The best tryptophan-rich vegetarian foods

Are you feeling a bit depressed or sleep-deprived? Have your emotions been all over the place recently? If so, tryptophan-rich vegetarian foods might help. You see – a lot of these intense emotions we feel, or the energy-drain that affects our productivity, isn’t so much a factor of external causes; it all starts with what’s going on inside our bodies. It’s difficult to stop working hard or staying up late, and even more challenging to battle with mood swings and sleep deprivation. 

The inclusion of specific vitamins and proteins in your diet can help relieve stress, anxiety, mood swings, and restlessness. This is probably not the first time you’re hearing that! However, while we know that fruits and vegetables are vital for good health, sometimes, we don’t know which ones are the best in certain situations. 

Have you vowed to stay away from fatty foods or proteins like chicken, fish, and maybe even eggs? That’s okay. If you’re a vegetarian looking for an improved mood, better sleep, more positivity, and a feeling of wellbeing, then you’ll want to include tryptophan-rich vegetarian foods in your diet. In this article, we’ll tell you the top 15 tryptophan-rich vegetarian foods. But first, we’ll list out some of the benefits of tryptophan.

 tryptophan rich vegetarian foods

Image credit: Anna Pelzer

What is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid the body needs to maintain a healthy nitrogen balance, and the normal production of niacin, melatonin, and serotonin. The niacin it creates is what generates the neurotransmitter serotonin that is associated with promoting healthy sleep patterns and a happier mood. 

Tryptophan is abundant in proteins like chicken, turkey, and fish. However, what many people don’t know is that this potent amino acid is also found in foods that can be incorporated into a vegetarian diet. Since tryptophan-rich food is rich in amino acids, it’s an essential protein to include in your diet.

Benefits of adding tryptophan-rich vegetarian foods in the diet

  • Tryptophan boosts serotonin, which is known as the ‘happy hormone.’
  • Serotonin also contributes to a good memory, faster learning, and a good appetite.
  • Promotes growth and development in children
  • Manages pain tolerance
  • Stimulates wellbeing
  • Relieves depression and anxiety
  • Tryptophan is commonly used to treat sleep insomnia and other sleep disorders. 
  • It has also been used to alleviate premenstrual dysphoric disorders
  • Tryptophan may also be useful in helping with smoking cessation. 

How to supplement with tryptophan

It’s better to take tryptophan naturally, instead of depending on supplements or vitamins. Just like with many sources of carbs, proteins, and minerals – too much tryptophan could cause side effects. Before we go on to mention some of the things tryptophan is commonly used for, we advise consulting with your GP before taking supplements. It’s better to naturally incorporate tryptophan-rich foods in your diet: adding supplements may be too much.

Vegetarian foods rich in tryptophan

tryptophan rich vegetarian foods

Image credit: Ella Olsson

1. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are quite small and are a hard shell to crack. However, these tiny, slim, and cream-coloured seeds contain lots of healthy nutrients. When it comes to foods that have high levels of tryptophan, pumpkin seeds top the chart. They have the highest tryptophan content and are enriched with copper, zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese, vitamin K, protein, and fiber. 

Pumpkin seeds also aid with the prevention and treatment of certain diseases and contain antioxidants that help rid the body of unhealthy free radicals. One study shows that people who consume pumpkin seeds have a reduced risk of stomach, lung, and breast cancers. 

Pumpkins are also very high in magnesium. This makes them an excellent addition to the diet when you’re looking to control blood pressure, regulate blood levels, maintain healthy bones, and reduce the risks of heart disease. All in all, pumpkin seeds can be eaten raw or roasted in salt/pepper. Or you can make a paste out of them, or include them in a salad. 

2. Butternut squash seeds

Some seeds are very potent in tryptophan and therefore help in producing serotonin. Butternut seeds are one of them; it’s an excellent plant-source that contains this abundant protein. More so, in one study butternut squash seeds were also found to be very helpful in alleviating anxiety and improving sleep.

In another study, a group of people who were suffering from social phobia took butternut seeds, and there was a significant improvement seen. There are fun ways to incorporate this into your diet by either roasting them for a quick snack, throwing them in your salads, or even making a soup out of them. Apart from being a rich source of tryptophan, these seeds are also an excellent source of fibre and contain vitamins like potassium, calcium, folate, iron, and Vitamin A and C.

3. Sea vegetables

Sea vegetables have been underrated for a long time; however, studies have shown that these ocean treasures come packed with a lot of benefits. They are the new superfood said to contain almost all the minerals any food can provide. So, the question isn’t ‘why would you include this in your diet’; it’s ‘why wouldn’t you?’ 

They are a good source of iodine; which is why foods such as chlorophyll have been named among the superfoods beneficial for thyroid deficiencies and are surprisingly a good source of proteins as well. They are also rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iodine, and other potent trace minerals found in the ocean. To eat them, you can add them to a stir fry or salads, and even them use them as garnishes.

Sea vegetables like kelp, arame, dulse, and kombu to mention a few are Asian staples, and some are famously used to wrap sushi. 

4. Cucumber

Cucumbers may provide only a moderate amount of tryptophan, but this shouldn’t deter you because cucumbers are so delicious and easy to eat. Usually mistaken as a vegetable, cucumbers are actually classified as fruits. The seedy yet juicy fruit is rich in antioxidants, and has a generous amount of water content which makes it’s an excellent fix for dehydration.

Here’s a fun fact. This mild, watery, and crunchy fruit has about 2 grams of protein and supplies 10mg of tryptophan per 100 grams. If you do not already include them in your diet, you can add them to salads, pickle them, or simply eat them fresh and enjoy the crunch. 

5. Cauliflower

Cauliflowers are one of the most versatile vegetables to incorporate into your diet. They can be cooked, baked, used in stir-fries, and are a naturally delicious addition to any meal. Cauliflowers are also very low in calories yet still high in vitamins. This makes them a healthy option for those taking their weight loss journey seriously, especially after surgery.

More so, fruits that contain water like cucumber and low-calorie vegetables like cauliflower help people lose belly fat and tighten supple skin without painful surgeries. It also contains manganese, potassium, phosphorous, and proteins as well.  Thanks to its protein content, these relatives of broccoli are packed with amino acids that contain tryptophan.

6. Mushrooms

Mushrooms come from the fungi kingdom and have since become a star ingredient for many who love their plump, bouncy, and minimal yet enjoyable taste. Many mushrooms are actually packed with a lot of nutrients which include fibre, selenium, protein, phosphorous, folate, and vitamin D to mention a few. They contain 25mg of Tryptophan per ounce. Mushroom can be baked, included in stir-fries, or eaten raw. 

7. Potato

What many people don’t know is that potatoes have a higher concentration of potassium than bananas. These round tubers are related to tomatoes; they are also packed with Vitamin C, fibre and protein. They are very affordable and can be fried, baked, and cooked, which makes them a very versatile vegetable to add to your meals. It’s also worth mentioning that on average, potatoes contain 80mg of Tryptophan per ounce, which makes them a healthy addition to daily and weekly meals. 

8. Walnuts

These small, textured and delicious nuts just don’t make for the perfect snack, but they are also rich in nutrients. Walnuts are packed with Omega 3 acids and are beneficial when you’re trying to lose weight as well. 

They are also packed with Vitamin E, copper, folic acid, phosphorous, manganese, and plant compounds like phytic acid, ellagic acid, and melatonin. For people who have issues sleeping, nuts like almonds and walnuts are all sleep-inducing foods.

A healthy dose of walnuts will also help to regulate your metabolism. One serving of walnuts contains about 318mg of tryptophan, which helps alleviate depression, and is also associated with boosting brain function. 

9. Oat bran

Oats are one of the healthiest grains you’ll find out there. They have so many vitamins, minerals, and fibres and are an excellent food choice for both kids and adults. With potent vitamins and minerals like thiamine, magnesium, iron, zinc, riboflavin, and potassium, oats are grains you’ll want to add to your diet. 

A properly balanced diet plays a vital role in maintaining health and vitality, and the truth is, some foods just do better than others when it comes to nutritional values. For people with heart diseases, high blood pressure, and even diabetes, oats should not be excluded from your diet.

Why are oats so important? Well, they contain soluble fibre which aids the healthy digestion of carbs and stabilizes the blood sugar. One cup of cooked bran also provides up to 7 grams of protein. In addition to that, they contain amino acids rich in tryptophan. So, go ahead and add oats to your cereals, salads, and other dishes for a healthy dose of all the benefits it comes with. 

10. Soy

Soybean and various soy products are very popular in Asia, and although soy is a very controversial product, it’s still very nutritious. Soybeans are complete proteins; this means they have all nine essential amino acids, including tryptophan. For vegetarians who want to avoid animal-based proteins at all costs, soy is an essential food to add to your diet. 

It’s a vital source of plant-based proteins and contains water, fibre, omega 3’s and 6. You can also incorporate soybeans, tofu, and soymilk into meals. One cup of soybeans contains 535mg of tryptophan.

11. Leafy greens

tryptophan rich vegetarian foods

image credit: Iñigo De la Maza

Collard greens, spinach, kale, and beet greens have a high folate content; however, what many people don’t know is that these leafy, nutritious greens are also rich vitamin C, phytochemicals, and fibre. Their alkalizing properties equally make them suitable for fighting chronic diseases. 

Consuming leafy greens like kale and watercress gives a rich dose of vitamin K, C, and A, as well as amino acids like tryptophan. The brain needs tryptophan to produce serotonin which is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Greens like spinach are very high in tryptophan which is excellent news for vegetarians who include it regularly in soups, sauces, and salads. 

12. Bananas

Bananas contain both tryptophan and dopamine which both help to improve the mood, alleviate anxiety, and improve sleep patterns. They are already associated with being the fun fruit of the bunch, but what many don’t know is how helpful they are in reducing stress and blood pressure. What’s even better is how delicious they are; these yummy fruits are also very filling, which reduces the urge to eat for a while. 

Just one average-sized banana contains fibre, manganese, copper, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and B6. More so, bananas also contain potent antioxidants such as serotonin. This helps to promote a happier mood, in addition to increasing brain functions like learning and good memory. 

Although there has been some controversy about its net starch and sugar content, you’ll be surprised to know that bananas are actually good for arthritis. 

13. Almonds

As mentioned before, nuts have potent amounts of nutrients, especially almonds. Nuts like almonds, pistachios, and cashews contain over 50mg of tryptophan per 1/4th cup. 

Almonds are so rich in nutrients and are healthier choices when baking or cooking certain pastries. In fact, they are a top choice recommended by dieticians because of their fiber, protein, magnesium, manganese, and vitamin E content. Both the raw nut and by-products give healthy doses of antioxidants which help reduce inflammations. 

Interestingly, consuming nuts can actually help with weight loss. This is because they have high levels of LDL lipoproteins which reduce cholesterol levels. Plus, since they are low in carbs and high in protein and fiber, they leave you feeling fuller after eating a handful. For nut butter lovers who are after a high-tryptophan option,  almond is a healthier and tastier choice to use as spreads or dressings. In fact, it’s one of the healthiest nut butters for weightloss

14. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds, also known as sunflower kernels, usually have beautiful white and black striped hulls. They may be high in fat, but it’s mostly polyunsaturated fat which is actually good for the heart. Just like soy, sunflower seeds contain all essential amino acids including tryptophan. So, a handful of sunflower seeds won’t just be delicious, they will help stabilize sleep schedules and moods alongside a long list of other health benefits. 

These seeds are also rich in vitamin E, selenium, niacin, fibers, and protein. The niacin content comes from tryptophan and helps repair DNA whilst lowering cholesterol. 

15. Legumes

Fabaceae is the family that legumes and beans fall under. They also happen to be one of the most loved by vegetarians. Additionally, there’s one thing these lentils do have in common, which is their potent content of tryptophan; a cup has an average of 180 milligrams. 

Legumes are very rich in proteins, which make them an excellent replacement for chicken, turkey, fish, and other meat-based proteins. Legumes like chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans contain healthy amounts of thiamine, folate, manganese, fibre, copper, iron, phosphorous, and more. 

Different legumes serve various purposes, but they are not so dissimilar to each other. At the same time, chickpeas are known to reduce the risk of various diseases, whilst lentils aid in maintaining gut health and lowering blood sugar. Peas are equally an excellent choice for diabetics looking for a good source of protein that won’t affect their sugar levels. They help to reduce insulin in the blood and increase the feeling of fullness. 

To Conclude

To conclude, tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is common in protein-rich foods. However, there are so many other tryptophan-rich foods suitable for vegetarian diets. It’s great for growing children and is present in most of the common foods we eat every day. 

Incorporating more of these foods into your daily diet will help the body produce vitamins like niacin and serotonin. Try to do this in conjunction with other foods rich in iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B6. For those suffering from depression, sleep disorders, and mood swings, the foods mentioned above might also help to alleviate such symptoms. 

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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.