Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter (a chemical substance that sends messages between neurons in the brain). The body can make serotonin on its own, but sometimes it cannot reach the amount we need for optimal functioning.
You may have heard of the relationship between serotonin levels and depression, because one of the most important functions of serotonin is to balance emotions. In addition, this chemical contributes to overall well-being, which is why several antidepressant drugs have been designed to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
However, these drugs are not the only source of serotonin. Many foods we eat naturally contain serotonin. Banana is a typical example of nutritious food, it may help promote the mood promoting effect of serotonin.
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Banana: a serotonin superfood?
Although bananas contain serotonin, eating bananas as a snack will not immediately boost your spirits. Unlike other forms, the serotonin in bananas does not cross the blood-brain barrier. This means that it cannot enter the brain to replenish the serotonin that the body naturally produces.
However, studies have shown that bananas may play a more indirect role by increasing the amount of serotonin that the brain can produce. The body needs other nutrients to properly manufacture and use serotonin, including vitamin B6, Bananas are a particularly rich source of this vitamin.
If a diet with insufficient vitamin B6 leads to low serotonin levels, dietary changes may help-but this does not mean that eating a banana a day is enough to improve your mood.
For adults (19-50 years old), the recommended daily intake (RDA) for vitamin B6 is 1.3 milligrams (mg).A medium-sized banana contains 0.4 mg (about 20% of the RDA). In order to get enough dietary vitamin B6 from bananas alone, you must eat five (actually a lot) every day.
Bananas may not be a magical mood booster, but that doesn’t mean they are nutritionally worthless. On the one hand, bananas are low in calories (about 105 calories on average) and almost contain no fat.
According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, a medium-sized banana (about 7 inches long) contains about 3.1 grams of fiber, which is 12% of the recommended daily intake.
Bananas are also a rich source of potassium, which is an electrolyte that supports nerve cells as well as the heart and other muscles. Too little potassium in the diet can cause many health problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension).
You can also get the right amount of vitamin C to support immune function from bananas; about 17% of your daily value.
Other foods that boost mood
If you don’t like bananas, there are many other foods rich in serotonin and vitamin B6 for you to choose from.
For example, you can get vitamin B6 from a variety of protein sources, including beef liver, yellowfin tuna, salmon, and chicken breast.
Carbohydrate sources of vitamin B6 include fortified grains and potatoes. A cup of cooked potatoes contains as much vitamin B6 as a medium-sized banana.
Several foods rich in B6 also contain serotonin, such as fish and poultry. Turkey also contains another key nutrient for mood: an amino acid called tryptophan.
Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin produced in the brain (without it, the body cannot make neurotransmitters).
Another important compound 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) also uses tryptophan.If the body produces too little, 5-HTP can also be used as a nutritional supplement.
Studies have shown that when used with antidepressants, supplements may help relieve symptoms of depression(However, additional research and clinical trials are needed to reinforce these claims).
In addition to bananas, turkey, and chickpeas, there are many other foods that are natural sources of serotonin, as well as other key nutrients the body needs to produce neurotransmitters, such as:
- Oily, fatty fish (such as tuna and mackerel)
- Nuts and seeds (especially walnuts and flax seeds)
- Beans (such as kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans)
- Fresh produce (green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale)
- Probiotics/fermented foods (such as kefir, yogurt and tofu)
Although a balanced diet is good for your physical and mental health, there is no “refreshing” food that can “cure” depression.
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Studies have shown that changing diet to support healthy body function and mood may be an aspect of a successful depression treatment plan. Therefore, you may decide to change your diet to help you better control your symptoms. However, it is best to make sure that you have the support of your doctor and others such as registered dietitians and therapists to ensure that all your nutritional and mental health needs are met.