If you’ve ever wondered why you’re feeling down or exhausted when you eat certain foods, it’s likely because they’re terrible for your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood regulation and sleep cycles—and bad news: “bad” foods can deplete this chemical! Here are some of the worst offenders:
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means it’s a chemical that helps send signals from one nerve cell to another. In our bodies, serotonin is the happy hormone that makes us feel good—so it’s no wonder we want to eat more of what make us happy!
But how does food influence serotonin levels? The short answer: not much. While certain foods have been shown to increase brain serotonin production in rats and mice (and people), there’s no real evidence they do the same thing in healthy adults.
Effects of serotonin in our body
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls your mood, appetite and sleep. It plays a role in regulating body temperature, memory and learning, sexual function, and the regulation of blood pressure. The chemical is found throughout your brain and spinal cord; it’s stored in vesicles (tiny spheres) inside nerve cells called neurons that send messages from one neuron to another.
When serotonin levels are low, you may experience symptoms such as depression or anxiety; when they’re high you might feel more elated than usual (or vice versa). The foods listed here can affect your level of serotonin by either increasing or decreasing it.
Effects of low serotonin level in our body
If your serotonin levels are low, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Sleep problems (insomnia) and headaches.
Low levels of serotonin can lead to an increased appetite and weight gain, which can make you feel sluggish and more likely to give in to cravings for unhealthy foods. Low libido is also a sign that your body is depleted of this neurotransmitter.
Junk food depletes serotonin
The primary ingredients in junk food are sugar, refined carbs and salt. In fact, most processed foods are made up of these three things. These ingredients are called “empty calories” because they don’t offer any nutritional value to the body; they just increase your caloric intake without filling you up. The other common ingredient found in junk foods is saturated fat — the kind of fat that clogs arteries and increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Some snacks include trans fats as well—a type of fat that’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alcohol depletes serotonin
Alcohol is a depressant that depresses the central nervous system. This means it can have a depressive effect, which depletes your serotonin levels. As we’ve discussed before, low serotonin levels are associated with depression and anxiety; thus, drinking alcohol can cause these feelings.
You might be wondering: why do people drink alcohol if it leads to these feelings? Well, there’s a reason for that too—some people may seek out these negative emotions because they’re already feeling them but want an escape from them. People who struggle with addiction will often use whatever substance(s) they feel could help them cope with their issues and/or provide comfort.
Sugary drinks depletes serotonin
Sugary drinks deplete serotonin.
Sugary drinks lead to weight gain, which can deplete serotonin by slowing down the metabolism and increasing appetite. In addition, these drinks are usually high in sugar and often contain artificial sweeteners that can cause us to crave more sweets, which leads to an initial burst of energy followed by a crash.
Sugary drinks lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems.
This is because sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) have no nutritional value — they’re generally just empty calories that your body doesn’t need or use for energy or cell repair — so they increase hunger and make you hungrier than if you hadn’t consumed them at all!
Sugar and artificial sweeteners depletes serotonin
When you’re depressed, you may be tempted to turn to sweet foods like candy and chocolate. If that’s what you’re doing, stop! These foods cause a drop in serotonin levels and can worsen your depression. Unfortunately, the news isn’t good for those who have found success with artificial sweeteners either. A study from 2013 showed that rats with diets high in aspartame (an artificial sweetener) had lower levels of serotonin than those fed sugar or saccharin (another synthetic sweetener).
The bottom line? Neither sugar nor artificial sweeteners are great options when it comes to maintaining healthy levels of serotonin—the best thing is just to avoid them altogether if possible!
High-sodium foods depletes serotonin
If you’re eating a lot of salty foods, you should know that it can lead to a depletion of serotonin. Foods high in sodium include:
- processed meats like hot dogs and bacon
- deli meat such as lunch meat and salami
These types of food are delicious, but they have too many calories if you eat them often. They also contain a lot of sodium, which is bad for your health when consumed in large amounts. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, MD: “Eating too much salt raises blood pressure; this is associated with an increased risk for all causes of death.”
Some research has suggested that people who consume more than 6 grams per day may experience higher rates of heart disease than those who don’t drink enough water (which helps flush out excess salt). If you want more insight into how much salt is okay for your body and where you can find healthier alternatives for recipes that require extra flavor, check out this article from The Spruce Eats!
Caffeine depletes serotonin
If you’re a coffee drinker, or even if you drink caffeine in the form of soda or tea, it’s important to know that these drinks can cause your serotonin levels to drop. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases alertness and reduces drowsiness by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. When these receptors are blocked, dopamine becomes more available for use by your brain—the result is increased feelings of happiness and euphoria.
But as with anything else in life (including drugs), there are negative side effects associated with chronic consumption of caffeine. In addition to anxiety, jitteriness and insomnia (all symptoms caused by increased dopamine), chronic consumption of caffeine can also deplete serotonin levels—a condition known as serotonin syndrome.
Corn syrup depletes serotonin
Corn syrup is a common sweetener used in many foods, especially processed foods. Corn syrup is made from corn starch, which can cause blood sugar spikes that lead to fatigue and mood swings.
- High Glycemic Index (GI): The glycemic index is a measure of how much the food raises your blood glucose level compared with pure glucose. Foods with a high GI tend to cause rapid increases in blood sugar levels and make you feel hungry again quickly, while lower GI foods are more slowly digested and help you feel full for longer periods of time;
- Artificial sweeteners: Artificially sweetened foods such as diet soda have been shown to have harmful effects on the body if consumed regularly over time, including weight gain or even cancer risk (though these risks aren’t present for occasional use).
Red meat depletes serotonin
Red meat is high in tryptophan which, when eaten by itself, can lead to a serotonin deficiency. Tryptophan is one of the amino acids that are broken down into proteins and used to build new proteins. So, if you have too much tryptophan in your system, it will be turned into other amino acids instead of serotonin.
Red meat also contains tyrosine (which helps make dopamine) and phenylalanine (which helps make norepinephrine). Both these amino acids compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain cells where they’re converted into their respective neurotransmitters: phenylalanine competes directly with tryptophan while tyrosine competes indirectly because it forces an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase onto the same substrate as that needed by phenylalanine hydroxylase—only one enzyme molecule can attach at any given time so only one or two amino acids end up getting converted into their respective neurotransmitters at a time before they need another substrate (hence why there’s competition).
Chocolate depletes serotonin
- Chocolate contains caffeine, a stimulant that causes the body to produce more serotonin.
- Chocolate also contains theobromine, which is similar to caffeine and affects serotonin levels in the brain.
- A diet high in chocolate can cause headaches and migraines because of these effects on serotonin levels.
Refined Carbohydrates depletes serotonin
Refined carbohydrates are bad for your body, and they’re also bad for your serotonin levels. When you eat refined carbohydrates (like bagels or white bread), the sugar in these foods enters your bloodstream quickly. Your body also receives a large amount of insulin from consuming so much sugar—and this causes a steep drop in blood glucose levels that makes you feel tired and hungry again soon after eating.
So how does this affect serotonin? The spike in blood glucose triggers the release of insulin, which then starts to take the excess glucose out of our bodies (or stores it as fat). When there’s too much insulin circulating in our blood stream, we can become fatigued because serotonin production slows down when insulin is present.
In addition to affecting serotonin production directly through low blood sugar levels, refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation in the gut wall by increasing intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome) which results in more inflammation throughout the entire body—including brain function!
Protein-Rich Foods depletes serotonin
Protein-rich foods deplete serotonin.
Protein-rich foods are good for you, but they can also deplete serotonin. Protein is beneficial in the long term, but should be consumed in moderation because it can make you feel tired and moody. Many protein-rich foods contain tryptophan, which has a sedative effect on the body and makes you feel sleepy after eating it. Protein-rich foods include meat, fish, eggs and beans
- Eggs, meat, fish and dairy products do not contain tryptophan.
- Grains (wheat), legumes (beans), nuts and seeds are also tryptophan-poor foods.
- Tryptophan is found in the following foods:
- Meat – Beef liver is extremely high in tryptophan and should be eaten sparingly due to its high cholesterol content. Turkey breast is another good source of protein that has a significant amount of this important amino acid. Chicken breast has less than half as much as turkey however it still makes a great choice for high-protein meals that also provide other nutrients such as vitamin B6, zinc and selenium which helps prevent depression symptoms like irritability or aggression; plus chicken also contains niacin B3 which can help improve your mood since niacin deficiencies have been linked with higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol which makes you feel fatigued all day long!
Dairy depletes serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps you feel good. It’s also one of the primary chemicals involved in sleep, mood and appetite regulation. Studies have shown that serotonin levels are lower in people with depression, so it makes sense to eat foods rich in serotonin if you’re feeling down—but there’s something to be aware of when choosing your meal: tryptophan and tyrosine compete for uptake into your brain.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in dairy products like milk and cheese. Tyrosine is another amino acid found in many foods including red meat, poultry, fish and certain nuts (walnuts). When these two acids compete for uptake into the brain cells that make serotonin, tyrosine wins out most of the time—meaning less tryptophan gets converted into active serotonin than would otherwise be possible if either was not present at all!
Collagen depletes serotonin
When you eat foods that are rich in collagen, they can help you to get the nutrients you need to boost your serotonin levels. Collagen is a protein found in bones, cartilage and skin. It’s made up of amino acids like glycine, proline and lysine which are essential for the production of serotonin. Collagen is also a source of tryptophan — an amino acid that converts to serotonin.
Try eating foods high in collagen such as:
Weed depletes serotonin
Marijuana is a type of cannabis, a plant that contains psychoactive chemicals called cannabinoids. While you may have heard that weed is good for you, it can actually deplete serotonin—which can lead to anxiety and depression.
The active ingredient in marijuana is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which binds to cannabinoid receptors in your brain. This causes the release of dopamine, which produces euphoria and makes you feel high. But THC also affects serotonin levels by inhibiting its reuptake (a process where neurotransmitters are taken back up into neurons). This means that there’s less serotonin available to provide relief from depression symptoms like sadness or lack of motivation.
Energy drinks depletes serotonin
Energy drinks are known to cause a spike in serotonin levels, which can lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety, insomnia and depression. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine showed that energy drink consumption caused people to feel more tired than usual after consuming them. The study also found that energy drink consumption led to an increase in feelings of anxiety and irritability.
These foods affect your serotonin levels negatively
Certain foods can help you boost your serotonin levels, while others deplete them.
- Aspartame: This artificial sweetener goes by the names NutraSweet and Equal, among others. It’s found in diet sodas, sugar-free desserts and other products.
- Sugar: Refined sugar is high on the list of foods that deplete serotonin levels because it causes a spike in insulin production—a hormone that can send your blood sugar plunging to unhealthy levels.
- Processed meat: Unless it’s organic or grass-fed, this type of meat contains preservatives and other additives such as nitrates (which may also be added to processed meats). These substances are associated with depression due to their effect on gut microbiota populations; however, some studies have found conflicting results regarding whether eating processed meats leads directly to depression or not
In short, the foods that are high in tryptophan and low in carbohydrates help our body produce serotonin. The foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in tryptophan deplete serotonin levels. If you want to improve your mood and sleep better at night, avoid consuming these types of food, especially before bedtime.