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Can The Dopamine Diet Really Improve Your Mood?

The latest diet craze was designed to improve your mood and help you lose weight. It's called the Dopamine Diet.

Chips and Dip

Because you really can't eat just one | Photo by Meredith

The Deal with Dopamine

Here's the Dopamine Diet's deal in a nutshell: Dopamine is the feel-good chemical, a neurotransmitter that your brain releases as a reward, often for doing very basic life-sustaining stuff, including eating food. Even the anticipation of eating something tasty can tickle the brain's dopamine-producing pleasure centers. But like so many things in life, too much of a good thing can backfire.

Simple Grilled Chicken with Slaw

Simple Grilled Chicken with Slaw | Photo by Meredith

Instant Rewards and Diminishing Returns

Sugary and high-fat foods are, it seems, literally addictive. There is evidence that, over time, trying to satisfy constant cravings for sweet or fatty foods can dull the complex reward response. Eventually, the effect of dopamine on the brain is diminished. You eat for the reward, but the feeling of pleasure is blunted -- you're not feeling quite as good anymore. So you eat more, which leads to weight gain and even feelings of depression, which only makes you want to eat more to feel good again...but you don't. And on it goes.

Breaking the Cycle: The Dopamine Diet

The idea behind the Dopamine Diet, then, is to get on top of addictive food cravings by boosting dopamine. Protein is a primary food of interest for dopamine dieters. That's because certain amino acids (L-tyrosine) in protein-rich foods are key to dopamine production. Gradually, so the thinking goes, eating foods high in L-tyrosine will boost dopamine, reduce the urge to overeat, and reactivate dopamine receptors that were stunted by overeating. The end result, if the theory holds, is that you become satisfied with smaller portions and your cravings are brought under control.

Recipes for the Dopamine Diet

These are some of the foods promoted by practitioners of the Dopamine Diet as a way to boost dopamine without increasing appetite:

Eggs

Eggs are a complete protein, which means they have all 9 of the essential amino acids. Plus, they offer choline, a nutrient associated with brain health, and antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. All that and only about 70 calories per large egg.

Zucchini and Eggs

Zucchini and Eggs | Photo by naples34102

Lean Meats: Chicken and Turkey

Chicken and turkey provide quality protein without a lot of saturated fat.

Grilled Lemon Yogurt Chicken

Grilled Lemon Yogurt Chicken | Photo by lutzflcat

Fatty Fish: Salmon, Tuna, and Mackerel

Omega-3 fatty acids in these fish help the brain's electrical system fire efficiently and also limit production of a dopamine-wrecking enzyme, while protecting dopamine-producing brain cells against toxins and stress-related damage.

Pan-Seared Salmon

Pan-Seared Salmon | Photo by KGora

Yogurt

New research shows that beneficial bacteria in yogurt may have a calming effect on the brain. For the probiotic benefit, choose yogurt with active or live cultures.

No-Cook Overnight Oatmeal

No-Cook Overnight Oatmeal | Photo by LilSnoo

Fruits and Veggies

According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, people enjoyed increased happiness, life satisfaction, and overall well-being after increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables they ate. Explore our collections of Fruit Recipes and Vegetable Recipes -- and remember to "eat the rainbow."

More foods to enjoy on the Dopamine Diet: Dark chocolate, oatmeal, mustard greens, fava beans, nuts, and healthy oils like olive oil.

Foods to avoid: Along with sugar-laden foods, heavily processed packaged foods, and high-fat foods, including processed meats, the Dopamine Diet would have you avoid both alcohol and caffeine.


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About Carl Hanson

Carl will eat that. Share with him @CarlNo9 on Twitter.