Finding foods high in GABA and serotonin may be much easier than many would imagine. Here’s a look at 15 of the best foods to boost these neurotransmitters.

Do you struggle with anxiety and stress? If so, it’s very likely that you have lower than normal GABA and serotonin levels.

Of course, the best way to figure this out is by visiting the GP. However, if drugs are not for you, the good news is that these essential stress and anxiety-relieving chemicals can be boosted naturally. Yes, that’s right! There is a natural way to get the benefits of these chemicals without the possible side effects of taking supplements.

In light of this information, let’s take a look at 15 foods high in GABA and serotonin that will help boost the levels of these chemicals naturally.

foods high in gaba and serotonin

Image credit: Karolina Grabowska

What is GABA? 

GABA, which stands for gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the brain. It is categorized as a neurotransmitter. In simple words, neurotransmitters are like chemical messengers. They allow nerve cells to communicate with the rest of the body by sending signals from the brain to other cells in the glands and muscles of the body.

There are two types of neurotransmitters: excitatory neurotransmitters and inhibitory neurotransmitters. While excitatory neurotransmitters cause signals to be transmitted across cells, inhibitory neurotransmitters work the opposite way by blocking signals. 

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and as such,  when it latches onto a GABA receptor on another cell, it blocks specific brain signal messages from being transmitted. In particular, GABA is known to hinder the brain signals related to stress, anxiety, and fear. So, it’s a significant contributor to the well-being of any individual. This produces a sensation of calmness and relaxation in the body.

Because of its calming properties, GABA is frequently used to treat stress and anxiety-related conditions like insomnia, high blood pressure, mood imbalances, and ADHD. Levels of GABA in the body can also be increased by taking supplements or by consuming foods that contain GABA. The route you choose is up to you, and perhaps consulting your doctor is the first step.

Benefits of GABA to the body

GABA supplements are popular for managing stress and fatigue. It is believed that taking GABA during stressful situations can help you feel calmer, to handle a bad situation better. It is also known to ease anxiety and relieve muscle tension reliably. More so, GABA is not just practical; it’s also fast-acting. Studies show that GABA has a significant reduction in stress levels. This is probably a factor that makes it more popular than other similar anxiety treatments. 

Another everyday use of GABA is that it treats sleep disorders, especially insomnia. At the end of each day, GABA is automatically produced in our bodies to make us feel sleepy and get us to rest. Some people who suffer from a GABA deficiency may, however, struggle to feel drowsy or to fall asleep. In such cases, doctors may prescribe GABA supplements to help improve their sleep, in addition to other sleep-inducing foods

GABA is also occasionally used to treat ADHD, panic disorders, and seizure attacks. Patients with these conditions often have unusually lower levels of naturally occurring GABA, so treatment often involves taking GABA supplements. The principle at work here is that the increased levels of GABA calm the patient down and reduces the chances of having a panic attack or a seizure. 

Additionally, increased levels of GABA in the body can have added effects of boosting your mood and lowering your blood pressure. Evidence for both of these claims is limited, but it’s not hard to see why this would be true. A low mood and high blood pressure are often associated with stress and anxiety. Since GABA directly deals with that, it’s only logical that it would also indirectly help to boost a person’s mood and lower blood pressure.

What is Serotonin? 

Serotonin is sometimes called 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT. It is a neurotransmitter just like GABA, but it plays an excitatory role, rather than an inhibitory one. Serotonin works by “exciting” nerve cells so that messages from one cell to another are carried along.

Serotonin occurs naturally in the body and is produced explicitly in the brain. The brain manufactures serotonin from another chemical called tryptophan. Even though serotonin is provided in the brain, it can be found in other parts of the body. A good 90% of it is located within the digestive tract and blood platelets.

Serotonin deposits are so widely spread in the body that the chemical is believed to affect a lot of body functions and psychological processes. Although it is produced in the body, some foods can either directly increase serotonin levels, or increase the amount of serotonin the body produces. For people with severe deficiencies, supplements are available to increase serotonin levels in the body. 

Benefits of Serotonin

The benefits of serotonin in the body are vast and numerous. To start with, serotonin is most famous for dealing with depression. Some researchers believe that depression may be linked to lowered levels of serotonin. This can happen if the body is unable to produce enough serotonin, or if there is a shortage of the tryptophan from which serotonin is made.

High levels of serotonin in the body will boost your mood and generally make you feel good. For people struggling with mood disorders and imbalances like bipolar disorder, serotonin helps to regulate the mood. In fact, the effect of serotonin on mood is why it features strongly in some antidepressants, and other medicines used to treat anxiety. 

Additionally, we mentioned earlier that serotonin influences several psychological functions of the body. Well, here’s the lowdown on that. The amount of serotonin in the body affects sexual desire. A low amount of serotonin means a low sex drive, while higher levels of the chemical cause an increase in sexual desire. Serotonin also influences learning abilities and memory, sleep, and appetite. 

In terms of body functions, serotonin contributes to the smooth operation of the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, and the muscles. It also promotes overall bone health. 

15 Common Foods that are Rich in GABA and Seratonin

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Foods High in GABA and Serotonin

We’ve discovered that both GABA and Serotonin are produced naturally in the body. But in some cases, glitches occur, and that affects the amount of these chemicals produced. It equally influences the rate at which they are provided in the body. Luckily for all of us, several foods contain GABA and serotonin. Consuming these foods can boost the levels of these chemicals in the body.  Of course, you can take supplements, but who isn’t excited about natural alternatives?

1. Foods High in GABA and Serotonin: Leafy greens 

We all know that leafy green vegetables are suitable for health because they contain minerals, fibres, and vitamins. These can further reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. One little known fact is that they are also a rich source of both GABA and serotonin. Spinach and broccoli are especially useful for increasing GABA in the body. They do not contain the neurotransmitter themselves, but they boost the production of the chemical in the body.

Kale and spinach can equally boost the levels of serotonin. Sure, it does not naturally occur in these veggies, but eating them can increase the production of serotonin. Spinach, in particular, contains high levels of vitamin B-6, which speeds up the rate at which tryptophan is converted into serotonin. 

2. Nuts promote production of GABA

At this point, it’s established that nuts are some kind of miracle food. The health benefits of eating nuts are endless. They are a good source of proteins, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and, yes, you guessed right, GABA and serotonin. When it comes to boosting serotonin levels by eating nuts, you have unlimited options. All nuts contain tryptophan, which produces serotonin, so you can feel free to choose your favourite nuts. For boosting GABA, the best choices are walnuts and almonds. They promote the production of GABA in the brain. 

3. Serotonin-boosting seeds 

Seeds do not contain as much GABA and serotonin-boosting elements as other foods. But they provide enough to make a difference, especially when eaten with other foods that boost GABA and serotonin levels. You can incorporate seeds into your diet by adding them to cereal or yoghurt, sprinkling some over salads, or only making a snack of mixed nuts and seeds. 

4. Do Beans Boost GABA Production?

So many different types of beans are good for boosting the production of GABA and tryptophan, which produces serotonin. Fava beans, for instance, are well known to be rich in minerals that trigger the production of GABA in the body. If you want to boost serotonin, try chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans. All of these contain small amounts of tryptophan, which can contribute to producing more serotonin in the body. Beans are easy to come by and can be made into different recipes. They also come with additional benefits like fibre, protein, and the all-important B-vitamins. 

5. Foods High in GABA and Serotonin: Simple Carbohydrates 

Foods with simple carbohydrates are digested very quickly in the body. They can be beneficial for raising the levels of both GABA and serotonin in the body. Simple carbs break down into sugar, which triggers the body to release insulin. The insulin is then quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This gives the tryptophan from the carbs enough freedom to travel to the brain to produce serotonin. Examples of simple carbohydrates that boost GABA and serotonin are potatoes, pasta, bread, and pastries.

6. Complex carbohydrates 

Complex carbohydrates work in the same way that simple carbohydrates do; they increase GABA and serotonin levels. The difference between the two types of carbs is that complex carbohydrates break down at a slower rate, and provide a more reliable and stable source of energy than simple carbohydrates. When you consume more complex carbs, you’ll feel the effects of the serotonin produced for an extended period of time. This is because they are broken down gradually.

More importantly, complex carbs are generally the healthier option because they break down into fibre and starch, rather than sugar. This spares you the risk of developing high sugar levels. Sweet potatoes are the best source of complex carbohydrates to increase GABA and serotonin. 

7. Berries are bursting with Vitamin B-6

Berries are rich in antioxidants and are perfect for introducing more serotonin and GABA into your body. Vitamin B-6 in blueberries helps to speed up the process of converting tryptophan to serotonin in the brain. As far as GABA content is concerned, all berries do an excellent job of boosting the production of the chemical in the body. There are many fun ways to add berries to your diet. You can make them into smoothies, add them to yoghurt or cereal, or eat them as they are. You can even have a look at our acai berry bowl recipes for more help.

8. Foods High in GABA and Serotonin: Fermented Foods 

This is another category of foods that can affect the levels of both serotonin and GABA. The list of foods that naturally contain GABA is short, but yoghurt, tempeh, and kefir have managed to make it onto that list. Unlike other diets that simply boost the production of GABA, these fermented foods can cause a direct increase in the levels of GABA. They also contain tryptophan for producing serotonin, and that’s a double win for fermented foods. 

9. Does Seafood Boost Our Mood?

The next group of foods you should be interested in is seafood. Almost all kinds of fish contain tryptophan, but especially salmon. Not only is it very rich in tryptophan, but it also has one of the highest levels of vitamin B-6. Remember that B-6 is the vitamin responsible for speeding up the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Seafood like shrimp and halibut are good for boosting GABA levels as well. 

10. Foods High in GABA and Serotonin: Soy Products 

Foods that contain soy, like tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, and soybeans, are an excellent choice if you’re looking to raise the levels of GABA and serotonin in your body. All soy products contain high levels of tryptophan. They also boost the cells that produce GABA. The major selling point for soy products is that they provide the ideal way for vegetarians to supplement GABA and serotonin in their bodies naturally. 

11. Foods high in GABA and Serotonin: Tryptophan and Eggs 

Over the centuries, many people have recognized the health benefits of eggs. They contain protein, omega three fatty acids, biotin, and other significant nutrients. It’s no surprise that eggs also affect GABA and serotonin. Eating eggs can significantly boost your levels of tryptophan, and in turn, your serotonin levels. The yolks are the richest part and contain the most tryptophan, so make sure you don’t leave them out. 

12. Proteins like Chicken, Meat, and Turkey

All poultry generally contains some amounts of tryptophan, but turkey tops them all. If you are looking for the best protein to incorporate into your diet, then go for turkey. Since it’s loaded with tryptophan, you’ll get a good kick. Meat and other poultry will also give you tryptophan but in much smaller quantities. If you’re concerned about fat, you can opt for lean meats. 

13. Does Milk Boost Serotonin Levels?

We all know that milk contains calcium, which builds strong bones and teeth. But did you know that it can also increase serotonin in your body? Foods that are rich in calcium can increase the levels of tryptophan in the blood, although they may not directly affect how much of it is supplied to the body. 

14. Increase GABA with Green, Black and Oolong Tea

Tea is a fantastic beverage that has several benefits to the body. From helping with weight loss to detoxifying the body to reducing the risk of heart attacks, the advantages of tea are countless. Drinking tea can increase GABA, as well. Green tea, black tea, and oolong tea are the other items on the shortlist of foods that naturally contain GABA. An excellent way to naturally supplement GABA levels is to drink lots and lots of tea. 

15 common foods that are rich in GABA and Seratonin

Photo Credit: Jia Ye

15. Citrus Fruit and GABA levels

Citrus contains antioxidants which do a lot to promote the production of GABA. Instead of a can of soda, try drinking a glass of orange juice to boost your GABA levels. Lemons, grapefruit, and tomatoes also contain citrus and are suitable for increasing and activating GABA in your body. 

Foods High in GABA and Serotonin: A Summary

Eating enough of these foods will undoubtedly increase the levels of GABA and serotonin in your body, and give you an overall sense of well-being. The great thing about these natural supplements is that all of them have multiple benefits. You get what you’re looking for (increased GABA and serotonin), plus a host of other benefits. It’s almost like buying four shirts for the price of one. However, be careful, to incorporate them into your diet in moderation.

Too much of anything will end up biting you in the behind. As such, excessive levels of serotonin can cause a condition called “serotonin syndrome.”  This happens when the nerves cells become incredibly active, and nobody wants that. It can cause symptoms like high fever, dilated pupils, seizures, and confusion. 

Hopefully, this article has helped you to better understand the roles GABA and serotonin play in the body. We equally aim to let you know what foods to eat to supplement the levels of these chemicals in your body. These should be accompanied with anaerobic exercises for fat loss and the stamina improvement. Altogether, we want to provide you with the most detailed and enlightening information on any topic. If you enjoyed what you read, please leave a comment below, and don’t forget to share this post. 

The articles on this site are not medical or certified advice, all content that has been created is simply our opinions,experiences and independent research. We strongly advise seeking professional,qualified expert advice from either your GP or a certified medical practitioner before making any changes to do with your health,diet, exercise or habits.