Happy foods for happier Hashimoto’s?

The science of feel good foods for autoimmune diseases

I mostly write about behaviors, including foods to avoid when being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. The goal is to prevent flare-ups and many other uncomfortable long-term consequences. But what about foods that make us both happy and healthy? Are there any?

Which foods make you happy and healthy and not causing any digestive issues or symptom flare-ups? We would love to hear about it. Tweet us :)

What makes us happy?

Brain chemicals make us happy, four most known are dopamine, serotonin, leptin (satiety hormone), gherlin (the hungry hormone).These chemicals are a big component of food reward system and addictive behaviours.

Best researched are addictive powers of sugars and fats. Both sugars and fat make our brain oversaturated with dopamine, serotonin, leptin and gherlin. In a long run this leads to specific food dependencies, binge eating and other eating disorders. Foods strong in sugar give probably the strongest feeling of reward and are more addictive because of how good they make us feel [1].

Why do we have a reward system for food?

Throughout our evolution, food resources were scarce, food was not as available as is today in industrialized countries. Finding and eating food on a regular basis was a luxury. For that reason, whenever food was available, it would trigger a strong sense of reward. This anticipation of reward would make people eat more food than necessary, and store more of energy for the days to come, when food might not be available anymore.

How to use this reward system as a health benefit?

Not all the foods are equally addictive, or able to induce the feel goodmolecules. To make the feel good molecules, our bodies need some building blocks, namely specific amino acids: tryptophan and tyrosine. Certain healthy foods are rich in tryptophan and tyrosine.

Serotonin — Tryptophan & Dopamine — Tyrosine connection

Eating different foods as well as prolonged or intense physical activity changes the amount of tryptophan and tyrosine in our body. This will regulate the rate by which serotonin and dopamine are made, and it again has an evolutionary reason for it: tryptophan and tyrosine provided humans with an information on what we have just eaten and what nutrient requirements we have left for the day, so they could better decide what should be the next food to eat.

How to increase tryptophan?

Eating low protein, high carb and high fat diet increases the level of tryptophan in the brain, this triggers production of serotonin [2]. When eating protein loaded meal, levels of tryptophan as well as serotonin usually go down [3, 4].

The explanation behind this is complex, let’s try breaking it down: when eating carb loaded foods insulin levels go up. Insulin blocks action of most of the amino acids and removes them from the bloodstream, except tryptophan. After a carb-loaded meal not many amino acids will be left in our bloodstream, thanks to insulin. Also, in order for amino acids to reach the brain they need to piggyback on another protein, a carrier protein that will take the amino acid through the bloodstream to the brain [5].

Imagine waiting for a cab, and there is a limited number of cabs. After a carb loaded meal, tryptophan is the only one waiting at the curb. However, after a protein rich meal, insulin will not rise, and other amino acids (many, many of them) will compete with tryptophan for the transport to the brain. Less tryptophan in the brain means less serotonin and less feeling happy or good [3, 4, 6, 7].

How to increase tyrosine intake?

Research has shown that tyrosine increases dopamine levels, which helps people to stay productive in high-stress situations. Tyrosine can normalize blood pressure when it is both too high and too low [6, 7]. Dopamine is the key molecule in our brain triggering reward behaviour [8, 9], and the amount of dopamine that our brain makes is corresponding to the level of pleasure we feel from eating the food [10]. The first time we eat certain food, dopamine gets released, on every subsequent occasion even the smell of that food will trigger the feeling of imminent reward in us [11, 12].

Increasing activities, such as slow pace, long distance running, yoga or a similar activity will increase both serotonin and dopamine levels.

Eating when you want to eat, not when conventions tell you to eat, will make you happier

(my personal journey)

I eat two meals per day, I found this to be best for me feeling happy and productive. I feel much better when my digestive system is not constantly working the food.

In truth, I struggled for a long time with trying to eat breakfast, which people call the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast made me more tired, forgetful and I gained weight, no matter what I ate (avocado, berries porridge or similar).

Eating habits are individual, and I feel better, more productive and with a sharp focus when I don’t eat breakfast. I feel happier too. For me the breakfast is the most important meal of the day to avoid.


1. Lenoir M, et al. Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward., 2007

2. Schaechter JD, et al. Tryptophan availability modulates serotonin release from rat hypothalamic slices. 1989

3. Fernstrom JD, et al Brain serotonin content: increase following ingestion of carbohydrate diet, 1971

4. Fernstrom JD, et al. Brain serotonin content: physiological dependence on plasma tryptophan levels, 1971

5. Pardridge WM. Regulation of amino acid availability to the brain, 1977

6. Wurtman JJ, et al Sucrose consumption early in life fails to modify the appetite of adult rats for sweet foods, 1979

7. Wurtman RJ, et al. Summary: circulating tryptophan, brain tryptophan, and psychiatric disease, 1979

8. Bello NT, et al. Dopamine and binge eating behaviors, 2010

9. Wise RA. Role of brain dopamine in food reward and reinforcement, 2006

10. Small DM, et al. Feeding-induced dopamine release in dorsal striatum correlates with meal pleasantness ratings in healthy human volunteers, 2003

11. Epstein LH, et al. Habituation as a determinant of human food intake, 2009

12. Schultz W. Dopamine signals for reward value and risk: basic and recent data, 2010