- Kylene Bogden, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CLT, registered dietitian nutritionist and co-founder of FWDfuel
"Dopamine is a neurotransmitter known as the 'happy chemical' or 'pleasure chemical,'" says Bogden. The mood-boosting hormone has earned itself this mood-boosting reputation because it helps your nerve cells send messages to one another, so different parts of your brain can communicate properly. When you accomplish something rewarding or do something you really love, dopamine helps you feel pleasure—which helps ensure you'll try to repeat the same activity in the future, says Bogden. These activities can include having sex, meditating, beating everyone at Scrabble, or going on a really great run. However, dopamine isn't just a turnkey for joy; it also contributes to your memory, sleep, and your ability to concentrate. It's kind of... a very (ahem) dope chemical.
Generally speaking, you can look after your dopamine levels by eating a diverse array of dishes that you find delicious, adds Bogden. After all, eating what you love naturally sparks joy. But if you're looking for certain foods that are linked to increasing dopamine in the body, you're in luck. Below, Bogden shares five key foods to work into your meals and snacks for health and happiness.
5 foods that increase dopamine, the "happiness chemical"
1. Foods high in B vitamins, like salmon, leafy greens, and eggs
"If our bodies are low in B vitamins, we are unable to adequately produce enough dopamine," explains Bogden. Vitamin B6, specifically, is key to the synthesis of many neurotransmitters, including GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and even melatonin. Fortunately, most types of B are pretty easy to come by. You can get yours from nuts, beans, fish, poultry, and many other sources. (Just make sure to be especially cognizant of getting that B6, which can be found in non-citrus fruits, starchy veggies, poultry, fish, fortified cereals, and organ meats.)
2. Nuts and seeds
Your go-to high protein snack also contains a key amino acid that works hand-in-hand with dopamine. "Nuts and seeds contain L-tyrosine, often referred to as tyrosine, and when tyrosine is broken down, it converts to dopamine," explains Bogden. Peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are particularly great source of tyrosine, according to Mount Sinai and Bodgen, so bring on the nut butters and trail mixes when you're looking for a happiness-boosting snack.
3. Dairy products
Like nuts and seeds, dairy products contain that good amino acid L-tyrosine—so enjoy your milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream (don't have to ask us twice on the latter).
I mean, of course chocolate makes you happy. "Chocolate contains small amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA), a compound that signals our brain cells to release dopamine," explains Bogden. PEA also happens to be associated with falling in love. So, you see? It's all connected. Try these clean and delicious chocolates out for a spin.
"High quality coffee in moderation can also increase our dopamine levels as caffeine can signal our body to produce additional dopamine," says Bogden. You can also reap the same benefits from other caffeine sources such as matcha, chocolate, green tea, and other forms of caffeinated tea. Consider your mid-morning pick-me-up and investment in your afternoon mood.
Wondering about the difference between matcha and green tea?
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