Also known as the ‘Tom Kerridge’ diet, due to the chef’s impressive 70kg weight loss, the dopamine diet is the talk of the wellness world – and with good reason. Billed as the diet that boosts mood and quashes cravings and over-eating in the long run, we thought it high time we did some delving....
What exactly is the dopamine diet?
The dopamine diet is so called due to the theory that by eating certain foods, we can boost production of dopamine – a chemical that affects our brain’s reward centre and positively impacts on our mood. That boost of pleasure after a bar of chocolate? That’s a dopamine surge. Yet it’s not just sugary and fatty foods that can increase dopamine – protein-rich foods are said to trigger it, too, thanks to an amino acid called tyrosine. In short, a high-protein (and thus low-carb) diet could give you the same kind of reward as sugary foods while helping to maintain a healthy diet and more balanced metabolism.
Sounds good. What can you eat?
In short, the dopamine diet is essentially a diet high in tyrosine, which can help to boost dopamine levels in the brain. Tyrosine is found in good-quality protein, so expect to eat plenty of meat (aim for grass-fed beef and lamb as well as free-range pork, chicken and turkey); oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel; eggs, which should always be organic or free-range; full-fat dairy products and nuts. Slightly more unusual sources of dopamine include dark chocolate, green tea, vanilla, lavender, sesame seeds and spirulina.
So are carbs completely off the menu?
Not exactly – while refined carbs should be avoided, you should eat plenty of vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, and fruit. In fact, the likes of apples, berries and bananas contain a flavonoid antioxidant called quercetin, which is believed to help the brain prevent dopamine loss, so eat these in abundance. It’s also worth noting there are slightly different variations on the dopamine diet – ranging from those that have a zero-carb policy to more lenient iterations that advocate a small amount of low-GI carbs, such as oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes.
What should be avoided?
Aside from starchy carbs, caffeine and alcohol are strictly off the menu. Caffeine, in particular, can deplete dopamine levels so you may struggle on the diet if you can’t live without your daily flat white.
What about exercise?
This is where it gets interesting – if the likes of running and spinning are your thing, don’t give them up completely, but give some thought to swimming and yoga, which have been shown to significantly increase dopamine levels.
Any top tips for following the diet?
The dopamine-boosting lifestyle also advocates smaller portions and regular meals to keep mood and blood sugar levels in check. Try to eat more lean protein at breakfast, such as eggs, smoked salmon or mackerel, too, as this has been proven to regulate appetite and can reduce the chance of overeating in the evening.
What do the experts say?
While the benefits of a high-protein diet, especially when it comes to weight loss, are evident, many health experts are dubious about low-carb diets in the long run. As the brain’s main source of fuel, carbs are an essential macronutrient. Plus, some nutritionists argue that eating carbs boosts tryptophan levels in brain tissue, which in turn increases serotonin, another feel-good hormone, so perhaps cutting out carbs entirely isn’t beneficial after all.
The bottom line?
If you’re looking to lose more than a stone and have previously struggled with other diets, then the dopamine diet could be for you. Believed to be a sustainable plan, it’s one that could be followed in the long-term, thanks to its happy hormone-boosting credentials. If you’re just looking to lose a few pounds and get your diet back on track, then follow this high-protein plan but feel free to include a small amount of carbs (around 100g) daily and prepare to reap the benefits.