No, You Can’t Eat Serotonin

As explained in an earlier blog, Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that causes you to feel the sensation of happiness. One of the key ingredients of serotonin is the amino acid Tryptophan. Isn’t that the thing found in turkey that makes us sleepy on Thanksgiving? Yes. And without this amino acid, your body cannot produce serotonin. Therefore as logic would dictate, eat as much turkey as you want and you should be feeling happy in no time! Unfortunately, that’s not how it works!

When you eat protein-rich foods like poultry, you’re not just eating Tryptophan, you’re eating several other amino acids all of which are competing for a coveted place in the brain. In the end, not much of the tryptophan makes it through the blood-brain barrier and very little serotonin is synthesized. Therefore eating a ton of turkey or other tryptophan-rich foods will not turn your frown upside down instead try carbs.

Wait? Carbs are bad for you, right? Well, it’s a much-heated debate. In regards to producing serotonin, carbs are probably the best thing you can eat. Let’s dive deeper. Carbs like oatmeal, buckwheat, and quinoa contain tryptophan. When carbs are digested, your pancreas releases insulin which decreases your overall blood sugar and also filters competing amino acids from the blood. However, insulin does not bond with tryptophan – leaving this amino acid as the sole contender to pass through the blood-brain barrier.

We aren’t talking about carbs like white bread and sugar, we are talking about complex carbs, carbs that take a while to break down in the body and specifically carbs that contain tryptophan. For a complete list of foods that have a high amount of tryptophan check out the list on Wikipedia:

The next time you feel sad and are looking for a way to boost your mood, trying making yourself a bowl of oatmeal with some nonfat milk, apples, raisins, and cinnamon. It’s healthy, it has a lot of tryptophan and you won’t raise your glycemic index and have that “crash” feeling later.