A chemical messenger called Serotonin drives our mood, behaviour and energy levels. It stimulates feelings of happiness and positivity, with high serotonin levels correlated with living longer (sign me up!). Serotonin is synthesised from tryptophan, an amino acid that can be found in some supplements that aim to boost your happy hormone levels.
However, it’s not all about medication and prescription drugs when it comes to increasing the serotonin in your body. In fact, ongoing research shows that tryptophan-containing foods can help to stabilise serotonin in your brain. Inadequate amount of tryptophan can lead to depression, anxiety and general mood disorders. Studies also show that individuals who eat a diet low in tryptophan, have lower level of serotonin – “eat well and be happy” – now that’s the sort of advice we love to preach.
Try these 5 Serotonin-Boosting Foods:
- Salmon – Sustainably caught salmon is rich in tryptophan, and can be used in a variety of ways. Steam or lightly pan fry for a clean dinner, or combine with eggs and avocado for a tasty breakkie bowl. Salmon is great because it is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, helps to lower blood pressure and keep your cholesterol levels at bay.
- Eggs – …and don’t leave out the yolk! The yolk in particular can boost your blood plasma levels of tryptophan. Eggs are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, high in antioxidants and are the perfect addition to a healthy balanced diet.
- Tofu – An easy substitute for any protein, as it can replace almost meat products in most recipes. Tofu is a fantastic source of tryptophan for vegetarians and vegans.
- Turkey – Not only is turkey an excellent source of lean protein, it is also rich in tryptophan. Keep your diet exciting and switch your normal meat selections for a turkey meal instead – turkey San Choy Bow? YUM.
- Cheese – For those who can handle dairy in various amounts, cheese is both a great (and yummy) source of tryptophan. However, not all cheese is created equal. Purchase high quality cheese with no additives or preservatives, and mix into your favourite salad or egg recipe.
- Nuts & Seeds – A serving of 6-8 nuts as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack can lower your risk of cancer, respiratory issues and heart problems, says recent research. Toss some seeds through your favourite salad recipe, as they’re also rich in vitamins, antioxidants and fibre (keeping things moving!). Nut butters are also the perfect topping for sliced apple or pear, increasing the protein and quality fat content, and helping to stabilise your blood sugar levels from the fruit.
How to hack your lifestyle and boost serotonin, naturally:
- Sunshine – There’s a reason why experts advocate an early morning walk to start your day on the right foot. Recent studies show a strong correlation between light exposure and serotonin levels. Boost your mood when that afternoon slump hits and treat yourself to a lunchtime walk and be sure to eat your lunch outside.
- Positivity and Happiness – Sounds cliché, but making a conscious effort to “wake up on the right side of the bed” each day is now backed by research. Studies highlight that showing up in your life with a positive mindset, approaching everything with mindfulness, can help to naturally boost your brains serotonin. As Bob Marley suggests – “Don’t worry, be happy!”
Movement – GET UP and GET MOVING. The WHO recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Aim to get 10,000 steps in, especially if you work in an environment that is predominantly sedentary. Exercise also gives you a huge rush of endorphins, and it’s the endorphins that make you happy! So time to walk to work, get off that bus stop a few stops earlier, wake that little bit earlier for that gym class or dedicate time on the weekends for your serotonin sweat sesh!
Gut Microbiome – With at least 80-90% of serotonin produced in your gut, it is not surprising to recognise the importance of a healthy and happy gut. Consuming a high-fibre diet loaded with a variety of wholefoods will help to feed and grow the good bacteria, and crowd out the bad. Probiotics are a great supplement, however should not replace the role that food can have on your gut bacteria.