Unfortunately, there is “no guarantee of the strength or purity” of over-the-counter melatonin supplements, which have been found to contain impurities that “raise serious [safety] questions.”
“For these reasons, melatonin [supplements] cannot be recommended.” Too bad there’s no way you can get the benefits without the risks—unless melatonin was somehow found naturally in certain foods you could eat. “Melatonin was first discovered in plants…in 1995,” and has since been found throughout the plant kingdom. But, enough that eating them actually affects your levels? Yes. You randomize people to eat more or fewer vegetables, and you can see the effect.
Hard to get people to eat vegetables though. How about beer? The “[m]elatonin present in beer contributes to [an] increase [in] the levels of melatonin [in the human bloodstream].” However, alcohol consumption may actually mess with your own “endogenous melatonin secretion,” so beer probably isn’t the best choice.
Eat two bananas, or drink the juice of about two pounds of oranges or pineapple, and you can get significant bumps in melatonin concentrations in your blood. And, the melatonin levels found in those fruits are pretty “modest compared to” some other foods. Here’s the breakdown. The single food within each category with the highest recorded melatonin level, and how much you’d have to eat at one time to reach a physiological dose in your bloodstream.
We make melatonin, so it should come as no surprise that other animals do, too. The most melatonin-rich meat tested was salmon, but because there were only billionths of a gram per serving, you’d have to sit down and eat about 200 pounds to get the effect.
Okay. So, forget meat. What about whole grains? The highest recorded was a strain of corn so rich in melatonin you’d only have to eat 16 ears of corn. All right, scratch that. What about other vegetables? Plain white button mushrooms top the list. Only two pounds. A hundred times more melatonin than meat. But still, they’re so light; two pounds is like eating 10 cups of mushrooms. That’s a lot in one sitting. Thankfully, cranberries to the rescue; the most melatonin-rich fruit. Just a single ounce, and it’s like you just took a melatonin supplement, with only good side effects—other than, of course, the extreme sourness.
That’s about a third of a cup of cranberries. They’re pretty sturdy. So, you could travel without them getting smooshed. But what do you do with them once you get there? Easy to blend into a smoothie, but what if you’re stuck in a hotel? Can you eat dried cranberries, like, what are they called—craisins?
A study of various tart cherry products suggests that the drying process wipes out the melatonin. So, no melatonin in dried cherries, and presumably dried cranberries either—nor in juice. The level of melatonin in cherry juice concentrate was almost nondetectable. So, drinking cranberry juice would also presumably be a wash, which brings us to nuts.
Pistachios are not just the most melatonin-rich nut, they are simply off-the-charts as the most melatonin-rich food ever recorded. To get a physiological dose of melatonin, all you have to eat is two. Two what? Just two pistachios. Check it out; here are the data. More than 200 micrograms of melatonin per gram, .2 milligrams per gram. And, you can get the normal daily spike your brain gives you by taking just .3 micrograms: so, just two nuts. So, taking a whole handful of pistachio nuts is like taking one of those high-dose melatonin supplements. So, the best food for jet lag appears to be appropriately timed pistachios.
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Oladi E, Mohamadi M, Shamspur T, Mostafavi A. Spectrofluorimetric determination of melatonin in kernels of four different Pistacia varieties after ultrasound-assisted solid-liquid extraction. Spectrochim Acta A Mol Biomol Spectrosc. 2014;132:326-9.
Sae-teaw M, Johns J, Johns NP, Subongkot S. Serum melatonin levels and antioxidant capacities after consumption of pineapple, orange, or banana by healthy male volunteers. J Pineal Res. 2013;55(1):58-64.