Improve your mood: 9 foods rich in tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that we need to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates our mood. Don”t miss it!

The Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, is one of the “building blocks” with which proteins are constructed. Our body uses amino acids, among other things, to make neurotransmitters, which facilitate communication between neurons. One of the best known neurotransmitters is serotonin, related to the feeling of well-being and good humor.

Tryptophan is precisely the essential amino acid that our body uses to produce serotonin. You take it from food in the form of L-tryptophan and convert it to 5-hydroxytryptophan, a direct precursor to serotonin.

Low serotonin levels have been linked to problems such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, irritability or migraines. And the rate of serotonin formation varies depending on the tryptophan available in the brain and in the blood.

Although this is perhaps the best known role of tryptophan, the latest research suggests that tryptophan may also play an important role in fighting inflammation. According to a study recently published in the journal Science, certain types of bacteria in the intestine would need the presence of tryptophan to create a type of T cell that helps the body tolerate certain components of food and thus attenuate our immune response.

The usefulness of tryptophan has also been studied to reduce cardiovascular risk, slow down cognitive decline or improve intestinal inflammation.


As an essential amino acid we need to obtain it through food. Tryptophan is, of all the amino acids, the least abundant in the diet. However, we can get enough tryptophan if we regularly include foods that provide it in our diet.

Many of the foods richest in tryptophan are of animal origin, such as dairy and meats, but we also have some healthier plant foods that contain good amounts of tryptophan along with other essential nutrients to support your mood.

Sesame seeds

A serving of 30 grams of sesame seeds gives you no less than 110 mg of tryptophan. These small seeds are also rich in magnesium and in vitamins of group B, in particular B1, B3, B6 and folic acid. Magnesium facilitates the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.


Pure cocoa provides remarkable amounts of tryptophan: nothing more and nothing less than 290 mg per 100 g. And, like sesame seeds, it is very rich in magnesium.

These cocoa and sesame bars can be a delicious snack that will help you increase your levels of tryptophan, magnesium and B vitamins.


In general, whole grains are rich in tryptophan. Oats, being one of the cereals that provide you with the most protein, is also one of those that provides the highest amount of this amino acid: 230 mg of tryptophan for every 100 grams of oats.

Oats also provide you with vitamin B1, calcium and alkaloids such as insole, trigonelline or avenin. This combination strengthens the nervous system while promoting our ability to relax, concentrate and avoid mental fatigue.

The most practical way to consume it is in the form of flakes, which have many possibilities.


In general, legumes are a good source of tryptophan. The champion is soy, which also has a very balanced amino acid profile. It gives you 500 mg of tryptophan per 100 g of soybeans.

Garbanzo beans

The legume that follows soy in tryptophan content, in case you are not very fond of this Asian legume or prefer to avoid it, is chickpea.

Chickpeas also provide good amounts of magnesium and vitamin B6. Both are involved in the synthesis of serotonin.

A serving of 100 grams of chickpeas gives you 190 mg of tryptophan.


Among the nuts, one of those that stands out the most for its tryptophan content is pistachio, which, like soybeans, has all the essential amino acids in optimal proportions. A handful of only 30 grams of pistachios already gives you 80 mg of tryptophan.

It is considered a good food for times of stress.


Another very interesting dried fruit for its content of tryptophan and other nutrients that influence the mood is the peanut, actually a legume. It gives you levels of tryptophan comparable to those of pistachios (84 mg in a 30 g handful), although it’s lower fat content allows you to eat them in greater quantities.

Along with tryptophan, peanuts provide you with vitamin B3, which makes them very suitable for fighting stress. The B vitamins are sensitive to heat, so try to take raw peanuts to take better advantage of this vitamin.

A very tasty way to consume them is in the form of peanut butter, which you can prepare yourself at home.

Pumpkin and sunflower seeds

You will also find tryptophan in combination with abundant magnesium in pumpkin and sunflower seeds: 90 mg in a handful of 30 g of seeds.

Integral rice

Whole grains are much more nutritious than cereals, since by preserving the shell and the germ they are richer in proteins, vitamins and minerals. For this reason, among many other reasons, it is a good idea to choose them before their refined equivalents. In general, a diet rich in whole grains will provide you with enough tryptophan.

A 100 gram serving of brown rice contains 100 mg of tryptophan.


If it is taken in supplement form, for example in times of great stress with high nervous exhaustion, it is usually recommended to take it in combination with B vitamins, especially B3 and B6, in addition to magnesium. All these substances intervene as cofactors in the synthesis of serotonin. According to the naturopath Rosa Guerrero, the therapeutic dose of tryptophan would be between 500 and 1,000 mg daily, although if you opt for a 5HTP supplement directly, the same effect is achieved with doses of 100 to 400 mg. When an optimal state of mind is reached it is gradually withdrawn.

Although tryptophan supplements in the appropriate doses do not have side effects, you do have to take into account some considerations and their contraindications.

“It is not advisable to take this supplement with protein foods, since it competes in its absorption,” says Rosa Guerrero. And he warns: “Simultaneous use with antihistamines or antibiotics is not appropriate either. And it is completely contraindicated when antidepressant treatments are followed, since they use opposing metabolic pathways.”

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