Top 6 Food Groups Rich In Tryptophan – Why Should You Eat Them?

Reviewed By Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Heather M. Duquette-Wolf, RD, CSSD
Written by Swathi Handoo

There is a reason amino acids are called the ‘building blocks of life.’ Without these biomolecules, you cannot sleep, wake up, eat, or even breathe! Out of the 20 genetically coded amino acids, a few need to be supplemented by your diet to meet your body’s needs. These are called essential amino acids. One of them is tryptophan. And it means serious business!

Tryptophan is the building block of several neurotransmitters and hormones. These chemicals control your mood, sleep, and hunger cycles. Therefore, it becomes imperative to provide your body with enough tryptophan. But how? Worry not, we’ve got a lot! Read on to know the top foods with tryptophan and a lot more.

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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 eat foods rich in tryptophan regularly, there will be enough tryptophan in your body. Sufficient tryptophan in your brain’s 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!

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What Are The Dietary Sources Of Tryptophan?

Check out the lists below to know how much of tryptophan your favorite foods contain.

1. Fruits

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

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/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

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!

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

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What Are The Benefits Of Boosting Tryptophan Through Diet?

1. Can Reduce Anxiety, Depression, And Aggression


The synthesis of critical neurochemicals 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, ADHD, and other behavioral disorders (3).

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 dysphoria, 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 phase 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.

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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.


If you are struggling with sleep, mood swings, or depression, eat a few foods from these lists. You never know what might help!

Consider talking to a psychiatrist while you try these foods. Remember, these foods cannot cure a clinical condition completely. They can only reduce the severity to an extent.

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How did you find this article? Share your stories, suggestions, and queries with us. Use the comments section below.


  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.
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Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.