People today don’t get enough quality sleep, and their bodies are craving more serotonin. The most common solution to the problem is taking a pill with pharmaceuticals, but this can cause harmful side effects and be addictive. Instead, try our blog post that contains delicious food choices to increase your serotonin naturally!
Food For Serotonin Increase
The winter blues can leave you not only feeling down in the dumps, but they can also send you rummaging for sweets. Don’t get caught up in this vicious cycle.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that affects 25 million Americans, mostly women. Much research has been done on this mysterious disorder.
In somewhat of a simplification, the lack of light in wintertime can result in lower levels of serotonin, the mood-enhancing chemical that regulates hunger and the feeling of well-being.
Serotonin production increases with light, meaning that gray gloom creeping in the window is not kicking the production of feel-good chemicals into action.
Some symptoms include depression, marathon napping, low self-esteem, obsessiveness over little things, irritability, shyness, and panic attacks. People with seasonal affective disorder may also sleep poorly (although for many hours), partly because they don’t have enough serotonin to convert to the sleep substance melatonin.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and people generally recover completely around April or May – once the days become longer.
Treatment includes light therapy and/or medications. However, there are things you can do yourself that can help boost serotonin levels.
3 Ways to Boot up Your Serotonin
Julia Ross, MA, is director of the Recovery Systems Clinic in San Francisco and author of The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure. She tells WebMD there are three ways to jump-start your serotonin:
- Subject yourself to bright indoor light. This is the touchstone of seasonal affective disorder treatment. Many pricey lights are available. Ross says a 300 watt bulb within three feet for 20 minutes three times a day can help, although the boost in serotonin may be temporary.
- Exercise. This is very hard to do when caught up in the seasonal affective disorder cycle. But if you can force yourself to start, 15 to 20 minutes of dancing to the radio or fast walking can reduce a sweet tooth and improve mood.
- Eat wisely. This means, pushing away the leftover cake and eating sensible carbs to stimulate serotonin. Sweets and simple carbs, like white rice and white bread, quickly raise blood sugar, flood you with insulin, and then drop you in a hole. Eating wisely also means watching the caffeine, which suppresses serotonin. “If you must drink coffee, save it for after the meal,” Ross says.
Mood-Boosting Foods for a Sunny Outlook
You are what you eat, or so the saying goes. But did you know that food doesn’t just contribute to your physical health, but to your mental health as well? Eating the right foods can balance and improve your mood thanks to a combination of healthful vitamins and minerals. Here are the foods that experts say will boost your serotonin and put you in a good mood – naturally!
Good news, chocolate fans! Cacao is great for mood, and not just because it tastes good.
“Cacao contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which promotes a happy, elated feeling, alleviates stress and depression and gives you the same feeling you get while falling in love,” explains Peggy Kotsopolous, RHN and nutritionist for The Little Potato Company. “Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter known as anandamide, which can alter dopamine levels in the brain, causing a sense of peace and relaxation.”
Chocolate is also rich in magnesium, which, Kerri Axelrod, Holistic Health Coach at Kerri Axelrod Wellness, explains, may help to make you happier.
“Magnesium plays a critical role in brain function and mood,” she says, “and low levels have been linked to an increased risk of depression.”
Related: Our 10 Favorite Chocolate Recipes
Fatty fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which Kotsopolous dubs “the most important fat for your brain and for alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression.”
For Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition, some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are the smaller fatty fish, like sardines and anchovies, which have the added benefit of being even more sustainable than bigger fish like salmon.
In addition to omega-3s, Moreno explains, “sardines and anchovies are one of the only dietary sources of Vitamin D we can access.” This vitamin is an important tool to help your body make serotonin.
“While Vitamin D helps you make serotonin, fish oils help your serotonin work better,” explains Mary Shackelton, ND. “More specifically, a key component of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), by reducing brain inflammation, helps the release of serotonin from serotonin neurons.”
These tiny fatty fish pack a massive mood-boosting punch!
Related: Browse our Anchovy Recipes.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Rich in magnesium and zinc, pumpkin seeds offer “a multi-channel approach to improving mood and brain function,” according to Caleb Backe, a health & wellness expert for Maple Holistics.
“Pumpkin seeds are especially effective at boosting moods due to their rich amino acid profile,” he says, noting that pumpkin seeds are rich in both glutamate, crucial for reducing stress, anxiety, and irritability, and tryptophan, which helps activate serotonin production in the body. One study on subjects with social anxiety disorder found that adding a serving of pumpkin seeds to their daily diet diminished anxiety in just two weeks.
Related: Browse our collection of Pumpkin Seed Recipes.
Spinach is rich in folate, a B vitamin that can help promote improved mood. “Folate helps our brains produce dopamine, the ‘feel good’ chemical known for having calming effects,” explains certified health and wellness coach Noelle Creamer. Spinach is also rich in tryptophan, boosting serotonin as well as dopamine, for a one-two good-mood punch.
Related: Browse our Spinach Salad Recipes.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a great mood-booster, as they’re rich in vitamin C. According to Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet, vitamin C is “essential for making dopamine and serotonin, which enhance mood and prevent depression symptoms.”
And since sweet potatoes also contain vitamin B6, a lack of which has been shown to lead to depression and worsen PMS symptoms, it’s doubly powerful in boosting your mood.
Related: How to Bake Sweet Potatoes to Perfection
CREDIT: ALESSANDRO DE CARLI / EYEEM / GETTY IMAGES
Almonds, explains Kotsopolous, are high in magnesium as well as in vitamin B2, which helps produce anti-stress hormones. Almonds are also rich in zinc, which can help support a healthy immune system.
“Zinc doesn’t get as much credit as a nutrient as it should,” says Richards. “This is especially true when it comes to enhancing mood.”
“Zinc has been found to play a critical role in regulating communication between cells in the brain, and it affects how our bodies respond to stress,” she says. “Zinc deficiencies can put people at greater risk for depression, difficulties with learning and memory, and aggression and violence.”
Related: Browse these Almond Recipes.
7. Green Tea
Green tea contains a powerful amino acid, L-theanine, that has been shown to increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA. Not only has this neurotransmitter been shown to help manage overeating, but it also has anti-anxiety effects, according to Nichole Dandrea, MS, RDN. “L-theanine also increases dopamine and the production of alpha waves in the brain, which may trigger relaxation, decrease stress, and reduce depression.”
Dr. Christian Gonzalez, Naturopathic Doctor, non-toxic living expert, echoes this.
“L-theanine amino acid has been shown to be a relaxant without the sedative effects,” he says. “When matcha/green tea is utilized with high stress tasks, it can reduce anxiety and increase focus.”