The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
We live in a world where stress and anxiety run rampant, and sleep is scare. Nowadays, a good night’s sleep is seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.
If this sounds like you, I’m here with good news! Your body comes equipped with a brilliant stress-busting, mood-enhancing chemical called serotonin. When activated, this neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) has the power to:
- Modulate stress, anxiety and depression
- Regulate digestion by stimulating intestinal motility
- Control appetite and carbohydrate cravings
- Improve memory formation
- Promote good sleep because of its role as a building block for the “sleep” hormone melatonin
So, you may be asking yourself, if we make serotonin, why do so many people still struggle with stress and sleep? It’s because serotonin’s availability depends upon certain conditions being met. Below I share the secrets to unlocking the goodness of this important neurotransmitter.
Foods to Boost Serotonin
Turkey, salmon, tuna, pasture-raised eggs, soy (tofu, edamame) and nuts and seeds are all protein-rich foods full of the essential amino acid tryptophan, which indirectly boosts serotonin levels in the body.
Another tryptophan-rich food with many health benefits is a functional food called spirulina*. This blue-green algae supplement is available in powdered form and is one of the most nutrient dense foods available.
For tryptophan to boost your serotonin levels however, it must cross the blood-brain barrier—a network of blood vessels and tissue that helps keep harmful substances from reaching the brain.
Research suggests that combining carbohydrate foods with tryptophan-rich foods may help more tryptophan make it into your brain.
To do this in an Fx™ friendly way, you’ll want to choose whole food-based carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and whole grains from the Fx™ 100 list. Here are five healthy food combinations to raise serotonin levels:
- 2 oz. Two Brothers no added salt turkey (in the Deli) + 1 slice of Ezekiel bread
- ½ cup cooked steel cut oats + 1Tbsp. Heinen’s fresh ground almond, walnut or cashew butter
- ½ cup Seapoint Farms shelled edamame + ½ cup cooked brown rice
- 5 oz. wild salmon over ½ cup cooked quinoa
- 1 tsp. Bare Organics Spirulina blended in your favorite fruit and veggie smoothie
Lifestyle Habits to Boost Serotonin
Food isn’t the only way to raise serotonin levels in your body. These simple lifestyle steps can help the process along too!
The slight boost in mood you notice after a bout of exercise happens because exercise increases tryptophan’s chances of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which as you just learned, raises the amount of serotonin in the brain. Walking, hiking, biking, swimming, dancing, basketball and stairclimbing are all great options!
Get Some Sun
Exposure to morning sunlight stimulates photoreceptors on your skin and in your eyes, triggering the production of serotonin in your brain. For best results, remove your sunglasses and make sure the sun is hitting your bare skin for about 15 minutes.
Research shows laughter directly increases serotonin production, boosts endorphins, and improves the cardiovascular system. Find something to laugh at every day. Tune into old sitcoms or funny animal videos on YouTube. Also, give yourself permission to hang out with people who make you laugh!
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical your body makes from tryptophan, which helps to raise your brain’s serotonin levels. Stress, blood sugar imbalance and vitamin and mineral deficiencies can inhibit this conversion. 5-HTP is available as a supplement made from the seeds of the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia. Heinen’s brand of 5-HTP is a good option.
SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine) is a molecule formed naturally in the body. It appears to increase the turnover rate of mood-elevating neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, thereby exerting antidepressant effects. Look for Life Extension SAMe in Heinen’s Wellness Department.
*Please consult your healthcare provider before beginning any new supplements.
Now that you know the secrets to activating this powerful neurotransmitter, it’s time to start building some new habits. I want you to get excited because the power to turn things around is in your hands.