Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter. It is critical to learning, understanding, thinking, and voluntary movement. Food does not contain dopamine. In fact, dopamine cannot transfer from the blood into the brain. But, food does contain an important precursor to dopamine that can result in an increase in natural dopamine production. This precursor is an amino acid named tyrosine, which was first observed in a cheese protein called casein. "Tyros" is Greek for cheese.
Clearly, cheese, cottage cheese, eggs and other dairy products contain tyrosine. Unfortunately, most dairy products are also high in saturated fat, and saturated fat can inhibit proper brain function and dopamine synthesis. So, although cheese and dairy products contain the building blocks for dopamine, eating them in large quantities will not necessarily produce the increase in dopamine that you might expect.
Several meats are rich sources of tyrosine. The greatest concentration exists in salmon and turkey. Cod, haddock, orange roughy and mahi are fairly rich in tyrosine as well. These fish in particular, being fairly lean, low-fat foods, can result in higher dopamine. Turkey without the skin can have a similar effect. Game meats, like buffalo and elk, are high in tyrosine, as are shrimp.
Soy and soy protein isolate are very high in tyrosine. This is important because a number of products, ranging from garden burgers to granola bars, contain soy protein isolate as a major protein source. Because of the high levels of tyrosine, foods with significant soy protein content are foods that increase dopamine in the brain.
Leafy Green Vegetables
A few vegetables are very high in tyrosine. In fact, the richest source of tyrosine is a vegetable: spirulina, or blue-green algae. Other tyrosine-rich vegetables include seaweed and mustard greens. These sources are low-fat and contain many antioxidants. These nutrients actually protect dopamine-producing neurons and enhance the benefits of tyrosine.
Legumes and Fruit
Beans, especially lima beans, nuts such as almonds, and pumpkin seeds are moderate sources of tyrosine. Bananas and avocados, though modest in their tyrosine content, can increase dopamine levels in the brain.