Raise Your Spirits with Tryptophan

Raise Your Spirits with Tryptophan

Here comes the sun. It seems spring is finally on its way, and as winter's chill takes its final bow and spring heralds a season of fresh awakenings and new beginnings, our food choices shift to an intermediate period that blends the hearty dishes of winter with the freshness of spring flavors.

Winter gave us hearty foods that sustained us, yet those choices can begin to wear on us. We may be longing for the sweet lettuces, baby peas, and fresh greens of spring, but temperatures are not those of spring and summer warmth just yet. The sun is not out in full force either, and for those affected by the seasons, this can be a trying time to make it through. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been said to involve light but may also be connected to a lack of serotonin or melatonin. The good news is serotonin (a neurotransmitter) can be increased by your food choices.

The human body uses the essential amino acid tryptophan to produce serotonin. Tryptophan is found in many of the foods we love, including turkey, bananas, seeds, tuna, red meat, shell fish, soy, mung beans, and dairy products. In order to convert tryptophan into serotonin, the body needs vitamin B6 and carbohydrates, so it's important to combine tryptophan-rich foods with vitamin B6-rich foods such as greens, spinach, turnip, and bell peppers, as well as whole grains such as quinoa, beans, and barley.

Choosing foods to help you get through the end of winter means finding warming foods that also have a fresh taste. Foods that help you maintain a happier and brighter mood until the sun comes back to pour its golden rays upon us are also ideal.

Eat Your Way to a Sunny Disposition

Soups and stews are still great options for blustery end-of-winter nights, but steer away from cream and fat laden options. Instead, thicken soups with winter squash purees or beans. Fresh herbs also do a great job of waking up a soup's flavor, and finishing these dishes with a squeeze of lemon (or other citrus) will also really highlight your soup or stew.

Bananas have been found to be huge players in mood and wellness. High in substantial carbs, they can help those low-energy afternoons when the sun has been hiding behind the clouds all day. Always in season, make a pineapple or orange smoothie with fresh juice and bananas.

Omega-3 fatty acids also play a large role in mood as well as mental clarity, concentration, and focus. Salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flaxseeds are great and tasty options. Preparing these in fresh tasting ways creates a win-win combination.

Steer clear of processed foods that are packed with sugars, additives, or stimulants such as caffeine. Junk has been shown to worsen depression symptoms in some individuals. Happy foods make happy people. This also applies to the next point…

Make food visually exciting and uplifting. If you are ready for spring, increase colorful foods that are bright and stimulating to the eyes and senses. Bright greens such as parsley, bell peppers, apples, oranges, or bright red sauces. Winter squashes or sweet potatoes are brilliant oranges that are also filling in chilly weather. Beets are also a brilliant color with myriad health benefits that can be eaten in salads as you start to get in those fresh spring greens.

Here are some meal ideas and dishes that will help you eat your way to good spirits:

  • White beans and kale (or any green) soup
  • Chicken chili with cilantro
  • Turkey and rice stew with queso fresco (available in Naturally Savvy's Recipes)
  • Lemon vinaigrettes over mixed greens, with hazelnuts
  • Chicken braised in tomatoes with herbs, serve over Spaghetti Squash
  • Fresh beet, carrot and pineapple juice
  • Roasted beets with arugula and walnuts
  • Turkey quinoa salad with orange dressing and cranberries
  • Lentils with cooked winter squash, tomatoes, red pepper, and parsley, and topped with feta

More on Food and Nutrition from Naturally Savvy.

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Claire Fountain is witty, passionate and lives a sweet life of all things food. Claire believes in sharing her knowledge of baking and cooking along side her holistic approach to eating with all of you. As a food writer featured in books and publications, with a background teaching cooking classes, vegan baker and personal chef, to name a few ventures, Claire loves the science, history and lore of food. Recipe development, catering and researching... Claire keeps it joyous in and out of the kitchen. Though born and raised in Mississippi on biscuits and ranch dressing, she practices what she preaches in her own daily food choices, with taste being at the forefront. She currently writes and bakes in New York; spending time supporting local agriculture, sustainable food and promoting conscious consumption with sexy vengeance.