The Best Vegan Food Sources of Tryptophan

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Tryptophan is an important essential amino acid that may be harder for you to get on a vegan diet.

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

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, these were the top 30 when it comes to tryptophan in a single serving.

Food Serving Energy (kcal) Tryptophan (g)
Oats 1 cup 607 0.365
Buckwheat groats 1 cup 567 0.279
Sesame seeds 0.5 cup 413 0.279
Soybeans 1 cup 254 0.27
Sunflower seeds 0.5 cup 409 0.244
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 0.209
Rye grain 1 cup 571 0.183
Kidney beans 1 cup 225 0.182
Navy beans 1 cup 255 0.182
Peanuts 0.5 cup 414 0.182
Black beans 1 cup 227 0.181
Adzuki beans 1 cup 294 0.166
Cashew 0.5 cup 393 0.162
Lentils 1 cup 230 0.16
Mung bean 1 cup 212 0.154
Pistachio nuts 0.5 cup 344 0.154
Lima beans 1 cup 209 0.151
Chickpeas 1 cup 269 0.139
Spinach 1 bunch 78 0.133
Chia seeds 3 tbsp 146 0.131
Hazelnut 0.5 cup 424 0.13
Fava bean 1 cup 187 0.122
Almonds 1/2 cup 313 0.114
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 166 0.111
Walnut 0.5 cup 383 0.099
Quinoa 1 cup 222 0.096
Brazil nut 0.5 cup 438 0.09
Swiss chard 10 leafs 91 0.082
Pine nuts 0.5 cup 454 0.072
Seaweed (dried) 1 tbsp 20 0.065
White potato 1 large 255 0.063
Cowpeas 1 cup 160 0.061
Flaxseed 2 tbsp 110 0.061

Despite not having much protein, some grains have a relatively high percentage of tryptophan. Oats, buckwheat, and rye grain are all near the top of the list, just as they are some of the best vegan phenylalanine sources.

After the grains, seeds and beans make up the majority of the top foods. When it comes to just about any amino acid, legumes are always one of the best vegan sources. They should be a staple of most vegan diets, especially if you’re an athlete.

The Top Tryptophan-Rich Vegan Foods (Per 100 Calories)

You’ll notice that a single serving of the top foods in the above list has a lot of calories.

If you’re on a diet, you should instead look for foods that have a higher percentage of tryptophan in them. You’ll have to eat multiple servings to get enough tryptophan, but overall you will consume fewer calories.

I calculated the amount of tryptophan per 100 calories of all those original foods I looked at, and here are the results:

Food Serving Energy (kcal)
Tryptophan (g) per 100 calories
Seaweed (dried) 1 tbsp 20 0.33
Watercress 10 sprigs 3 0.23
Rapini 5 stalks 21 0.20
Spinach 1 bunch 78 0.17
Lettuce (red leaf) 0.5 head 20 0.17
Bamboo shoot 1 shoot 17 0.14
Asparagus 4 spears 13 0.13
Bok choy 1 cup 9 0.12
Soybeans 1 cup 254 0.11
Kale 2 cup 15 0.10
Broccoli 1 cup 31 0.10
Swiss chard 10 leafs 91 0.09
Chia seeds 3 tbsp 146 0.09
Kidney beans 1 cup 225 0.08
Black beans 1 cup 227 0.08
Brussels sprouts 1 cup 56 0.08
Cauliflower 1 cup 27 0.08
Turnip greens 1 cup 18 0.08
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 0.07
Mung bean 1 cup 212 0.07
Lima beans 1 cup 209 0.07
Navy beans 1 cup 255 0.07
Lentils 1 cup 230 0.07
Squash 1 large 52 0.07
Sesame seeds 0.5 cup 413 0.07
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 166 0.07
Celery 1 stalk 9 0.07
Radish 2 large 3 0.07
Fava bean 1 cup 187 0.07
Green bell pepper 1 large 33 0.06

The grains are pretty bad when it comes to tryptophan per calorie, not even making the top 30 of this list.

The best foods 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.

Beans still show up in the middle of this list, which shows how nutritionally dense they are.

About the author

Dale C.

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance writer. Trying to do my small part in making the world better by writing about the wonderful world of veganism.

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