When people hear the word serotonin, they usually associate it with norepinephrine and depression, but the truth is it does more in the body than just make you “feel good.”  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, pain perception, gastrointestinal function – including hunger and satiety-, temperature regulation, and sleep functions.

Below is a chart that displays the differences between normal serotonin levels and low serotonin levels.

Optimal Levels of Serotonin Low Levels of Serotonin
Hopeful, Optimistic Depressed
Reflective and thoughtful Impulsive
Able to concentrate Short attention span
Creative, Focused Blocked, Scattered
Able to think through things Flies off the handle
Able to seek help Suicidal
Responsive Reactive
Looks forward to dessert without an emotional charge Craves sweets
Hungry for a variety of different foods Craves mainly carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and   cereal

(Chart Provided by Potatoes, Not Prozac p.44)

Tryptophan and a few other amino acids are what creates this amazing transmitter.  Carbohydrates (glucose) then distribute the tryptophan throughout the body to be made into serotonin.  Below is a list of foods that have high levels of tryptophan in them.

Protein Food Serving Size Amount of Tryptophan
Chicken (white) 4 oz 390 mg
Pork loin 4 oz 390 mg
Cheddar Cheese 1 cup 330 mg
Ground Beef 4 oz 320 mg
Tuna 4 oz 320 mg
Tempeh 4 oz 310 mg
Cottage Cheese 1 cup 300 mg
Tofu 4 oz 280 mg
Salmon 4 oz 250 mg
Soy Protein Powder 1 oz (2 tbs) 220 mg
Scrambled Eggs 2 200 mg
Kidney Beans 1 cup 180 mg
Quinoa 1 cup cooked 170 mg
Almonds ½ cup 170 mg
Lentils 1 cup cooked 160 mg
Milk 8 oz 110 mg
Soy Milk 8 oz 110 mg
Yogurt 8 oz 70 mg

Chart Provided By Potatoes Not Prozac, p 131

The other important component is making sure your body has enough sugars to carry the tryptophan through your body.  Make wise choices and pick complex carbohydrates and not quick fixes like candy.  Brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, and beans are all good choices for carbohydrates.


Conjecture Corporation “What is serotonin?”. 2013.

DesMaisons, Kathleen. PhD. “Potatoes Not Prozac” New York. 2008. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

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