What is the dopamine diet?
Billed as the weight loss regime that boosts mood too, this diet is all about increasing levels of the ‘happy hormone’ dopamine in the brain at the same time as shedding pounds. Certain celebrities such as TV chef Tom Kerridge have boosted this diet’s popularity in recent years. There are several different versions of the diet, but all are based around foods that are thought to boost dopamine. These can include:
- Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt
- Unprocessed meats such as beef, chicken and turkey
- Omega-3 rich fish such as salmon and mackerel
- Fruit and vegetables, in particular bananas
- Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
- Dark chocolate
Most versions of the diet recommend avoiding alcohol, caffeine and processed sugar, while some also recommend cutting out or severely restricting starchy carbohydrates.
So what is the science behind the dopamine diet? Dietitian Emer Delaney explains…
What is dopamine and how does food affect it?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical that is responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells in the brain. Dopamine directly affects the reward and pleasure centres in the brain, which in turn affects mood. Its activation occurs for a number of reasons, including the sudden availability of food.
There is emerging evidence to show that people who are overweight may have impairments in dopamine pathways which could have been blunted through constant exposure to highly palatable (sugary and fatty) foods. This blunted response could potentially lead to increased reward seeking behaviour, including over-eating – however, this is an area that needs more research. Currently, we do know that all eating increases dopamine, especially the intake of high fat and sugar foods, both off which can lead to an increase in appetite, overeating and weight gain in the long term.
So how can you boost your dopamine without resorting to high fat and sugar foods?
Protein foods are made from the building blocks of amino acids (including tyrosine), which are essential to the production of dopamine. It has therefore been suggested that upping protein intake may also boost dopamine production without increasing appetite. A recent study looked at this theory and concluded that eating a high protein breakfast including eggs, lean meats and dairy was best at reducing mid-morning cravings whilst increasing dopamine levels.
Dietitian Emer Delaney’s top tips…
– Eat regular meals. This will prevent a sudden swing in hormones and help to regulate your appetite. It also reduces the chance of overeating in the evening.
– Try eating more lean protein at breakfast such as eggs, smoked salmon, mackerel, or a high-protein yogurt with added nuts, seeds or fruit. Try our high-protein recipe collection for breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes.
– Some versions of this diet ask you to completely restrict starchy carbohydrates, which I wouldn’t recommend. Carbohydrates are important components of the diet, so ensure you include some at every meal. Aim for low-GI carbohydrates such as rye bread or porridge. Both will encourage blood glucose levels to remain steady, which will have a positive effect on appetite.
– Choose healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive, safflower, sesame or rapeseed oils in addition to avocado, walnuts, flaxseeds and oily fish such as herring, fresh tuna and trout.
– Increase activities such as yoga as we know this can also increase dopamine levels.
– Keep things simple and look at the quality of foods you eat, reduce processed salty foods, keep sugary treats to a minimum and make sure you’re eating your five-a-day.
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This article was last reviewed on 31st August 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London’s top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.
A registered nutritionist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine, the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), and the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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Have you tried the dopamine diet, or do you have any further questions about it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below…