Healthy eating: What to eat to improve anxiety, depression and mood

Tryptophan is a dietary amino acid proven to boost your mood and see off anxiety and depression

Roast turkey high in tryptophan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There's a lot of research coming to the same conclusion these days: that anxiety and depression begins in the gut. The micronutrients in our food do have an impact on the way we feel and how our brains work: for example, an amino acid called tryptophan, found in lots of different foods, has been found to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and boost our mood at the same time. 

Tryptophan is commonly found in high-protein foods like turkey, chicken, eggs, peanuts, tofu, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. 

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of North Dakota, looked at the effect a high-tryptophan diet can have on our mood. To do this, the study measured 25 healthy young adults after consuming a high tryptophan and a low tryptophan diet for four days each.

The end result was pretty surprising. The researchers found analysis of the participants’ mood indicated significantly after consuming a high tryptophan diet compared to a low tryptophan diet. In addition, consuming more dietary tryptophan resulted in less depressive symptoms and decreased anxiety.

Healthiest foods: unsaturated fats including seeds

(Image credit: Getty Images)

That's after just four days on a high-tryptophan diet. For meat-eaters, swapping a portion of red meat out for poultry products like chicken, eggs or especially turkey is a great way to begin increasing the tryptophan content of your diet. Alternatively, throw pumpkin seeds on your porridge, try a vegetarian tofu-based meal, or swap your potato chip snacks with unsalted peanuts. 

There's loads more benefits to the amino acid, too. One study from the International Journal of Tryptophan Research found "Dietary tryptophan... seems to have the potential to contribute to the therapy of autism, cardiovascular disease, cognitive function, chronic kidney disease, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, sleep, social function, and microbial infections."

That's a pretty impressive list of benefits from this humble amino acid. With better sleep and improved mental and physical health, there's no reason not to take advantage of this superfood amino acid. 

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Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.