What is the dopamine diet?

Famed as the Tom Kerridge diet, the 'happy' weight loss plan is making headlines. But does the dopamine diet work? Our dietitian investigates…

What is the dopamine diet?

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
  • Eggs
  • Fruit and vegetables, in particular bananas
  • Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
  • Dark chocolate

For inspiration using these dopamine-boosting ingredients, try our dopamine diet recipe collection.

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.

- Include lean protein foods at lunch and dinner by eating chicken, lentils, pulses, fish, or lean beef.

- 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

Enjoyed this? Now try...

Our dopamine diet recipe collection
Six things you should consider before starting a diet
How unhealthy is binge eating?
All our guides on popular diets from Atkins to 5:2 

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).

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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...

Comments, questions and tips

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Kathleene Parker's picture
Kathleene Parker
7th Oct, 2019
I urge anyone suspecting low dopamine, serotonin, whatever--especially if you have "mysterious" digestive issues--to supplement preventatively, especially if you're also on pain management and other medications. These cause imbalances, and I was complaining of a host of problems, including devastating digestive stuff--and I was even saying I thought "some sort of hormonal imbalance" was behind it--but medical professionals wouldn't go there! Only recently have I learned, indeed, huge imbalances, and had I been put on a preventative nutrition program, especially against pain pills that do very known things to hormone levels--what harm can it do?--I think I'd have been spared a lot of sickness, not to mention, perhaps it'd helped me so that I'd not have NEEDED so many medications.
Christine Gregory's picture
Christine Gregory
1st Apr, 2019
Isn't this the same as the keto diet and 5/2 Michael Mosley diet?
30th Jan, 2017
i have been following a low calorie very low carb diet since Nov 2016 (apart from Christmas :-) - 2 stone lost and blood sugar and HbA1C blood levels all down dramatically (they were verging on pre-diabetic, but within 4 weeks were completely normal). My mood improved within a week and i have not been hungry at all, despite only having 800 calories a day. Just make sure you are getting enough protein.
28th Jan, 2017
if you want to increase dopamine levels you could just pop sinemet pills. but fyi your body will just produce less dopamine to keep the levels constant. point being you can't increase the level of dopamine.
28th Jan, 2017
Dear author. Your oversimplified explanation of carbohydrates is one of the biggest contributer of obesity and diet confusion. One must understand the difference between "simple" carbs (or starchy as you put it) and complex carbs, such as leafy greens and vegetables. HUGE difference that is too often ignored and not explained. "If your are trying to loose weight; AVOID starchy simple carbs: sugar , flour, processed grains, white potatoes etc. Make up for the loss by consuming complex carbs. Please be more clear and informative.
Kathleene Parker's picture
Kathleene Parker
7th Oct, 2019
You're so right, although one qualifier. All of this depends on the individual. I had major digestive issues and wasn't producing stuff correctly for myself, so even simple carbs in moderation were important for me. But, if anyone wants to see the result of too many SIMPLE carbs in the American diet, visit a local mall and see all the horribly overweight people, many carrying a soft drink in hand!
8th Mar, 2017
White potatoes ? Can I eat red? We need carbohydrates. Balance is important.
17th Jan, 2017
This is the same diet that is recommended for people with type 2 diabetes, so not that new. Dr Clare Bailey (wife of Dr Michael Mosley) has written a recipe book on the same lines i.e low carb Mediterranean diet.
Ruby Firefly's picture
Ruby Firefly
5th Mar, 2019
What do you recommend for vegans? Does the information in this article apply to all proteins, including plant sources? Could you include some plant-based-only recipes? Thanks.
goodfoodteam's picture
11th Mar, 2019
Thanks for your question. This specific diet originated with the inclusion of meat and dairy and is an informational feature. We do have a number of features on how to eat a balanced diet as a vegan. We hope the following is of interest: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/balanced-diet-vegan Plus, take a look at this vegan recipe collection: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/vegan
4th Feb, 2019
I love the main meal recipes but there a very few ideas for lunches. Can you please suggest some? I eat very little in the evening but I don't want to make lunch my main meal of the day, as my husband still works and we prefer to eat together in the evening.
goodfoodteam's picture
4th Feb, 2019
Thanks for your question. Check out our dopamine diet recipe collection for ideas: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/dopamine-diet Or if you've done this and haven't found anything you like, have a look through some of our other recipe collections - using the main ingredients listed as a guide. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes
WellThoughtOut's picture
7th Jun, 2019
You recommended rapeseed oil aka canola. Consider seriously digesting (pardon the unintended pun) the perspectives on the oil by the highly published and regarded Dr Josh Axe, on this link: https://draxe.com/canola-oil-gm/