Serotonin and dopamine are two important neurotransmitters that are important for your mood, energy, drive and brain function. They can also be affected by food as well as other hormones, sleep and stress. Neurotransmitters are a little different to hormones, they are chemical messengers and they are found in the nervous system, which bind to receptors in the brain to stimulate activity.
Serotonin is the good mood chemical. Low levels of serotonin in the brain can be associated with a low mood, anxiety, and metabolic disorders (diabetes). You can increase brain serotonin through good nutrition, sunlight and exercise. Serotonin rich foods don’t raise brain serotonin levels, it can’t cross the blood brain barrier. Eating foods high in Tryptophan helps you to produce serotonin, but it competes with other amino acids to cross the blood brain barrier, so eating foods higher in tryptophan that the amino acids is best (turkey, sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
As protein competes with serotonin production, you should try eating carbs on their own sometimes for some snacks to produce serotonin. Healthy carbs like fruit or vegetables. And dark chocolate which is known to produce serotonin. You also need to get enough wholegrains and vitamin B6 to naturally boost serotonin. B6 is found in spinach, turnip greens, garlic, cauliflower, mustard greens, celery, fish (especially tuna, salmon, snapper), poultry (chicken and turkey) and lean beef. For reasons above, a low carb, high protein diet may reduce serotonin levels !
Dopamine is another important neurotransmitter which makes you ‘feel good’. It is created when the body breaks down the amino acid tyrosine. The best source of tyrosine are good quality proteins (beef, cheese, chicken, eggs (egg white!), fatty fish, turkey. Plant foods containing folate and antioxidants can also assist in dopamine production in the brain, especially red beets as they contain tyrosine and betaine which improves mood, spinach, kale, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower), and fruits (bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries).
Chocolate, coffee, green tea, nuts and seeds, turmeric and wheat also increases dopamine levels in the brain. Importantly, additives, simple carbs, sugars and sweeteners are known to spike dopamine quickly but then reduce dopamine levels in the brain over time and should be avoided.
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