With an impending Canadian winter in our midst, now comes the time to stock up on the warm cozies and prepare ourselves for a long, cold season where we remain mostly indoors. One of the many things I know I’ll miss during this period of near-hibernation is good ol’ serotonin. That’s right, sunshine! Did you know that seratonin is a necessary chemical in our brains responsible for stabilizing our moods and providing us with a general feeling of well being. When we’re not getting enough sunshine, our serotonin levels drop, and we’re left irritable, tired, and lacklustre.
So, while it might not be feasible for all of us (especially us Canadians!) to get our quality one-on-one time with the sun during the cold winter months, there are ways around it… and it all boils down to what you’re eating!
To clarify: serotonin is not found in food. However, triptophan, an amino acid that helps produce serotonin in the body, is found in food! When combined with healthy, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, serotonin levels in the body can be boosted. That being said, let’s go over some foods high in triptophan and how to combine them with carbs to beat the winter blues!
Cheese. So far, the list is looking pretty good, right? From cheddar to cottage, triptophan is alive and well in all sorts of cheeses. Try combining it with whole grain crackers for a serotonin-boosting mid afternoon snack; mix up a batch of broccoli & cheese quinoa; a cheesy pasta salad, or devour a whole grain grilled cheese sandwich!
Milk. Like cheese, milk and cream are also great sources of triptophan. Make whole grain mac n cheese; have a bowl of oatmeal; or how about some warm brown rice pudding?
Eggs. Starting to like triptophan? Me too. This one’s easy! Try a breakfast sandwich or simply fried eggs and hashbrowns; an egg salad sandwich; whip up a batch of brownies made with whole grain flour; potato salad; or maybe a quiche with a whole grain crust!
Turkey. Man, is it just me or does this list keep getting better and better? Of course you could mash some deli turkey between slices of bread; make a classic turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and/or stuffing; have some deli turkey, crackers and cheese for a mega boost of serotonin; a turkey burger with a whole grain bun; or substitute birds for a twist on whole grain chicken fried rice!
Nuts & seeds. Quite a spectrum to work with here, as this category includes nut and seed butters such as peanut butter, pumpkin seed butter, cashew butter etc, which can simply be spread on whole grain crackers or toast. Or pack a snack consisting of a handful of nuts with some brown rice cakes for a quick mid-afternoon serotonin boost.
Soy. Triptophan is found in all forms of soy, so get your vegetarian on and start subbing out meats for tofu in recipes like ginger beef with a side of brown rice; explore dairy alternatives such as milk, yogurt and ice cream (look for ones that contain soy); or try out some edamame hummus with whole grain crackers.
Salmon. Salmon is the energizer bunny of the ocean that just keeps on going! I swear, it shows up on every single nutritional food list I make. As if you need another reason to consume this delectable fish, it also happens to be a great source of triptophan! Combine with whole grains to make a salmon salad sandwich; a salmon pate and crackers; toss some smoked salmon into that quiche you made earlier in the egg category; enjoy smoked salmon and cream cheese on crackers or a whole grain bagel; or get ethnic with this miso sake salmon recipe and serve with brown rice!
Have you had a personal experience dealing with low serotonin, or perhaps you know of some other triptophan-rich foods? Share with us in the comments!