Quick. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I ask you this question…what are the benefits for your body of a healthy diet? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of things like decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes or even certain types of cancer. But would you be surprised to know that your diet can also have a big impact on brain health too? According to BrainFacts.org, “diet also influences the brain and can increase the risk for mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.”
Mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases is a mouthful (pun intended) and a huge topic—one best left for another blog post. For now, I’m going to focus on what we do best and talk about dopamine and your diet.
So what is the connection between dopamine, a key neurotransmitter in your brain, and your diet? Well, it turns out, a lot. If you’ve ever done any research on dopamine, then no doubt you've seen the reference to the feeling you get when you eat your favorite food. That feeling—you know the one—of sheer joy when you eat chocolate or sit down to a big bowl of mac and cheese (yes, I admit, I love that mac and cheese feeling). That feeling is dopamine being released in your brain.
But here is the problem. The more you indulge in your favorite treat, the more dopamine it takes to get to your happy food place. Your brain then tries to compensate by actually lowering the amount of dopamine released. Get the picture? More treats = cravings for more treats = lower dopamine. See what I did there, I threw in the “C” word…CRAVING. A side effect of low dopamine.
From my previous blog posts, you know that dopamine is a neurotransmitter. The chemicals phenylalanine, tyrosine, L-dopa are considered dopamine precursors. Phenylalanine and tyrosine are both amino acids. Aside from taking Synaptamine, which contains phenylalanine and tyrosine, your diet should also include balanced sources of food that either contain these important amino acids or help promote the natural production of dopamine.
But what foods you ask? Here is a list:
- Proteins like eggs, fish, poultry and lean meat
- Folate rich foods (folate helps promote production of dopamine) like broccoli, green leafy vegetables or cauliflower (cauliflower mashed “potato” who’s with me!?)
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away—and helps promote the production of dopamine as a bonus
- Nuts like almonds or walnuts (but just a handful!)
- And for your sweet tooth, dark chocolate is also high in tyrosine (70% or higher)
There are endless ways to follow a dopamine-friendly diet. Here are a few of my favorites:
Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet
The Paleo Diet
The Louise Parker Method: Lean For Life Cookbook
The bottom line is this…everything in your body is interconnected. Living a healthy lifestyle means being thoughtful about all of you—including your brain.