Dopamine, Serotonin and Chocolate: Link to Our Cravings
By Lauren E., RD, LD, Assistant Director & Stephanie B., BA Community Health, Lifestyle Consultant, Roseville
You just got home from an exceptionally long, hard day at work. After throwing on some comfy clothes, you grab a sleeve of Oreos before sitting on the couch. You turn on the tv and watch your favorite tv show. An hour has gone by, and you are feeling happier. Looking down, you notice that the whole sleeve of Oreos is gone. Why does this happen more often than most people would like to admit? Sweets and other comfort foods have a scientific link to our cravings in our bodies. But why? Well, it all leads back to our brains and two neurotransmitters.
What is a neurotransmitter?
Neurotransmitters are very important within our brain chemistry. They are composed of amine molecules, amino acids, or neuropeptides. The essential function is to be the chemical messengers of our body. They transmit messages across our neurons, which are the pathways of the brain. Neurotransmitters can affect various aspects of our body: from sleep to mobility. Certain things trigger neurotransmitters to be released which can cause our responses.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It can be described as our “relaxing” transmitter. Serotonin can affect our sleep, memory, appetite, and mood. This transmitter can be released by a few different things. Typically, it is produced in the gastrointestinal tract in the response to foods. It works hand in hand with the rest of our body to create a feeling of relaxation.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is the “happy” neurotransmitter. It releases within the brain that overall induces pleasure, a reward system. Our brains’ use one neurotransmitter for an association of reward for our actions, this creates a powerful brain network that allows actions to want to be repeated. The dopamine signal sent through the reward circuit brings about positive feelings and assessments of the situation in the frontal lobe, creating a memory of the positive experience and links to the hippocampus. This essentially saves the food in our memories so that dopamine can be released again next time it is tasted.
How do They Connect to Comfort Food?
These neurotransmitters can both be triggered in response to eating chocolate or other comfort foods. The reason that we start to crave sugars or comfort foods is because during eating and digestion the hypothalamus (a few inches above the roof of your mouth) gathers information about the caloric and nutrient content for future hunger and satiety signals. By having this information gathered, one is more likely to indulge in the behavior again as the brain associates it with pleasure and relaxation. Everyone’s brain chemistry is slightly different. One person may be able to have a little bit of chocolate and get a great response and then the response is cut off, which stops the dopamine and serotonin release. Another person may have to eat a lot of chocolate to get the same response as the first because they have a delayed cut off for dopamine and serotonin. Another person may have to eat a lot of chocolate to get the same response as the first because they have a delayed cut off for dopamine and serotonin.
How to Still Get the Dopamine and/or Serotonin Response?
Many foods can have a remarkably similar effect as chocolate and comfort foods have on the brain. These foods can release dopamine and/or serotonin. These foods include:
- Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Unprocessed meats such as beef, chicken, and turkey
- Omega-3 rich sources such as salmon and mackerel, or one’s Omega 3 Livea Supplement.
- Fruits and Vegetables, in particular bananas and green leafy vegetables
- Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
- Olive oil
- Green Tea
By using these food groups, we may be able to imitate the effects of chocolate on our brain. By increasing the amount of these foods in our diet, we may feel more energy throughout our day, our stress levels could come down, and we can become happier overall. These foods will help to naturally boost your mood!
There are many other ways to get a dopamine or serotonin response without having foods or beverages either.
- Go outside!
- Go for a walk – check out Livea’s interactive “Hitting the Trails” map here!
- Take up gardening
- Sit on your patio or a picnic blanket for dinner
- 20 minutes of activity a day can increase your mood!
- Stretch in your room
- Walking or running
- Get Up & Move with Livea!
- Listen to music
- Listen to the radio
- Cook with music in the background
We do not have to eat unhealthy food to get good responses from our brain. Eating in moderation with these different food items can affect our mental and physical health significantly. The next time you are craving chocolate try these different food groups or a different activity. Utilize a Livea meal that has chocolate in it. Talk to your Consultant today about the many different Livea recipes that incorporate these ingredients and/or the Livea Meals that could help with achieving a dopamine and or serotonin response!
Below are just a few recipes Livea offers:
- Marshmallow Cocoa Cereal Treats
- Lemon Pepper Salmon
- Chocolate Fudge Banana Bread
- Strawberry Chocolate Mousse
Check out livea.com for many other recipes that can help to trigger your dopamine and serotonin response!
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Institute, The University of Queensland, 9 Nov. 2017, qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-physiology/what-are-neurotransmitters.
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GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog, 14 Jan. 2020, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/10-ways-to-boost-dopamine-and-serotonin-naturally-1212177.
- https://www.thehealthy.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/40603Travers.jpg?fit=50, img class=”avatar” alt=”Colleen Travers, et al. “6 Most Surprising Healthy Brain Foods.” The Healthy, 21 Jan. 2021, www.thehealthy.com/aging/mind-memory/brain-healthy-foods/. Accessed 5 May 2022.
- “What Is the Dopamine Diet?” BBC Good Food, www.bbcgoodfood.com/
- “Weight Loss Programs Personalized to You | Livea Weight Loss Programs.” Livea, livea.com. Accessed 5 May 2022.