neutral amino acids. Science, 178(4059), pp.414-416.
  3. Culley, W.J., Saunders, R.N., Mertz, E.T. and Jolly, D.H., 1963. Effect of a tryptophan deficient diet on brain serotonin and plasma tryptophan level. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 113(3), pp.645-648.
  4. Fernstrom, J.D. and Wurtman, R.J., 1974. Control of brain serotonin levels by the diet. Advances in biochemical psychopharmacology, 11, pp.133-142.
  5. Trulson, M.E., 1985. Dietary tryptophan does not alter the function of brain serotonin neurons. Life sciences, 37(11), pp.1067-1072.
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 15, 2018

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