If you’re living in a northern climate, it’s no secret that the cold winter can seriously dampen your mood, even leading to a disorder that’s appropriately called SAD – the seasonal affective disorder.
One possible solution is boosting the levels of serotonin which is known for its mood-affecting ability. What’s more, serotonin is known to suppress appetite, therefore avoiding emotional overeating and other dietary issues. You could even say that serotonin is like nature’s own happy pill!
And the good news is – you can make dietary changes by following the serotonin diet and therefore, boosting your mood and increasing your overall well-being. Here’s how it all works.
What is serotonin and why is it important?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with many complex functions, but most commonly, it’s related to regulating your mood. Beyond mood, it also affects your internal clock and appetite while a decreased serotonin level can be related to depression, OCD, ADD and even aggressive behavior.
Many antidepressants like Prozac make you feel better mainly because they increase the serotonin levels. Serotonin, therefore, has an immensely important role in making us more stable, less anxious and overall feeling better.
Instead of reaching for antidepressant drugs, it’s possible to consume more serotonin with your diet. Now consuming serotonin in its complete form doesn’t actually do the trick since the chemical cannot pass the brain-blood barrier and therefore, you need to consume an amino acid called tryptophan which is the key to producing more serotonin in your body. This amino acid will react together with tryptophan hydroxylase to form serotonin in the brain.
Tryptophan is present in foods that contain higher levels of protein while, of course, some foods are richer in tryptophan than others.
How to know your serotonin level might be too low?
Low serotonin level is often indicated by symptoms that closely resemble depression:
- low mood
- low self-esteem
- poor memory
- difficulty sleeping
- craving for sweets
People who are more prone to developing depression or who have suffered from depression in the past might suffer from low serotonin levels. Another contributing factor is the lack of sunlight which may occur in the northern climate and result in seasonal affective disorder.
There are 3 simple ways to increase the serotonin level naturally without any medical interference: being exposed to more sunlight, exercising more and consuming foods that have higher levels of tryptophans, so the body could synthesize more serotonin.
Serotonin power diet for a happier and healthier you
Dietary changes are one of the easiest fixes to low serotonin levels as it’s fairly easy to include tryptophan-rich foods in your daily eating habits. In fact, a 2014 study found that the participants’ mood indicated significantly more positive affect scores after consuming a high tryptophan diet as compared to a low tryptophan diet which means that food might be the key to boosting your mood.
While it has been debated that consuming tryptophan might not have such a significant effect since not all of the chemical will be absorbed, Judith J. Wurtman, former director of the Program in Women’s Health at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Clinical Research Center and the author of “The Serotonin Power Diet“, explained how carbohydrates are the actual key to absorbing more tryptophan.
While it’s true that tryptophan is hard to absorb since proteins prevent the chemical from passing the blood-brain barrier, carbohydrates change that in favor of tryptophan. Carbohydrates are digested into glucose which releases insulin, the key to flushing amino acids into your organs. That’s how tryptophan gets into the brain where it’s converted to serotonin which can then make you feel more satisfied, calm and happy.
Boosting your mood is not the only reason why it’s wise to consume foods that increase your serotonin level. Studies have shown that serotonin acts like a ‘brake’ for your appetite, helping to avoid overeating and food obsession.
Serotonin power diet which was developed by Judith Wurtman focuses on the consumption of carbohydrates with the goal of increasing your serotonin production – it’s the one diet where carbs are your friends, not your enemy. The main point of the serotonin power diet is to balance nutrients, eating a certain amount of protein and carbohydrates with each meal.
In short, the serotonin diet can be divided into 3 phases:
- Serotonin Surge – the first part, lasting for 2 weeks, is all about getting your mind used to the thought of eating certain nutrients in certain amounts. Breakfast consists of a protein together with carbohydrate and fruit, lunch focuses on protein together with veggies and the dinner will consist of carbs. However, those carbs are, of course, healthier options like legumes or rice.
- Serotonin Balance – this 6-week phase resembles closely the first phase with the exception of adding proteins to the dinner as well. Don’t mistake the protein consumption for a high one – the diet actually limits proteins to an extent that’s lower than a traditional protein serving. The goal of this phase is to maintain higher serotonin level.
- Serotonin Control – the third phase is meant as the last transitional period which helps to turn these dietary changes into a natural eating habit. The main change involves limiting snacks – you’re allowed to have one snack while the other phases allowed more.
The serotonin power diet has proved to be successful not only in theory. According to many dieters that have reviewed the Serotonin Power Diet book in Amazon, the diet helped them to control their eating habits better than ever and they felt a significant improvement in their mood.
Any downsides? The main issue is the complexity of the diet plan. In order for the serotonin power diet to work efficiently, very specific guidelines must be followed, especially when it comes to the nutrient balance and dinner times. The upsides outweigh the downsides largely though, so when you’ve struggled with either bad mood or issues with balancing your diet, the serotonin power diet might be the best option.
Best dietary sources for tryptophan
When you’re not too keen on following a new diet plan but still want to increase your serotonin levels, there are a few specific food items that are known to have higher levels of tryptophan. These food items are:
- chicken and turkey
- nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin & squash seeds)
- beans and lentils
- dark green leafy vegetables
When low serotonin level is an especially critical health issue, serotonin supplements might also do the trick as it’s a little harder to absorb the tryptophan from the diet. However, before opting for supplements, you should consult your doctor to make sure you don’t overdo with the serotonin intake. If you want to boost your mood naturally though, you can consider the serotonin power diet for a healthier, happier you.