Foods That Release Serotonin in the Brain

Dark chocolate is one of many foods that can release serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can improve mood, enhance sleep and reduce the sensation of pain. It's difficult to boost serotonin levels with diet alone, because foods affect different people in different ways. However, it's possible to boost the production of serotonin in the brain by eating specific foods. Choose healthful foods whenever possible to get the benefits of increased serotonin production without extra fat, cholesterol and calories.

Dark Chocolate

Research conducted by Mary Engler of the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing revealed that dark chocolate has several health benefits. This type of chocolate contains flavonols, which are naturally occurring chemicals that increase nitric oxide levels in the blood. This promotes better blood flow and relaxation of the arteries. In addition, the relaxed feeling that occurs after eating a piece of dark chocolate was found to occur because dark chocolate can raise serotonin levels in the brain. Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals and slow the destruction of cells.

Fruits & Vegetables

According to researchers from Middle Tennessee State University, folic acid deficiency can lead to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain. Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, helps to prevent neural tube defects during fetal development and can also protect the body against heart disease and some types of cancers. Fruits and vegetables that contain folic acid can help to boost serotonin levels and improve mood. Examples of fruits and vegetables that contain folic acid include oranges, spinach, broccoli, corn, beets, parsnips and brussels sprouts.

Dairy Products

Dairy products can contribute to an increase in serotonin because they contain a simple sugar called lactose. Simple sugars help boost serotonin levels, which can help improve mood or make it easier to fall asleep. Dr. Ellen Weber, president of the MITA International Brain Based Renewal Center, recommends drinking warm milk to sleep more soundly and eating cheeses to boost energy in the afternoon.

Complex Carbohydrates

According to a study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, carbohydrate consumption can improve serotonin levels. Because serotonin can decrease the perception of pain, improve mood and induce sleep, some people may unconsciously crave high-carbohydrate foods when they need to relax or rest. Avoid products that contain refined sugars or high levels of fat and cholesterol. Choose complex carbohydrates, which need to be broken down before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Examples of complex carbohydrates include legumes, starchy vegetables, oatmeal and whole-grain cereals.