top 10 happy food to boost serotonin

Wrapped in the soft fluffy sheets, feeling warm and safe, baby fell sound asleep. That’s how serotonin feels like. When you feel the warm and comfort in the arms of your loved ones.

Also known as a happy hormone, serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that is synthesized from an amino acid called tryptophan. Eating tryptophan doesn’t guarantee it will get into your brain or turn into serotonin. When you eat tryptophan-rich food, some are turned into serotonin and they stay in the intestinal walls. 90% of serotonin resides in the gut, not the brain! The serotonin in food does not cross the blood-brain barrier, your brain’s security system for keeping out foreign substances. So, the serotonin used in the brain must be produced within the brain.

90% of serotonin resides in the gut, not the brain!


90% of serotonin resides in the gut, NOT the brain!


  1. Egg
  2. Cheese: Parmesan, Cheddar, Mozzarella, Romano
  3. Dark chocolate
  4. Soy bean:  Koyadofu (Dried-frozen Tofu), Sprouted soybeans, Tofu
  5. Fish: Halibut, Salmon, Rockfish & Trout
  6. Shellfish: Spiny Lobster, Octopus, Clams
  7. Nuts & seeds: Chia Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds
  8. Poultry: Chicken breast, Turkey
  9. Red meat: Lean Roast Beef & Pork, Lamb
  10. Bean & lentil: Cranberry (Roman) Beans, Yellow Beans & Small White Beans, Pinto Beans & Kidney Beans

happy food to boost serotonin


The recommended daily intake suggested by the World Health Organization for tryptophan is 3.5mg per kilogram of body weight. So, a person weighing 50kg should consume around 175mg of tryptophan per day.

That’s approximately equivalent to:

  • Half (about 55 g) roasted chicken breast: 195 milligrams of tryptophan.
  • Half cup of cooked soybeans: 185 milligrams of tryptophan.

But! Here’s the catch: Carbohydrates.

Serotonin will not be boosted as much if you don’t eat carbohydrates. So, to maximise absorption, you’ll need to eat these serotonins boosting food with some healthy high fibre carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, whole grain bread. No wonder some people binge on carbohydrates when they feel sad. Personally, I get a better sleep when I take some carbohydrates for dinner too.



If you want a turbo serotonin boost, here’s the top 3 boosters: Exercise, Sunshine and Happy thoughts.

You can try doing some aerobic exercise like jump jacks (or any exercise you like) in the sun and while you’re doing it, play happy thoughts on repeat mode. If you are pregnant or have difficulties with exercise, getting a massage is also a good way to boost serotonin.

Check out my Beary cute Qi gong exercise 2 minute video below.


Serotonin being a happy hormone, it can be related to the category of “calming” TCM herbs used for emotional distress or depression (郁证 Yu Zheng). Depression is not only expressed as being “depressed” as the name suggests. Someone can look very cheerful in public but maybe he/she can be extremely sad in private. Some express depression with anger, worry or anxiety. And this totally makes sense in TCM terms.

In TCM, depression is thought to affect various organs and not just the brain per se. While the Heart is said to store the Shen or Spirit, which expresses its emotions to a stimulus, the traditional theory suggests a more complex system. We know that each of the 5 organs are related to one emotion.

The Spleen is associated with excessive worry(more on Spleen here); Liver with anger (more on Liver here) ; Kidney with fear and fright; and Lung with grief, the inability to let go, and anxiety. So, by targeting the specific organ, the depression treatment can be tailored to each person’s emotional state.



Here are the top 3 herbal TCM herbal formulas are commonly used to calm the mind. It is used for the treatment of depression/ anxiety or any symptoms relating to it. It doesn’t necessarily increase serotonin in your body but has a similar effect to that.


Chai Hu Shu Gan Tang -Stagnation of Liver Qi

Most TCM practitioners see Liver Qi stagnation as the main cause of depression. With this type of depression, symptoms such as sighing, bitter taste in mouth, discomfort or tight feeling around the rib regions will be obvious. These symptoms are also obvious when treating depression found during premenstrual syndrome or menopause and a TCM formula such as Chai Hu Shu Gan Tang is quite effective.

A few months ago, a lady in her 40s came to me with many years of depression and lack of sleep. She couldn’t switch her mind off and overthinking lead to fatigue and insomnia. I prescribed about 1 month of TCM herbal medication based around Chai Hu Long Gu Mu Li Tang and tailored to other symptoms every 2 weeks. Usually I’ll add calming TCM herbs such as Yuan Zhi, Suan Zao Ren, Fu Shen, Bai He.

2 weeks into her treatment, she happily told me that she “can sleep better and feel my heart is anchored and doesn’t “fly” when faced with difficulties at work now.”  😊


Ban Xia Hou Po Tang -Obstruction by Phlegm

Ever felt that you have something stuck in your throat? But there is no phlegm, nothing lodge in it, just this unsettling discomfort that you can’t swallow? And blood tests and x-rays all came back clear?

Perhaps you have this “Plum Pit Qi (梅核气 Mei He Qi)” syndrome. As the name suggests, when you get this, you feel as if a plum pit is stuck in your throat and have difficulty swallowing. Today, it is considered by TCM physicians as an essential part of treatment for psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and stress.


Gan Mai Da Zao Tang -Deficiency of Yin and Blood

Not only is this TCM formula used for increasing serotonin-like effects, it is commonly used for the treatment of menopausal “Zao” syndrome. “Zao” means dryness in Mandarin. This TCM formula is suited for depression, moodiness, frequent melancholy and crying, frequent yawning, restless sleep, sweating and feel hot flushes at night.

Most with present with red tongue body with thin white coat, meaning that they are Yin deficient.

Imagine a desert, it is so hot and water is drying up, leaving your body dry and heaty. This “heat” irritates the mind and represents itself as anxiety. The herbs in this formula can create an oasis in the desert and put out the anxiety fire and “Zao”ness in the body.

These are only the main ones and there are more formulas that TCM physicians work with to tailor for individuals. Please consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Ok, so now that we have covered food therapy, herb therapy, let’s talk about the therapy for the space between your ears- The Mind.



Eating the right food and medication is important. Those will treat the physical “body” part. But you also need to treat the “mind” part for total wellness. Some people like to be left alone to figure things out on their own, whilst some feel the need to talk and express themselves to feel better.

Try joining a meet-up group, ask your friends and families for advice, join a community club or just talk to your physician about your insecurities. If you like something online where you can access from a laptop or even mobile, an online counseling platform like BetterHelp might suit your needs. More than 1.5 million people are using this and they match you up with a counselor who fits your objective and the types of issues you are dealing with.

You can take a short questionnaire here to find the right match and it may help you give your life a serotonin boost!



Sometimes you think you are doing all the right things, eating the right food but just feel “stuck”. To unlock this jam, learn how to get rid of your Key-log. It’s similar to finding the root cause of the problem according to TCM. Even with all the medications and meditations, it may to difficult to really cure the problem if you can’t find the root cause.

 keylog to get your qi flowing


It’s what I refer to as values, beliefs, traditions, must-do or some kind of rule that you have set for yourself.

Or it can be something that is holding you back and making you think that you’re not worth it.



What you want in your body is for the Qi to flow smoothly at the right places. Imagine a river where your logs are flowing freely down the river in happy synchrony. Flow flow flow your log, gently down the sea…. until some things start to get sticky. What’s getting sticky? That’s why you need to identify your log.

Finding that key-log is the first step to resolve your problem. Because jams are not fun. Ponder and look at yourself from a 3rd person’s perspective from an objective view. Where are the key-log jams?

In conclusion, engaging in all of these activities will give a boost to your sluggish serotonin system. Yes, sometimes when you are feeling crappy, it’s difficult to focus or can’t recall happy moments, then talk to an old friend or look back at photos and go back to that happy place.

Take some time to find deep within you. Pull that Key-log out or learn how to ride with the logs and beat the Qi jam!

Thank you for reading and if this doesn’t help you, please share this to someone who could use it.


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