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When darkness hits our eyes at night, we begin to produce the hormone melatonin. This hormone is crucial as it tells your adrenal glands to produce DHEA, one of the master hormones of the body. Melatonin is crucial to sleeping well at night – a lack of melatonin is why you can’t sleep deeply when your bedroom light is on. Melatonin supplements are sold as sleep aids to insomniacs and are very safe.
Everyone knows that a rough night’s sleep ruins your mood the next day – part of the reason for this is that feel good neurotransmitters like serotonin are replenished during restful sleep, and if you miss out your brain serotonin levels will be depressed the next day. You should do everything possible to get a good night’s sleep if you want to get your serotonin levels, and your mood, up.
Sour cherries actually contain melatonin! Mark Konlee, author of The Immune Restoration Handbook, writes, ‘Drinking a glass of sour cherry juice, or eating about 20 red tart cherries before retiring at night, may assist in inducing a deeper state of sleep and supporting adrenal glandular function’(8).
Mark writes: ‘You can help yourself to a night of deep restful sleep by taking 10 grams of a cold processed whey protein, like ImmunePro, before bedtime, or eating ½ cup of cottage or ricotta cheese on rye bread, as a source of Glutamine and calcium lactate, and, when used with the cherries, may induce a deep sleep’.
This bedtime meal for insomniacs, combining two foods that increase serotonin levels, is actually very similar to the kind of meal top bodybuilding nutritionist John Berardi recommends for preventing night time muscle catabolism in his article ‘Bedtime Story’. By eating this delicious late night snack you should wake up in a better mood and having gained some lean muscle!
See John Berardi's website, Precision Nutrition, for high quality information on how to eat to build serious amounts of muscle whilst staying lean. John Berardi is an expert on post workout nutrition that I pay a lot of attention to.
9) Free Range Beef:
Beef, like eggs, is a good source of cholesterol and tryptophan which are both important for raising serotonin levels in the brain. It’s important to buy good quality beef if you don’t want to be ingesting a load of hormones and Antibiotics
with your meat (not so much of a problem in Europe).
Pork, veal, duck, chicken, lamb etc. are all good foods that increase serotonin as well. I’ve listed beef in particular because, in my opinion, it is the best muscle building food you can eat – if you substitute beef into your daily diet I guarantee you will gain muscle.
Just for the record, I’m not suggesting that the more red meat you eat the happier you will become! Very high protein diets, that drastically cut fat and carbohydrates, tend to worsen your mood, as anyone on Atkin’s diet induction will confirm! A little carbohydrate in your meals is important for optimal serotonin production, so don’t drop all carbs in favour of high protein foods.
10) Dark Chocolate:
Cocoa is well known to increase serotonin levels in the brain – the trick is not to eat so much that you crash a few hours later. Similarly most chocolate is clearly high in Sugar
and will spike blood Sugar
levels causing serotonin levels to plummet when your blood Sugar
If you try to acquire a taste for 70% and higher cocoa chocolate you can have the benefits of chocolate without the downsides – I now find anything under 90% very sweet.
Small amounts of cocoa in the diet have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity (9) and cocoa is very rich in antioxidants and polyphenols – enjoy!
A few more foods that increase serotonin levels:
Other healthy and delicious foods that increase serotonin levels are asparagus, avocado, pecans, pineapple, eggplant, spinach, walnuts, oats, and coffee (if you use it sensibly).
If tryptophan rich foods aren’t quite enough to get your mood up consider trying a supplement called 5 HTP which is one step closer in the serotonin production chain than tryptophan. Many people find 5 HTP to be very effective as an anti-depressant and research suggests it will work faster than using foods that increase serotonin levels to improve your mood.
A great hot drink that will raise your serotonin levels is nettle tea – this refreshing hot drink is full of minerals, vitamin c, flavanoids and malic acid and is reported to improve the complexion.
A cup of nettle tea noticeably lifts the spirits and can be helpful if trying to reduce caffeine consumption. Nettle has also been shown to be a powerful anti-estrogen – anti-estrogens are important to athletes because they keep testosterone up allowing you to build more muscle and burn more fat.
There are other factors than simply eating foods that increase serotonin involved in getting your mood up – exercising, getting natural sunlight each day, getting enough vitamin d, laughing, getting enough sleep etc. are all very important to raising your mood. Including these foods that increase serotonin levels in your diet will certainly help though!
If you’re feeling down give my personal serotonin boosting formula a go, it runs roughly as follows: Jog to the gym; do a great workout; walk back, have a whey, banana and coconut milk shake; relax – simple, but very effective!
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References and Footnotes
(6)Hill AM. Combining fish-oil supplements with regular
Currently the premier book on Intermittent Fasting that you can buy.