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.
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)|
|Buckwheat groats||1 cup||567||0.279|
|Sesame seeds||0.5 cup||413||0.279|
|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|
|Black beans||1 cup||227||0.181|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||0.166|
|Mung bean||1 cup||212||0.154|
|Pistachio nuts||0.5 cup||344||0.154|
|Lima beans||1 cup||209||0.151|
|Chia seeds||3 tbsp||146||0.131|
|Fava bean||1 cup||187||0.122|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||0.111|
|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|
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:
Tryptophan (g) per 100 calories
|Seaweed (dried)||1 tbsp||20||0.33|
|Lettuce (red leaf)||0.5 head||20||0.17|
|Bamboo shoot||1 shoot||17||0.14|
|Bok choy||1 cup||9||0.12|
|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|
|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|
|Sesame seeds||0.5 cup||413||0.07|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||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.