The Best Vegan Food Sources of Tryptophan [Table]

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Tryptophan is an important essential amino acid that may be harder for you to get on a vegan diet (along with other amino acids like lysine and methionine).

With that said, it’s still not difficult to meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) if you’re eating the right kind of foods.

You can get enough in just a serving or two of certain plant foods.

How Much Tryptophan Do You Need?

The RDA, which was set by the U.S. Institute of Medicine in 2002 is 5 mg/kg body weight for adults.

For a 170 lb (77 kg) individual, this works out to 385 mg (0.385 grams) per day, which is possible to get in a serving or two of certain foods, as you’ll see below.

Why Tryptophan is Important

In case you need a quick refresher, tryptophan is important mainly because it’s involvement in making brain serotonin.

This leads to effects on mood, behavior, appetite, sleep, memory, and so much more. It’s an amino acid you don’t want to skip out on.

A List of The Best Vegan Tryptophan Food Sources (Per Serving)

After looking at over 120 whole foods listed in the USDA food database, here’s what it looks like when you sort by tryptophan content.

FoodTryptophan (g) per 100 gramsTryptophan (g) per 100 calories
Seaweed (dried)0.930.33
Chia seeds0.440.09
Sesame seeds0.390.07
Hemp seeds0.370.07
Pumpkin seeds0.330.07
Flaxseed0.300.06
Pistachio nuts0.250.04
Peanuts0.250.04
Cashew0.240.04
Oats0.230.06
Almonds0.210.04
Hazelnut0.190.03
Buckwheat groats0.170.05
Walnut0.170.03
Soybeans0.150.11
Brazil nut0.140.02
Rye grain0.110.03
Pine nuts0.110.02
Black beans0.110.08
Kidney beans0.100.08
Navy beans0.100.07
Pecans0.090.01
Lima beans0.090.07
Chickpeas0.080.05
Lentils0.080.07
Mung bean0.080.07
Adzuki beans0.070.06
Fava bean0.070.07
Macadamia nut0.070.01
Garlic0.070.05
Quinoa0.050.04
Rapini0.040.20
Coconut meat0.040.01
Spinach0.040.17
Barley0.040.03
Peas0.040.05
Cowpeas0.040.04
Kale0.040.10
Chestnut0.030.01
Jackfruit0.030.04
Broccoli0.030.10
Rice0.030.02
Sweet potato0.030.04
Asparagus0.030.13
Brussels sprouts0.030.08
Watercress0.030.23
Turnip greens0.030.08
Avocado0.030.01
Corn0.020.03
Lettuce (red leaf)0.020.17
Guava0.020.03
Beets0.020.05
Lotus root0.020.03
Cauliflower0.020.08
Cassava0.020.01
Green bean0.020.06
Swiss chard0.020.09
White potato0.020.02
Okra0.020.05
Bamboo shoot0.020.14
Bok choy0.020.12
Apricot0.020.03
Onion0.010.04
Mango0.010.02
Carrot0.010.03
Leek0.010.02
Green bell pepper0.010.06
Red bell pepper0.010.05
Cabbage0.010.05
Squash0.010.07
Radish0.010.07
Grapes0.010.01
Peach0.010.03
Zucchini0.010.06
Celery0.010.07
Plum0.010.02
Eggplant0.010.04
Grapefruit0.010.02
Banana0.010.01
Cherry0.010.01
Strawberry0.010.03
Orange0.010.02
Date0.010.00
Lychee0.010.01
Tomato0.010.03
Fig0.010.01
Cucumber0.010.03
Nectarine0.010.01
Melon0.010.01

Despite not having much protein overall, some grains have a relatively high percentage of tryptophan.

Types of Vegan Foods High in Tryptophan

We can categorize most of the foods in the table above to generalize what types of foods are high in tryptophan:

  • Grains – Oats, buckwheat, and rye grain are all near the top of the list, just as they are some of the best vegan phenylalanine sources.
  • Seeds – After the grains, seeds make up the majority of the top foods. When it comes to just about any amino acid and several vitamins and minerals, seeds are always one of the best vegan sources. They should be a staple of most vegan diets, especially if you’re an athlete.
  • Nuts – Just about all nuts have a respectable amount of protein overall and tryptophan. Pistachios, peanuts, cashews, and almonds are all near the top of the list in terms of amount per 100 grams. 
  • Legumes – Along with a ton of minerals like iron, legumes (beans and lentils mainly) are great vegan sources of protein and tryptophan. Note that even if you sort by the amount of tryptophan per 100 calories, beans still show up fairly high on the list, which really shows how nutritionally packed they are.
  • Leafy greens (if counting calories) – If you sort by the amount of tryptophan per calorie, grains are pretty bad. Instead, the best low calorie foods for tryptophan are leafy greens like seaweed, spinach, kale, and red leaf lettuce. But you’ll need to eat a lot of them to meet your RDA with them alone.

When I look at that list, I notice one thing – diversity. You can get a significant amount of tryptophan from a wide variety of plant foods, unless certain other nutrients.

Unless you know for a fact that you need more, it’s not an amino acid that you typically need to specifically plan for.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.