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Manage Your Emotions and Stress With Serotonin-Boosting Foods

Many people resort to excessive eating and drinking when they are feeling stressed, anxious or sad, which can lead to depression, irritability, mood swings and insomnia. You can better manage these feelings with the help of serotonin.

Serotonin is a natural mood enhancer. 

In the body, serotonin is a chemical that helps nerve cells “talk” to each other by sending signals that can positively impact mood, sleep habits, hunger cues and stress responses. Eating foods high in tryptophan (an amino acid) and vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate (folic acid) helps in the production of serotonin. Including foods high in healthy carbohydrates helps to move these serotonin-building nutrients to the brain while delivering long-lasting energy.

These serotonin-boosting ingredients and their food sources will help better control your mood, stress, sleep and hunger:

  • Tryptophan: Chicken, turkey, fish, beef, pork, nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, eggs, oats, beans, lentils, spinach, dates, bananas and dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)
  • Vitamin B6: Chicken, fish, pork, eggs, bananas, non-citrus fruits and starchy vegetables
  • Vitamin B12: Chicken, turkey, fish, beef, pork, cheese, milk, yogurt and fortified foods, such as non-dairy milks and cereals
  • Folate: Beef liver, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach and mustard greens, fruits and fruit juices (especially citrus), nuts, beans, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans and fortified foods such as cereals, grains and bread
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found naturally in salmon, trout, mackerel, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and soybeans will also boost serotonin levels.

Pre-packaged foods, sweets and fast foods, which are usually high in refined sugars and carbohydrate or protein, can overload the system with quick-acting, but short-lived energy. Too much protein can crowd out tryptophan and healthy B vitamins, resulting in lower serotonin levels.

If  our serotonin is low, it triggers us to eat again via a craving and we typically reach for something sugary, fatty or salty with the hopes of returning to high serotonin levels to quickly improve our mood. This quick fix is not a great long-term solution and can impact our health.

How can I use food to keep my mood stable?

Plan to eat a moderate amount of protein at each meal (the size of the palm of your hand) and with each snack (the size of your thumb) in combination with a healthy carbohydrate, such as whole grain breads, crackers or cereals, legumes, fruits or vegetables. This will raise serotonin levels slowly, and for a longer period of time, which will result in a better and more stable mood, restful sleep, less anxiety and decreased cravings.


Featured Image
Happy Family Eating Healthy Meal

Connie Scott, MSM, RD, CSSD, is a Registered Dietitian specializing in Diabetes and Nutrition Services at the Lifestyle Health & Fitness Center.

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