Next time you splurge on a delicious lobster dinner, remember that there’s a lot more to it than a rich taste and unique texture. In addition to certain vitamins and minerals, lobster meat is a good source of tryptophan -- an amino acid that promotes positive mood and relaxation. In fact, you may need that mood boost when the waiter hands you the check.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid in the human diet, which means your body can’t manufacture it and must get it directly from food sources. Your body uses tryptophan to make serotonin -- a neurotransmitter or brain chemical important for regulating mood. Serotonin, in turn, is converted to melatonin, which is the main hormone related to regulating sleep cycles. As such, serotonin is essential for feelings of happiness or contentment and the ability to get a deep and restful sleep. A lack of dietary tryptophan reduces your body’s ability to produce serotonin and increases the risk of moodiness, depression, PMS and insomnia. Fortunately, almost all protein-based foods contain some tryptophan, including lobster.
Lobster is a type of salt-water crustacean and closely related to shrimp and crab. Most species of lobster are prized for the delicate meat found in their tails and front pincers, or claws. Lobster meat is especially rich in vitamins B-5 and B-12, and the minerals zinc, copper and selenium, but it's also a very good source of tryptophan. For example, 1 cup of steamed lobster meat contains about 580 milligrams of tryptophan, which is more than most protein-rich foods including turkey, but not quite as much as eggs, seaweed or some types of fish. The way in which you cook lobster doesn’t affect the amount of tryptophan available to your body.
More Economical Sources
Although lobster is an excellent source of tryptophan, it’s not a very economical source, unless you live next to the Atlantic ocean and have your own boat and lobster traps. Cheaper sources of tryptophan include egg whites, cottage cheese, tofu, soy milk, poultry, sunflower seeds, pineapple, bananas, kelp and spinach. For comparison, 1 cup of raw spinach contains 12 milligrams of tryptophan, whereas 1 cup of egg whites contain about 300 milligrams.
Even without any melted butter, lobster is very high in cholesterol -- 1 cup of meat contains about 100 milligrams of cholesterol. Your body needs some cholesterol to build cell membranes and steroid-based hormones, but too much can increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis -- also known as clogged arteries. As such, eat lobster in moderation and consider doing without the added butter.
- Human Biochemistry; Charles Dreiling
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- USDA; Nutrient Data Laboratory: Raw Spinach
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.