The latest diet craze was designed to improve your mood and help you lose weight. It's called the Dopamine Diet.
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.
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 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.
Lean Meats: Chicken and Turkey
Chicken and turkey provide quality protein without a lot of saturated fat.
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.
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.
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.