Foods That Trigger the Release of Dopamine

A woman eating an apple for a healthy boost at work.
Image Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

Eating certain foods will lead to the release of dopamine, a chemical that can cause a "feel-good" response in the bloodstream. Dopamine is integral to experiencing emotional responses in a variety of situations, as well as the ability to feel pleasure or pain. Eating dopamine-triggering foods can benefit your health, but they can also become destructive if you become addicted to the feel-good chemical cascade.


Pick Up the Proteins

Your body relies on amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to create dopamine. Animal proteins contain the complete set of essential amino acids, which are those that your body cannot produce on its own. Obtaining protein from meats, such as beef, chicken, turkey, pork and fish, provides your body with all these amino acids -- and can trigger a release of dopamine as the food is digested. Most plant-based protein sources have incomplete amino acid profiles, but can release dopamine when you eat a variety of them.


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Gnaw on Natural Produce

Natural produce can also lead to the release of dopamine. Among the most potent sources are apples, bananas and berries. These fruits contain quercetin and tyrosine, both of which stimulate dopamine production. Other winners include avocados, nuts such as almonds and walnuts, lima beans, seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, as well as vegetables like beets and artichokes.


Choose Cheese and Chocolate

Dairy products are high in the chemical phenylalanine, which the body can convert to tyrosine, a key amino acid for creating dopamine. Among the best ways to help your body generate tyrosine is to consume cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, natural yogurt and milk. Other cheeses, such as Camembert, Brie, cheddar and Swiss, are just as high in tyrosine, but also have much higher saturated fat, so they are less healthy overall. Because dark chocolate is another good source of tyrosine and phenylalanine, you can include it in your diet in moderation.


Steer Clear of Sweets

Sweet treats can also trigger the release of dopamine. However, sugar and simple carbohydrates can lead to an addictive dopamine cycle. Natural foods cause a moderate release of dopamine, whereas baked goods, ice cream, fast food and candy will cause a huge spike in dopamine production. This leads to a crash soon afterwards, leading to a craving for another dopamine hit. This is why it's so hard to just have one cookie or a small bowl of ice cream; your brain wants to regain the dopamine high it experienced with the first few bites.




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