The happiness diet: 10 foods that naturally boost your mood

Did you know that if you’re feeling down, you could score a mood boost from food? And no, we don’t mean binging on chocolate or ice cream!

Serotonin is a “happiness hormone” that helps to improve mood. The body can’t absorb serotonin directly from food, but it can absorb a precursor to making serotonin called tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid, which means it’s commonly found in protein-rich sources like meat, nuts, soy, and certain vegetables.

The catch is that tryptophan happens to be the least abundant amino acid in food, so during the competition for absorption via the digestive system’s amino acid transport system, tryptophan is largely edged out. Most dietary tryptophan won’t even reach the brain in order to form serotonin.

Nevertheless, you can certainly try to up the chances! Increase the amount of tryptophan in your diet from protein sources, then eat with healthy carbohydrates (whole-grain sources) in order to optimise absorption. Here are some sources of dietary tryptophan you can consume to boost your serotonin levels!

1 – Seafood

Meat is the most common source of protein, but if you’re conscious about your health, you might not be too keen on eating meat constantly. Fish is an excellent, tryptophan-rich substitute. Oily fish like tuna, salmon, sardines, and halibut can provide up to 400 milligrams of tryptophan per serving. Even just two helpings a week should do the trick!

2 – Eggs

Eggs are another good animal source of tryptophan, providing 673 milligrams. More than providing tryptophan for serotonin production, eggs also contain iron, vitamin B6, and riboflavin. These nutrients are necessary to the production of vitamin B3. Vitamin B3 is good for cognition and brain health. It also helps regulate the production of serotonin.

3 – Seeds

Plant sources like seeds aren’t as chock-full of protein as meat, but seeds are an excellent tryptophan alternative for vegans. Pumpkin seeds in particular provide the highest amount of amino acids per serving, yielding about 110 milligrams per ¼ cup. Eat pumpkin seeds as they are or sprinkle them in your salad for a mood-boosting meal!

4 – Nuts

Like seeds, nuts are also rich vegan sources of amino acids. Nuts with the highest tryptophan content are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews. Mix them with seeds for a snack to perk you up!

5 – Bananas

Bananas are likely the most popular fruit source of tryptophan. One banana contains approximately 110 milligrams of tryptophan. Don’t knock the bananas when they’re getting spotty either – browning bananas have even higher tryptophan levels!

6 – Spinach

Spinach contains 690 milligrams of tryptophan, the highest amount on this list. Spinach also contains magnesium. Magnesium deficiency contributes to depression and drops in mood. Supplementing your diet with both tryptophan and magnesium from spinach will help pull your mood up.

7 – Avocado

Every 100 grams of avocado contains 30 milligrams of tryptophan. Avocado also contains omega-3, an essential fatty acid that reduces inflammation in the brain, and helps regulate serotonin. It might be unimaginative to suggest it, but pair with whole-grain toast so the carbs enhance the absorption of tryptophan!

8 – Cheese

Cheese is one of those feel-good foods, for more than one reason! Most varieties contain at least 300 milligrams of tryptophan. Cottage cheese comes in at the highest, with 383 milligrams. Cream cheese has 347 milligrams, mozzarella has 343 milligrams , and cheddar has 331 milligrams. Aside from containing tryptophan to make serotonin, cheese also triggers dopamine, another “happiness hormone” that brings up mood.

9 – Soy

Soybeans contain all nine essential amino acids, including tryptophan. Enjoy soybeans a number of different ways, through drinking soy milk, and eating tempeh or tofu. Tofu, specifically, contains 747 milligrams per 100 grams.

10 – Chocolate

Okay, so we were kidding about the chocolate! Dark chocolate containing 70-85% cocoa contains 13.3 micrograms of tryptophan per gram of chocolate. Moreover, dark chocolate contains a small amount of sugar, which also signals the body to up the production of serotonin.

Stick to dark chocolate, though. Milk chocolate has higher levels of sugar, which may give you a short burst of good vibes – then a mood crash later on when the sugar leaves your bloodstream.


The Happiness Diet Meal Plan – Try it for yourself!


Avocado on whole-grain toast

Whole-grain cereal with bananas and soy milk


Tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread with a side of cottage cheese

Tofu and spinach soup


Salad with seeds and nuts

Banana smoothie made with soy milk


Smoked salmon with eggs

Tofu stir-fry with spinach and veggies

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