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    You Ask, I Answer: Serotonin in Foods?

    food-coma-150x150I’ve been told that bananas have the second highest levels of serotonin.

    When I pass [that tidbit] on, others ask ‘what’s the first?’.  Do you know?

    — @kiloerg
    Via Twitter

    I’m sorry to say that whoever told you bananas have the highest second levels of serotonin must have been rather confused.

    Foods, after all, don’t contain serotonin (a neurotransmitter linked to relaxation and sleep promotion).  Certain components in food, though, can increase serotonin levels.

    Here is how the “some foods make you tired and sleepy” scenario plays out.

    When the pancreas releases insulin, amino acid levels in the blood decrease.  One particular amino acid’s blood levels, though, remain unchanged.  That amino acid?  Tryptophan — the precursor to serotonin!

    So, you are looking at a situation where tryptophan is the ruling amino acid.  Consequently, as amino acids begin to cross the blood-brain barrier, the one most abundant within that mix is tryptophan.  Once in the brain, high levels of tryptophan result in a high production of serotonin, which imparts a sense of relaxation and sleepiness in most individuals.

    Let’s back up just a tad.  I mentioned above that when the pancreas releases insulin, amino acid levels in the blood decrease.

    Remember — the higher our blood sugar levels rise after a meal, the more insulin the pancreas needs to release.  What foods increase blood sugar levels the most?  Simple carbohydrates (think juice, soda, and candy).  So, high levels of serotonin are usually experienced after a meal high in carbohydrates.

    “Hold up, though,” you may be thinking, “don’t some foods contain tryptophan?”

    Yes.  Although turkey usually gets most of the credit, chicken, tuna, mushrooms, scallops, shrimp, and soybeans have just as much of the amino acid — in some cases, more.

    However, the key to the tryptophan-serotonin connection is consumption of carbohydrates (it’s the only way to decrease tryptophan’s competition!).  That’s why Thanksgiving meals usually cause high levels of serotonin — turkey is usually consumed alongside mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and bread rolls… and usually followed by pie.

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