Top 10 Foods Highest in Tryptophan

Photo of Daisy Whitbread Written by Daisy Whitbread
BSc (Hons) MSc DipION
Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
Powered by USDA Nutrition Data.
Top 10 Foods Highest in Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid needed for general growth and development, the production of niacin (vitamin B3), and the neurotransmitter serotonin. (1,2,3)

Serotonin plays an important role in regulating sleep and mood, which is why turkey is sometimes attributed to making people sleepy. (2) The truth, however, is that many other foods contain as much tryptophan as turkey and do not cause drowsiness.

High tryptophan foods include chicken, turkey, red meat, pork, tofu, fish, beans, milk, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, and eggs. The reference dietary intake (RDI) for tryptophan is 4mg per kilogram of body weight or 1.8mg per pound. Therefore, a person weighing 70kg (~154 pounds) should consume around 280mg of tryptophan per day. (4)

Below is a list of the top 10 foods highest in tryptophan with the %RDI calculated for someone weighting 70kg (154lbs). For more high tryptophan foods see the extended list of tryptophan rich foods.

Printable One Page Sheet

Click to Print
List of high tryptophan foods in a one page printable list.

Extended list of Tryptophan Rich Foods

1. Canned Sardines per cup 147% RDI
2. Lobster per 3oz 112% RDI
3. Snow Crab (Queen Crab) per 3oz 100% RDI
4. Oysters per 3oz 64% RDI
5. Sweet Italian Sausage per 3oz link 33% RDI
6. Sweet Potatoes per cup mashed 33% RDI
7. Bulgur per cup cooked 31% RDI
8. Mamey Sapote per cup pieces 31% RDI
9. Liverwurst Spread per 1/4 cup 30% RDI
10. Soba Noodles (Buckwheat) per cup cooked 29% RDI
11. Couscous per cup cooked 27% RDI
12. Smooth Peanut Butter in 2 tblsp 26% RDI
13. Spinach per cup cooked 26% RDI
14. Green Peas per cup cooked 21% RDI
15. Portobellos per cup sliced 20% RDI
16. Broccoli per cup cooked (chopped) 19% RDI
17. Avocados per avocado 18% RDI
18. Guavas per cup 13% RDI
19. Turnip Greens per cup cooked 10% RDI
20. Cocoa Powder per tblsp 6% RDI

Tryptophan and Thyroid Function

Does tryptophan inhibit thyroid function? This preliminary study concludes: "...our findings indicate that the inhibition of the in vitro peroxidase activity of some amino acids may be produced by their interaction with the oxidized form of iodide and/or with the iodide site on the TPO molecule. Further studies are needed to define a possible physiological role for amino acids in thyroid gland regulation." (5)

The study particularly notes that cystine, methionine, and tryptophan may affect thyroid function. That said, this study was done in vitro with tissue samples and did not measure the effect of amino acids on thyroid function in living animals or people. This means there is a long way to go to establish more of a link between amino acids and thyroid function. (5)

If you are looking to restrict tryptophan in your diet, you can use the nutrient ranking tool to see a list of foods low in tryptophan.

You can also use the amino acid calculator to see the total amino acids in any meal.

Use the ranking tool links below to select foods and create your own food list to share or print.

View more nutrients with the nutrient ranking tool, or see ratios with the nutrient ratio tool.

Data Sources and References

  1. Shibata K. Nutritional aspect of tryptophan metabolism J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2018;64(2):90-98. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.64.90. 29710037
  2. Gibson EL. How important is tryptophan in human health? Proc Nutr Soc. 2018 May;77(2):174-188. doi: 10.1017/S0029665117004451. Epub 2018 Jan 25. 29368666
  3. Khaliq S, Haider S, Haleem DJ. L-tryptophan administration and increase in cerebral serotonin levels: Systematic review Pak J Pharm Sci. 2007 Jan;20(1):71-6. 17337433
  4. World Health Organization - Protein and Amino Acid Requirements In Human Nutrition
  5. de Carvalho DP, Rego KG, Rosenthal D. Thyroid peroxidase activity is inhibited by amino acids Thyroid. 1994 Winter;4(4):421-6. doi: 10.1089/thy.1994.4.421. 7711505
MyFoodData provides free nutrition data tools and articles to help you organize and understand the foods you eat.

Try the recipe nutrition calculator, or daily meal planner.

Create a free account to log and track foods.