Lacking motivation and struggling with mood swings? Consider eating dopamine-rich comfort foods. A great way to boost your happiness and regulate your hormones naturally say the experts. Dopamine is our motivation molecule that drives us towards our goals linked with action and reward, so it pays to fuel this happy hormone with what it needs to keeps us feeling on top of things…
What is Dopamine?
Natalie Lamb is the nutritional therapist for Bio-Kult. “Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain called a neurotransmitter,” she says. It’s the chemical that is linked to action and reward, causing a sense of happiness when released.
In our article “How To Increase Dopamine – The Motivation Molecule” we link the neurotransmitter with feelings of pleasure, reinforcement, and even euphoria. This happens when we practice actions that promote reproduction and survival, such as eating food, winning competitions and having sex.
What are some dopamine-rich foods?
Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson says, “you can’t actually get dopamine in food, but you can get the nutrients needed for your body to make dopamine. One of the most important foods for helping your body make dopamine is protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. One amino acid called tyrosine plays a critical role in the production of dopamine.”
Tyrosine is found in “turkey, beef, dairy, soy, legumes, eggs and nuts,” Shona says, as well as in fish. She goes on, “there is emerging evidence to show that our gut bacteria (probiotics) can produce dopamine. Probiotic-containing foods include live yoghurts, kefir, kimchi and kombucha. Velvet beans, also known as Mucuna Pruriens, naturally contain high levels of L-dopa, the precursor molecule to dopamine, so try including these in your diet.”
And don’t forget your veg. Natalie adds that “fresh vegetables high in fibre and antioxidants and dark green leaves rich in magnesium…play a central role the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA and dopamine.”
Nutritionist Jenna Hope agrees magnesium is important, and suggests getting it from nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate. She also mentions the role of Vitamin D, which “plays an important role in dopamine synthesis. Vitamin D is difficult to get from the diet alone and is mainly produced from exposure to sunlight. Supplementation in the UK is sometimes recommended during the winter months.”
Steer clear the sugar trap, says Kajsa Ernestaum, in-house dietitian from global health app Lifesum. “Sugary foods, like chocolate or sweets, tend to increase dopamine in short bursts, followed by an equally sharp comedown,” she says. And, as well as eating foods that includes tyrosine, she says it is important to eat certain fruits. “For example, apples, berries, and bananas contain a flavonoid antioxidant called quercetin, which is believed to help the brain prevent dopamine loss.”
It ‘too little’ dopamine a thing?
As for if you can have too much or too little dopamine: yes and yes. “Dopamine deficiency symptoms include a lack of motivation, mood swings, and in some cases, hallucinations and muscle spasms. Several studies, including a recent one by Oxford University found that dopamine deficiency can also be related to certain medical conditions, including depression and Parkinson’s disease,” Kajsa says.
She continues, “another Oxford University study found that too much dopamine can be linked to anxiety and stress, as well as medical conditions such as ADHD, or schizophrenia, or a drug addiction. While a healthy balanced diet can help boost your happiness levels and regulate your hormone level, it is important that you seek professional help from your GP and doctor, if you believe that you have too much or too little dopamine in your body, and that it is causing you medical problems.”
Now check out some dopamine-rich comfort food dishes and advice from recipe box provider Gousto.
Dopamine-rich comfort foods
Fish and Chips
Fish is high in omega 3 fatty acids, known to help boost dopamine. Another way to increase the dopamine hit within your fish and chips is to fry them in rapeseed oil. This oil contains omega-3 as well as having a high cooking temperature, perfect for deep frying.
Strawberries and Cream
This sweet treat is as comforting as it is mood-boosting, with fresh fruit and dairy products being a great source of the happy hormone, too.
Lean meat such as chicken is a great source of protein when prepared simply, such as roasted. Combine with a selection of roasted veggies for a comforting blue Monday meal.
Cheese on Toast
A simple and quick snack combines comforting carbohydrates with protein-rich dairy.
Hot Chocolate made with 80% Dark Chocolate
No chopping involved with this comforting cuppa! Dark chocolate is well reported for its mood-boosting and antioxidant-rich qualities.
Almond Nut Butter
The shell of a nut contains lots of nutrients. They contain the perfect blend of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and feel completely comforting when blended into a nut butter and spread on toast for a dopamine-fuelled snack.
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Hettie is the editor and co-founder of DOSE. A keen runner, she’s also partial to a blast of high-intensity and hot yoga. A country girl at heart, she divides her time between London and the lush rolling hills of North Devon. When she’s not jetting off on her next adventure, Hettie can be found in a candle-lit alcove with a laptop, a spaniel and a full bodied Malbec.