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State of mind, memory, cognition and moods are controlled by a group of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These are specialized brain chemicals made from amino acids and other nutrients that work at the level of the nervous system to control and regulate brain function.
When it comes to our overall mood, serotonin is the neurotransmitter that does much of the good work. Serotonin’s primary function is mood regulation, and low serotonin levels are associated with conditions like anxiety and depression. Sleep and appetite regulation, other functions of serotonin, have a more indirect bearing on moods.
Serotonin works by activating the pleasure centers of the brain and is often referred to as the “happiness neurotransmitter”.
Dietary Tips To Boost Serotonin Levels
Certain nutrients are needed for serotonin production, which is why diet can be a causal factor in its decline as well as a tool to boost its levels. Many factors play a role in serotonin production but the strongest factors are linked to the availability of vitamin B6 as well as the amino acid tryptophan. A diet lacking in protein ad B vitamins can therefore cause serotonin levels to decline. Stress can also cause low serotonin because the stress hormone cortisol can lower serotonin levels. With the surge of people on antidepressant medications these days, the natural connections and especially the link between depression and diet should not be overlooked.
Bump Up The Protein
Although tryptophan is the primary amino acid involved in serotonin production, a wide variety of protein sources is best to help bump up serotonin and also other hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in mood and happiness. Sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, diary products, soya beans and products, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Tryptophan is present in at least small amounts in all protein-rich foods, but some sources are superior to others. If you have ever felt that happy and sleepy feeling after a big thanksgiving dinner, that’s due to its high levels of tryptophan. Turkey contains more tryptophan than any other food we know of. Other good sources include red meat, chicken, soya protein, spirulina, egg white, sesame seeds and seafood.
Eat Some Wholegrain
Since carbohydrates can help free more tryptophan, including some carbs in your meal can help boost serotonin. At the same time, eating wholegrain carbohydrates helps to prevent glucose and energy dips, which can seriously affect mood and overall well-being. Good wholegrain foods to include are rolled oats, quinoa, low glycemic index breads, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, buckwheat and legumes (which contain carbohydrates and protein).
More B Vitamins
Vitamin B6 is the most important B to help fight depression. It is widely distributed in foods and is found in varying concentrations in fortified cereals, legumes, meat, poultry, fish, and some fruits and vegetables. Vitamin B6 from animal sources is generally better absorbed than B6 from plants. Foods to include are chicken, pork, eggs, trout, tuna, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, avocados, peanuts, walnuts and spinach. Vitamin B12 can also play a role in mood regulation and helps to limit the effects of stress. It is found in animal foods like meat, chicken, fish, eggs and diary products. Folate is also involved in serotonin production. Good folate sources are green vegetables, strawberries, oranges and legumes.
Eat Good Fats
Essential fats (from nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and other vegetable oils), together with vitamins B3, B6 and folate help form prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that help in the production of serotonin. Omega 3 fatty acids are also often used to help treat depression and mood disorders because of their ability to affect the brain directly. Sources of omega 3 include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring and sardine) as well as flaxseeds, walnuts, chia and help seeds.