What Is Serotonin

What Is Serotonin, How It Helps With Weight Loss & How To Increase It

June 2, 2021

Have you met Sara Tonen?  If not, you are in for a treat!  😉 Just having her around will keep you calm and she really knows how to keeps you focused on whatever task you may be trying to complete.

People that know her say they feel less anxious in general and are in a good mood when she’s around. If she goes on vacation or maybe sleeps in a bit, you may start to feel depressed or not be able to sleep yourself.

Ok, ok, just kidding. There is no Sara Tonen, but there is Serotonin. By now, you may be wondering what Serotonin is?

What Is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a chemical in our brain that affects nearly every part of the body. It helps with sleeping, digestion and affects bone health. It regulates mood, helping you feel more stable overall with less anxiety and more focus.

If you have too much serotonin, there is an increased risk for osteoporosis, and when you have too little, there is an increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. This brain chemical can also have a significant impact on appetite and food choices. When in good supply, it can curb cravings and reduce appetite if not turn it off completely.

How To Increase Serotonin

What are some ways we can regulate our serotonin levels? Sunshine helps, so does physical activity, and…surprise, a healthy diet.   

Serotonin is made in our brain only after we have consumed starchy or sugary food.

Now, this may sound counterintuitive. Many diets are low-carb, no sugar, or no starch and advertised to make you feel happy or confident and improve your mood. The media pushes a low carb or no-carb diet, and protein content is advertised on almost every label. However, when it comes to overall mental and physical health, some starch is important.


Tryptophan is an amino acid found in all protein (although probably most famous for turkey) and is needed to produce serotonin. Other amino acids compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain. The other amino acids are in greater supply and get into the brain easier than tryptophan.

When we consume some carbohydrates with protein, insulin is released to get the glucose from the cells' carbohydrates. Insulin also keeps those other amino acids circulating in your blood longer, allowing tryptophan easier entry into the brain.

Once in the brain, tryptophan can go to work, creating serotonin.  This is why you feel calm after a starchy meal such as a baked potato with chili or pasta and meat sauce. Now, eating a bag of Twizzlers alone probably will not elicit the same calm. Due to the simple sugars and quicker insulin release, you are likely to feel jittery, followed by a drop in blood sugar. 

Back To Those Trendy Diets

Why do you think people have difficulty staying on a low-carb diet or a keto diet long-term?  I have many thoughts on that to save for another day, but one reason may be the decreased serotonin levels leading to poor mood, some depression, and difficulty sleeping or staying focused. Maybe if a bit of complex carbohydrate is included in every meal, these diets would lead to long-term success.

After bariatric surgery, you are told to limit starches and carbohydrate intake for months after surgery in an effort to maintain muscle mass during rapid weight loss.

But as my clients near the 9-12 month mark after surgery, we begin to add good starches and fruits in appropriate amounts. I find that those who add a small amount of starch, such as ½ slice of whole-grain toast,  ½ c berries, or 1/4 cup potato to their 3 ounces of protein and vegetables, are more satisfied with their diet, have fewer cravings, and have long-lasting success.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, take a look at your diet. Does it look balanced? Is something missing? Our bodies need all three macronutrients in varying amounts. We cannot be at our best if we are missing healthy fats or good carbohydrates.  Get outside, go for a walk and treat yourself with lean meats, healthy fats, and a bit of starch, then feel good – stay focused – and be calm.

What Is Serotonin
Jeannie Boyer


Jeannie Boyer is a registered dietitian, licensed in South Carolina with over 10 years of experience with weight loss and weight management along with a background in clinical nutrition. She obtained her B.S. in nutrition from East Tennessee State University followed by a dietetic internship at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, GA. Jeannie spent many years working with a bariatric practice in California before moving back to the south and is excited to continue working with weight management at East Cooper Bariatric Surgery.