Diet Hacks for Improved Mood

The foods we eat can have a drastic impact on both our mood and cognitive abilities. Consuming foods that boost serotonin, which is the happy hormone in the body, can help reduce stress and boost affect. Likewise eating red meat which contains the amino acid taurine or taking it in a supplement form can increase mental clarity. On the other hand, unhealthy foods that have high trans and saturated fats are shown to decrease brain activity and new neuron growth. This article will focus on foods that increase serotonin levels and how to balancing gut health to improve mood.


Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that is biochemically derived from tryptophan. Serotonin is primarily found in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets, and the nervous system. There are a lot of articles on the internet right now that are talking about foods that contain serotonin. That isn’t actually correct. There ARE foods that can boost serotonin, but the chemical is all you, that is, it’s made in your brain.

This happens not only when you eat certain foods, but also when you exercise. Many experts believe that the key food nutrient that triggers serotonin is tryptophan and eating foods with high levels of tryptophan are said to provide consistent increases in serotonin levels.

Two of the most common sources of tryptophan:

  • Dairy
  • Turkey

There’s a reason why people drink warm milk to help get to sleep. Milk can help people fall asleep because it contains two substances which are known to be related to sleep and relaxation: the hormone melatonin and the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan works to produce that “feel good” chemical in your brain (that’s serotonin) and those chemicals calm your nervous system and help you relax enough to fall asleep.

The second common serotonin-booster is turkey. Yep, there’s a reason why you want to take a nap after Thanksgiving dinner. That turkey is packed full of tryptophan, which increases your serotonin levels, makes you relax and that just might make you want to lie down on the sofa and fall asleep.

Turkey isn’t the only meat that contains tryptophan, the amount of tryptophan in turkey is about the same for other kinds of poultry. Beef, lamb, pork, even wild game like rabbit, all contain tryptophan too. Foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 all tend to contain large amounts of this amino acid.

Here is a grocery list of foods that will help boost your serotonin and mood


Sometimes called a “superfood,” eggs are protein rich and contain amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to help the body produce serotonin. In addition, eggs are loaded with high-quality proteins, vitamins, minerals, good fats and various trace nutrients. With only 77 calories, five grams of fat, six grams of protein, and all 9 essential amino acids, this is one tryptophan-boosting food you’ll want high on your list. Eggs are also rich in iron, phosphorous, selenium and vitamins A, B12, B2 and B5.


There are a lot of different kinds of cheeses and some have more tryptophan than others. A serving of 100 grams of mozzarella cheese contains 603 milligrams of tryptophan plus a significant portion of the calcium you need for a day. Cheese is also packed with protein, about 8 grams of protein is found in a single serving of hard cheese. Add to that the vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin K2, phosphorous, sodium, and riboflavin found in it and and it’s easy to see why cheese is high on the list of foods that boost serotonin.

Cheese also contains probiotics, “good” bacteria that can help regulate your gut flora. Maintaining a healthy intestinal environment is essential to good health, and can provide tons of benefits, ranging from digestive, to brain, to heart health.

Fresh Fish

Salmon, fresh tuna, snapper, sardines, herring, mackerel and halibut are high in tryptophan, and the food has a lot of other benefits as well. According to the Harvard School of Medicine, an analysis of 20 studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants indicates that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.


Basically any type of meat, from fish to lamb to pork is going to contain tryptophan and ultimately be something that will boost serotonin in the brain. Currently, there are many studies being done to determine if meat that is raised more humanely (that is, without strict confinement) contains more nutrients.

Soy, nuts, seeds

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be happy to know that nuts and seeds rank really high on the list of foods that contain a significant amount of tryptophan. Flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, and cashews all have the potential to increase serotonin in the body. Roasted soybeans and soy products such as tofu are also very good sources for tryptophan. Soybeans are the only vegetable with a complete protein and also a great source of vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron and fiber. However be careful with soy as it can increase your estrogen levels for both men and women.

Whole grains

Foods rich in vitamin B such as brown rice, wheat germ, wholegrain cereals, yeast extracts and brewers’ yeast work together to help keep serotonin levels at their best. Go easy on the grain carbs, though. They can help boost tryptophan levels, but depending on the source and quality, you might end up feeling worse as carbs are converted to sugar and low quality carbs are not healthy.

Foods high in simple carbohydrates, such as pastas, potatoes, bread, pastries, pretzels, and popcorn, increase insulin levels and allow more tryptophan (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) to enter the brain, where it is converted to serotonin. The calming effect of serotonin can often be felt in thirty minutes or less by eating these foods. This may be one of the reasons simple carbohydrates are so addictive. However, this spike,while it may feel good, is very unhealthy as it causes sugar highs and crashes which can lead to diabetes over time.


What we’re saying is that bananas, kiwi, pineapple, plantains, plums, grapefruit, mango, honeydew and cantaloupe have a high serum concentration, which makes them very useful in serotonin production in the human body. Tomatoes and avocado are also rich in nutrients necessary for serotonin to develop and reach optimal levels in the brain.


Corn, broccoli, cauliflower and green leafy vegetables such as spinach are serotonin-boosting. As are baked potatoes with skin (choose organic if possible) and mustard greens. As we’ve already mentioned, any soy products, including soy milk, tofu and soybeans provide nutrients that help serotonin levels stay stable.


Sea vegetables including kelp, seaweed and spirulina all contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is necessary for creating serotonin in the brain.

Seaweed shows up in the marketplace (and online) in a variety of colors and textures, but all of them contain a rich supply of minerals, most prominently calcium, copper, iodine and iron.

Legumes and Beans

If you already like beans, that’s great. If not, you may have to explore some interesting sites on the internet to find recipes where you can disguise the taste and add them to foods you love. Basically, any kind of beans are going to contain some type of protein and tryptophan, and that includes lentils, mung beans, chickpeas, English peas, kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, navy beans and pinto beans. All of these beans are good sources of protein and  serotonin-boosting tryptophan, as are foods such as hummus and lentil soup, which are made with these products.


Mushrooms don’t contain serotonin, but the brain needs B vitamins to make neurotransmitters with a calming effect including serotonin. Mushrooms are nutritionally dense, packed with polysaccharides, proteins, minerals, vitamins (B, D), are low in fat and are free of cholesterol.  Recent interest about mushrooms are about fungi prebiotics for the microorganisms in our intestines. Mushrooms contain nutrients that support the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium. Mushrooms not only boost the immune system, but also balance the microbiome in favor of these beneficial bacteria, resulting in better digestion.

Many health experts recommend that the best way to obtain tryptophan from your diet and take advantage of its many benefits is to vary the sources of proteins and carbohydrates you eat, since this allows for the most serotonin to be produced overall. Mushrooms are a great meat substitute.


Finally, there’s one food that contains tryptophan that’s bound to make you think about enjoying some for dessert more often: chocolate.  The best part about using tryptophan to boost serotonin, which in turn may help resolve health conditions and ease symptoms is that the tryptophan-serotonin connection is completely natural and requires no prescription.

While you’re planning your “feel-good diet” to boost your serotonin levels, keep in mind that you will benefit from eliminating processed sugar from your diet as well. If you can’t eliminate it completely (yes, it’s almost impossible to enjoy chocolate without a little sugar in the mix) at least drastically reduce the amount of white sugar you consume each day. If you have low serotonin, you may have intense cravings for sugar. This is your body’s way of trying to increase serotonin because eating sugar produces insulin, which helps tryptophan go into your brain.

Serotonin is something you make for yourself in your body and eating the right foods can help boost this important chemical in your body. There are other ways to boost serotonin such as exercise, sunshine, and SSRI antidepressants.

Gut Health and Stress

Today scientist refer to the gut as the second brain. This is because the gut is significantly responsible for maintaining brain function and has been proven to influence the risk of psychiatric and neurological disorders such as autism, anxiety, stress, and depression. It can even have a considerable effect on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Gut microbes predominantly interact with the immune system, which in turn interacts with the brain, but bacteria also produces molecules that communicate with the brain through the hormone cortisol. So in a manner of speaking, the gut talks to the brain through bacterial toxins, metabolites, nutrient scavenging, change of taste receptors, and stirring of the immune system.

An independent study has proven that even two hours of stress can change the composition of microbiota. Researchers claim that people who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders are vulnerable to anxiety issues. In fact, medical conditions such as mood swings, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome are also related to the gut microbiota. These gut-brain disorders are worsened by stress. Adverse alterations in the gut can even lead to neurocognitive impairments, insomnia, and depression. Microbial imbalance such as high levels of lactobacillus is associated with constant mood swings in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Probiotics have been touted as a cure for gut-brain disorders and for good reason; studies probiotics have shown a diminishing effect on the stress hormone cortisol, which thereby decreases depression and anxiety.

Although probiotics are naturally found in a human body, they can be taken through supplements or consumption of selected food items. Probiotics augment the growth of good bacteria, that take care of the overall well-being of the human body.

Probiotics last a few weeks in the gut, which is why you need to keep taking them. Prebiotics on the other hand, help to feed the good bacteria already in the gut.  Probiotics can be found in yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut. While prebiotics are found in leeks, chicory root, apples, asparagus, oats, whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, coco, flaxseed, and artichokes.

Recently, sugar molecules have been discovered in green leafy vegetables, which has a protective effect on the gut. Scientists have been researching for a diagnostic breakthrough that can cure the chronic condition affecting the central nervous system.

An inflamed gut can lead to a psychological dysfunction. Therefore, you must maintain your gut health for a fresh, healthy, and happy mind and to help reduce stress levels.

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