6 Tryptophan-Rich Food Groups For Poor Sleep & Anxiety Issues

Foods to include in your diet to help your body reap all benefits of this amino acid.

Medically reviewed by Heather M. Duquette-Wolf, RD, CSSD Heather M. Duquette-Wolf Heather M. Duquette-WolfRD, CSSD facebook_icon
Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health Swathi Handoo MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health Experience: 4 years
Edited by , BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Ravi Teja Tadimalla BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Experience: 8 years
Fact-checked by , BEd, MSc (Microbiology), Diploma In Nutrition Aparna Mallampalli BEd, MSc (Microbiology), Diploma In Nutrition Experience: 5 years
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Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is used in protein synthesis. Your body cannot synthesize this biomolecule and needs to be supplemented through diet. What foods are rich in tryptophan? It is present in most protein-based foods. This amino acid is used to perform many bodily functions. It controls your mood, sleep, and hunger cycles. It is the building block of many neurotransmitters and hormones. Hence, it is important to consume this amino acid in recommended quantities.

protip_icon Trivia
Tryptophan was discovered in 1901 by British biochemists Frederick Gowland Hopkins and Sydney W. Cole.

This article explores the list of top foods rich in tryptophan, their potential health benefits, and the possible side effects due to their excess intake. Keep reading to know more.

What Is Tryptophan? Why Is It So Important?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. It is the precursor of a neurochemical called serotonin (1). Serotonin takes care of the regulation of your mood, anxiety, and depression.

Serotonin is made from tryptophan in two steps. The concentration of tryptophan in your brain controls the rate of serotonin synthesis. This means, lower the levels of tryptophan in your brain, lesser the rate of serotonin synthesis. Low serotonin in the brain may lead to depression, anxiety, and, in some cases, insomnia.

Tryptophan also gets converted into another important active ingredient – vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide). This vitamin, along with other principles, takes care of growth and development in children and adults (2).

Since it is involved in such critical processes, your body needs a constant supply of tryptophan. Can it be done?

Well, no. Your body cannot produce enough tryptophan to meet all its needs. You need to provide this amino acid externally through diet. This is why it is called an essential amino acid (2).

Simply put, if you include foods with tryptophan in your diet, there will be enough of it in your body. Sufficient tryptophan in your brain pool ensures optimal serotonin synthesis. This means you can have a good night’s sleep!

Now comes the big question – which foods are rich in tryptophan?

Scroll to the next section for the answer!
Check out the lists below to know how much of tryptophan your favorite foods contain.

1. Fruits

Fruits
Image: Shutterstock
FruitTryptophan Content (g/cup)
Apricots (dehydrated, uncooked)0.104
Plantains (yellow, baked)0.029
Kiwifruit (green, raw)0.027
Mangoes (raw)0.021
Oranges (raw, unpeeled)0.020
Cherries (sweet, with pits, raw)0.012
Papaya (raw)0.012
Figs (raw)0.004
Pears (raw)0.003
Apples (raw, peeled)0.001

Source: USDA, USDA Food Composition Databases

2. Vegetables

Vegetables
Image: Shutterstock
VegetableTryptophan Content (g/cup)
Soybeans (green, raw)0.402
Cowpeas (blackeyes, boiled)0.167
Lima beans (boiled)0.151
Potatoes (scalloped with butter)0.103
Garlic (raw)0.090
Kidney beans (sprouted, raw)0.081
Broccoli (boiled, no salt)0.059
Asparagus (boiled, no salt)0.052
Brussels sprouts (raw)0.033
Mung beans (sprouted, boiled)0.035
Cauliflower (green, raw)0.025
Onions (raw, chopped)0.022
Carrots (raw)0.015
Okra (raw, frozen)0.013
Spinach (raw)0.012
Kale (raw)0.007
Leeks (boiled, no salt)0.007 per leek

Source: USDA, USDA Food Composition Databases

3. Nuts And Seeds

Nuts-And-Seeds
Image: Shutterstock
Nuts/SeedsTryptophan Content (g/cup)
Pumpkin seed kernels (roasted, salted)0.0671
Butternuts (dried)0.439
Sunflower seed kernels (oil roasted)0.413
Almonds (dry roasted)0.288
Hazelnuts (chopped)0.222
Lotus seeds (dried)0.071
Safflower seed meal0.114
Chestnuts (boiled)0.010

Source: USDA, USDA Food Composition Databases

4. Seafood

Seafood
Image: Shutterstock
ProductTryptophan Content (g/measure)
Yellowtail fish (cooked)0.485/0.5 fillet
Bluefish (raw)0.336/fillet
Spiny lobster (cooked)0.313/3 oz.
Queen Crab (cooked)0.281/3 oz.
Salmon (wild, coho, cooked)0.260/3 oz.
Tuna (white, canned in oil)0.252/3 oz.
Mahimahi (cooked)0.226/ 3 oz.
Herring (pickled)0.223/cup
Atlantic cod (canned)0.217/3 oz.
Blue mussels (raw)0.200/cup
Mackerel (raw)0.184/3 0z.
Wolffish (Atlantic, raw)0.167/3 oz.
Octopus (raw)0.142/3 oz.
Oyster (wild, eastern, cooked)0.117/3 oz.

Source: USDA, USDA Food Composition Databases

5. Dairy Products

Dairy productTryptophan Content (g/cup)
Mozzarella cheese0.727
Cheddar cheese0.722
Swiss cheese0.529
Parmesan cheese (grated)0.383
American cheese spread0.335
Feta cheese (crumbled)0.300
Whey (dried, sweet)0.297
Mexican cheese (Queso chihuahua)0.261
Cottage cheese (creamed)0.166
Ricotta cheese (part skim milk)0.157/½ cup
Milk (3.7% milk fat)0.112
Camembert cheese0.087/oz.
Egg (whole, raw, fresh)0.083/piece
Cream (fluid, heavy whipping)0.079
Yogurt (whole milk, plain)0.034/container
Cream cheese0.010/tablespoon
Sour cream (cultured)0.005/tablespoon
Butter (salted)0.001/pat(1″sq, 1/3″ high)

Source: USDA, USDA Food Composition Databases

6. Cereal Grains And Pasta

ProductTryptophan Content (g/cup)
Barley meal0.259
Pasta (plain)0.183/4 oz.
All-purpose flour0.159
Rice (white, long-grain, raw)0.154
Rice flour (brown)0.145
Sorghum flour (whole grain)0.128
Corn grain (white)0.111
Teff (cooked)0.103
Somen noodles (Japanese, dry)0.083/2 oz.
Corn flour (yellow, enriched)0.071
Cooked rice with salt (long grain, white)0.049
Rice noodles (cooked)0.039

Source: USDA, USDA Food Composition Databases

The charts prove that there is a lot of tryptophan around us. We only have to choose the right ingredients and make our meals tasty. Also, most of these ingredients taste yum!

protip_icon Fun Fact
Thanksgiving’s favorite dish, turkey, has a high content of tryptophan that causes sleepiness after a large turkey dinner.

While you are prepping to whip up some tryptophan-boosting dishes, let me quickly brief you about how tryptophan benefits you.

What Are The Benefits Of Boosting Tryptophan Through Diet?

1. Can Reduce Anxiety, Depression, And Aggression

Tryptophan foods can reduce aggression
Image: Shutterstock

The synthesis of critical neurochemicalsi  Small organic molecules, critical for nervous system functions, that transmit signals between the nerve cells and the organs. is dependent on tryptophan. This essential amino acid gets converted to serotonin. Several studies found that a deficiency in serotonin was responsible for anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness.

These studies revealed that people who followed diets rich in tryptophan (>10 mg/kg of bodyweight) had lesser episodes of depression and anxiety. Irritability was lower in controls and subjects that had a history of depression and anxiety (1).

It is also noteworthy that optimal supplementation of tryptophan (along with other therapeutic agents) can reduce aggression in subjects with depression, ADHDi  A common neurodevelopmental disorder with symptoms like constant fidgeting, impulsive behavior, and excessive talking. , and other behavioral disorders (3).

A study conducted on 63,277 participants (divided into low and high dietary TLR subgroups) found that the depressive symptoms score was marginally higher in the low dietary tryptophan to other amino acids (TLR) group (57%) than that of the high dietary TLR group (43%). This study indicated that low tryptophan levels may be associated with depression.

2. Controls Mood Swings During PMS

Tryptophan can reduce the severity of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in sexually active women. Subjects receiving about 6 g/day of tryptophan showed reduction in dysphoriai  A state of discomfort a person experiences when their biological sex differs from their gender identity. , mood swings, and irritability when compared to controls on placebo (3).

Tryptophan is responsible for the synthesis of kynurenine, an intermediate of several key protective compounds in the body. Increased level of tryptophan is directly proportional to increased kynurenine synthesis. This chemical soothes your CNS and behavior in the late-luteal phasei  The last menstrual cycle phase that starts when the pregnancy hormone levels decrease and ends on the day before the period. of the menstrual cycle (3).

3. Can Help Manage Sleep Disorders

Boosting tryptophan levels through diet can treat a variety of sleep disorders. A dose of about 2.5 mg of tryptophan given during bedtime improved the quality of sleep in individuals with obstructive sleep apnea.

Unlike other sleep disorder medications, tryptophan doesn’t slow down the person. It doesn’t limit cognitive performance or prevent you from waking up from sleep. Therefore, dietary sources of tryptophan can be used with medical supervision to manage sleep disorders early in life (3).

Tryptophan Trivia!

  • Eating tryptophan-rich foods can help wean you off cigarettes, tobacco, and nicotine.
  • Dietary tryptophan reduces anxiety and helps in better abstinence from smoking.
  • Infants have a better regulated sleep-wake-hunger cycle if fed on natural breast milk (which is rich in tryptophan) or on tryptophan-enriched formula.

4. Might Possess Anti-inflammatory Properties

Low serum levels of tryptophan were linked to cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease), chronic kidney disease, and other inflammatory diseases (4).

This proves that tryptophan might boost anti-inflammatory effects in your body. This amino acid is linked to blood glucose level control, kynurenine-mediated cardioprotection, neuroprotection, and memory power (4).

No wonder tryptophan is classified as an essential amino acid! Don’t you now agree when I say it really means business?

Well, I can still sense some doubt in your head. I had it too when I was doing my research on tryptophan. All I could think of then is this.

Could There Be Any Side Effects Of Tryptophan Intake?

Valid question.

Tryptophan is involved in almost every activity our body performs. It is hence needed in large amounts. So, irrespective of the mode of intake, it better be safe!

It was found that tryptophan had a low toxicity profile in rats (2).

The 9th Amino Acid Assessment Workshop proposed a No Observable Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) for diet-added tryptophan of 4.5 g/day for young adults (2).

This is why tryptophan is added to sleep-inducing pills and mood regulation medications.

However, there are hypotheses claiming high-meat diets containing high nicotinamide might cause infertility. Though meat products have low tryptophan levels, the conversion rate to niacin and kynurenine is higher (2).

Hence, it is recommended to keep your doctor informed about your dietary habits. Pregnant and lactating women should follow the diet plans framed by the gynecologist and/or nutritionist.

Tryptophan has numerous benefits, and you can easily get it from common fruits and vegetables. But what about its supplements? Is it safe to take them? Find out in the next section.

Are Tryptophan Supplements Safe?

Yes. According to a case study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 1 gram of tryptophan supplementation 45 minutes before bedtime is safe to consume. The study further states that the supplementation had only a few mild side effects, such as nausea, and there were no withdrawal symptoms on discontinuation. It further adds that in rare cases, tryptophan supplements may interact with drugs that improve serotonin function, resulting in serotonin syndrome, which includes mild to severe symptoms, such as shivering, diarrhea, fever, and seizures (5). Therefore, always consult your doctor before adding tryptophan supplements to your diet.

Infographic: Everything You Need To Know About Tryptophan

Tryptophan is one of the important amino acids required by the body. Since it is not produced by the body, it is vital we get it from the diet. It contributes to the body’s growth and development and is found in various foods like chicken and fish meat, eggs, soybeans, lentils, quinoa, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, and seaweed.

Check out the infographic below to learn about tryptophan, its importance, how to obtain it, and what its supplements can do to your body.

everything about tryptophan (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays a key role in protein synthesis. But your body can not produce enough tryptophan. So, you should supplement it through regular foods or specialized supplements. Consuming enough tryptophan may help reduce anxiety, depression, and aggression, control mood swings during PMS, manage sleep disorders, and prevent inflammatory diseases. Apricots, vegetables, nuts and seeds, seafood, and dairy products are rich in tryptophan. Consume them in the required amounts to reap their maximum benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a high tryptophan breakfast?

A high tryptophan breakfast consists of oats, nuts, eggs, milk, tofu, and beans.

Do bananas have tryptophan?

Yes, bananas have tryptophan. A medium-sized banana has approximately 11 milligrams of tryptophan.

Is tryptophan toxic in humans?

No, tryptophan is not toxic to humans. However, the L-tryptophan supplements may cause serious side effects like drowsiness, vomiting, and blurred vision. Therefore, do not take these supplements without consulting a doctor.

How can tryptophan-rich foods be incorporated into a balanced diet?

You can prepare your favorite dishes by adding the tryptophan-rich foods mentioned in the article. However, ensure you use unprocessed ingredients rather than processed foods. Also, the recommended daily intake for adults is estimated to be between 3.5 and 6.0 mg/kg of body weight per day (3). Therefore, be careful to not consume more than recommended.

Key Takeaways

  • Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that needs to be supplemented through proper diet and nutrition.
  • It plays a crucial role in regulating mood, sleep, and diet patterns.
  • Consuming an adequate amount of protein-rich diet can ensure good levels of tryptophan in your body.
tryptophan rich foods_illustration

Image: Dall·E/StyleCraze Design Team


Learn about 10 tryptophan-rich foods that can help you sleep better and improve your mood. Watch the video below for essential diet tips you need to get a better night’s rest.

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

    1. The Effects of Dietary Tryptophan on Affective Disorders” Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, US National Library of Medicine.
    2. Analysis, Nutrition, and Health Benefits of Tryptophan” International Journal of Tryptophan Research, US National Library of Medicine.
    3. L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research…” International Journal of Tryptophan Research, US National Library of Medicine.
    4. Tryptophan metabolism, its relation to inflammation and stress…” BMC Nephrology, US National Library of Medicine.
    5. Is tryptophan a natural hypnotic?” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, US National Library of Medicine.
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Heather M. Duquette-Wolf is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a certified specialist in sports dietetics with 13 years of experience. She has been the owner of HMD Nutrition in Scottsdale, Arizona since 1999. She started out in medical nutrition therapy and expanded her area of expertise to intestinal disorders, inflammatory disease and exercise nutrition. She is very passionate about teaching...read full bio

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