Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in the brain's central and peripheral nervous systems. Dopamine affects memory, movement, cognition, pleasure and reward. Diminished dopamine has been linked to ADHD, addiction, depression and Parkinson's disease. Because our brain uses nutrients from food to manufacture neurotransmitters, an unbalanced diet can cause low dopamine levels, consequently wreaking havoc on our personality and behaviour. Fortunately, incorporating certain common foods into your diet can give your brain enough building blocks to produce adequate dopamine.
Almonds contain phenylalanine, an essential amino acid necessary for the production of dopamine. Raw almonds are the best source since they are unprocessed and lower in sodium than smoked or salted almonds. In the early afternoon, as many people start to feel mentally sluggish, almonds can be a smart snack that can boost mental clarity.
Chocolate isn't just delicious; it also contains phenylalanine, an amino acid that is vital to the production of dopamine. This combination of taste and nutritional value can help to raise chocolate's status from guilty pleasure to a guilt-free pleasure. Of course, because of its sugar and fat content, moderation is still necessary. Dark chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa has the highest concentration of dopamine-building phenylalanine.
Tyrosine is another amino acid needed for the production of dopamine. Packed with other nutrients as well, bananas are an excellent source of tyrosine, which helps to raise dopamine levels. High in potassium, bananas also are good for heart and muscle maintenance, and they contain 16 per cent of the USDA's recommended daily intake of dietary fibre. In the summer, frozen bananas make healthy Popsicles.
Phenylalanine is just one of nine amino acids eggs provide. Eggs are also one of the few foods to naturally contain vitamin D. And eggs are a versatile protein source, with endless recipe possibilities. Since dopamine levels drop during sleep, the brain needs a boost of phenylalanine in the morning. So however they're prepared, eggs can be a smart way to start your day and increase your dopamine levels first thing in the morning.
Fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which aid brain development and functioning. These fatty acids are necessary for building neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. Fish are also low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Deepwater fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, halibut, rainbow trout and sardines have the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Apples are high in two powerful antioxidants, quercetin and polyphenols. These antioxidants help to maintain dopamine levels by protecting dopamine cells from damage. Of all apples, Red Delicious and Northern Spy boast the highest amount of antioxidants. To get the best nutritional value out of apples, it's important not to peel them; the skin has five times the polyphenols found in the flesh. Apples can be mixed in with most any kind of food. For instance, you can try adding slices to a turkey sandwich or cubes to whole wheat pancakes.
Like all berries, strawberries are packed with nutrients and fibre. And it's no surprise they contain high levels of vitamin C, a common antioxidant. But strawberries are also high in phenol antioxidants such as anthocyanins and ellagitannins. These antioxidants protect dopamine cells from damage. Because of them, eating strawberries can help boost your brain's dopamine levels. Though often smaller in size, organic strawberries have been found to be higher in antioxidants, according to a study published in the online journal "PLoS One." You can try strawberries with a sprinkling of cinnamon or as a sweet addition to a spinach salad.