First off, what is serotonin? It’s a neurotransmitter that functions in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system (CNS). You may be familiar with serotonin because it typically is associated with mood, and is also referenced in discussions of ecstasy or sex. In pleasurable situations, (and most agree during exercise) serotonin is released, which naturally correlates with feel-good moments. But you may be surprised to hear that serotonin operates in the digestive system approximately 90% of the time. Its release is triggered as we are eating – the feel-good aspect of food – but the signal is actually telling our bodies that we are satisfied, and should thus stop eating. In short, the level of serotonin naturally found in our bodies is affected by diet.
Seratonin Works to Support a Healthy Neurotransmitter Balance
Serotonin is abundant in the brain and every part of the CNS. Most anti-depressants are designed to bind to serotonin reuptake receptors in order to keep the levels of serotonin in the CNS relatively high. In other words, if serotonin reuptake is inhibited, our mood is thought to stay elevated for longer periods of time. But remember, serotonin’s primary objective is to operate in our gut. When we consume a healthy amount of protein and fat, the body releases natural serotonin. On the other hand, when we consume too many starchy carbohydrates, less serotonin is released which can lead to over-eating. Over the long term, lower serotonin levels have also been shown to correlate with increased risk of depression, insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity.
Good News: Eat More Fat For a Good Mood!
Food has no morals! Fat doesn’t feel bad when you eat it, so why should you? Here’s the thing: we all can thank the food and advertisement industries for polluting our heads with low-fat, no-fat garb, but the reality is that your body needs good fat! Saturated fat is good fat, unsaturated (or trans) fat is bad fat.
It doesn’t mean you should feel guilty when you have bad fat, but it does mean that if you incorporate adequate amounts of good fat into your diet, you won’t have as many urges to reach for those french fries because your body will be properly satiated. Proper satiation equates to a brain and body that has received proper nutrients, thus making the brain and body a well-oiled machine, ready to think, pump out that serotonin, and utilize it in the way nature intended.
But What Are Some Good Fat Foods For Serotonin?
Try to incorporate at least one of the following into your diet incrementally, and here’s why:
The Food: Turkey, fish, chicken, cottage cheese, nuts, cheese, eggs, beans, and veggies.
The Why: These proteins contain tryptophan, which is one of the 20 amino acids specified in the human genetic code. Tryptophan is biochemically converted to serotonin in the gut and central nervous system. Tryptophan works at optimal levels when it is combined with a carbohydrate such as brown rice, nuts, or beans. The combination of protein and carbohydrates is called a complex carbohydrate, which is integral to facilitating the brain to synthesize serotonin. Vegetables are also a great source of protein, particularly asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, artichoke, watercress, and sweet corn.
The Food: DHA (omega)-enhanced eggs and whole fat dairy products, wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Alternatively (or additionally), avocados, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, and cold pressed vegetable oils (coconut, walnut, avocado, sesame, almond, flax, olive).
The Why: Relatively high levels of tryptophan are found in protein-based foods such as omega-enhanced eggs and dairy products. Tryptophan increases brain levels of serotonin, which does calm our mood and induces sleepiness.
No Fat For You? How About Serotonin Supplements?
If the thought of fat freaks you out, or if eating the food groups listed above are unrealistic, then you can supplement your diet with Omega 3 or DHA Fish Oil, which are fatty acids that can mimic the effects of tryptophan consumption.
Additionally, protease, zinc, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, D and K, bromelain, ginkgo biloba, rose hips, Coenzyme Q10, L-theanin and valerian root also support healthy serotonin release and reuptake.
If you are currently taking an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) don’t feel like you need to stop in order to benefit from eating food and taking supplements that will facilitate the body’s production of serotonin naturally. But do make sure that you check in with your doctor prior to taking any supplements or herbs, as they may interact with the SSRI you are taking.
Research has proven that our bodies produce a hormone called oxytocin, frequently referred to as the “love hormone”, “cuddle” or “feel good” hormone because it is only secreted when we feel love, trust or comfort. So if you’re feeling down and need a boost, snuggle up!
Today we discussed:
- What serotonin is and how a good diet and nutrition can affect your mood.
- Where it is found and how it works
- The difference between good fats and saturated (trans fats)
- The types of foods that can give you a mood boost
- Vitamins and supplements you can take to raise your levels, as opposed to good fats
- And how affectionate, physical contact can help boost your serotonin and mood
Remember, our moods are affected by what we put in our bodies. If you’ve ever eaten a large number of saturated fats to make you feel better, you’re more than likely to feel just as bad or worse. If you want to feel good, eat good fats, and pick those serotonin levels up along with a smile!
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