Lifescape’s Functional Dietitian, Dana Bosselmann truly said it best: "Food is the foundation of health. When prepared with intention, it feeds our mind, body & soul.”
What we eat directly affects numerous aspects of our overall health including maintaining a healthy balance of neurotransmitters in our brain such as serotonin and dopamine.
While medications can help with neurotransmitter imbalances that may have underlying causes, incorporating certain foods into your diet can also support natural serotonin and dopamine production.
Learn more about the best foods to naturally boost your serotonin and dopamine levels, promoting a positive mood and enhanced mental state.
What Are Serotonin and Dopamine?
Before we dive into our food recommendations, let’s start with the basics. Serotonin is known as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, responsible for regulating mood, while dopamine plays a key role in motivation and pleasure.
When either of these neurotransmitters are low, we can experience symptoms such as a depressed mood, low energy, negative thoughts, irritability, and a diminished sex drive.
Fortunately, there are a number of delicious and nutritious foods that can stimulate the production of both of these important chemicals.
Complex carbohydrates are an excellent starting point for increasing serotonin levels. These carbohydrates trigger the slow release of insulin, which helps in the absorption of certain amino acids in the bloodstream. This is different from simple carbs, that are broken down quickly by the body and can cause insulin levels to spike, such as refined sugars. This then leaves behind tryptophan, an essential amino acid, which can cross the blood-brain barrier, leading to increased serotonin production.
Some of our favorite complex carbs include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Beans and legumes
Incorporating a consistent amount of protein-rich foods in your meals can boost your dopamine levels. Proteins contain high levels of amino acids, particularly tyrosine, which is crucial to dopamine production.
Opt for foods such as:
- Lean beef
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Tree nuts
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, have been linked to increased serotonin and dopamine levels. These healthy fats aid in the production and release of neurotransmitters, promoting improved mood and cognitive function.
- Cod liver oil
Or, if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you can also get your omega-3s from plant-based sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds.
Folate, or vitamin B9, plays an important role in serotonin regulation. Increasing your intake of folate-rich foods can support serotonin production and maintain its balance.
We suggest you reach for foods such as:
- Dark leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
Antioxidants protect the brain cells from stress and support overall brain health. Consuming foods with a wide range of antioxidants can contribute to optimal brain function.
Next time you’re at the grocery store pick up some:
Our last (and favorite) tip for naturally increasing your serotonin and dopamine levels is indulging in some delicious dark chocolate!
Dark chocolate, particularly with a high cocoa content (70% or more), contains flavonoids that can stimulate the release of endorphins and enhance dopamine levels. Plus, it’s absolutely delicious!
While it's essential to consult a healthcare professional, like the experts at Lifescape, if you believe you may have a severe neurotransmitter imbalance, incorporating these foods into your diet can be a valuable addition to your overall well-being. But, remember, a balanced diet is key, so always aim for variety and moderation.
Boost Serotonin & Dopamine with Recipes From The Healthy Kitchen, Healthy You Club
Now that you’ve learned the best foods to naturally increase serotonin and dopamine levels, you may be struggling to come up with a tasty recipe that combines these ingredients. Luckily, this is where the Healthy Kitchen, Healthy You Club can help!
The HKHY Club is a virtual community for those seeking to make real, whole, nourishing food at home - with joy and ease. It is a self-led program, guided by LifeScape’s Functional Dietitian and focused on blending the most recent scientific guidelines into the art of cooking.