GABA-Boosting Brain Foods

By Dr. Mike Dow Author of Diet Rehab

Posted on | By Dr. Mike Dow | Comments ()

You know that feeling you get in the middle of a frantic workday with 3 deadlines approaching while your kids keep texting you about dinner? If we were to take a look inside your brain, the chemicals that act like your car’s accelerator pedal – dopamine, adrenaline, norepinephrine – are surging. And GABA, the chemical that acts like your car’s brakes, is in short supply.


While there are several drugs that help to boost GABA, there are also some natural ways to get the peace and calm your brain needs. Finding natural solutions have a few benefits. First, they’re not addictive like many of the prescription medications. Also, they won’t leave you feeling groggy, so you’ll still be able to be productive at work and at home.


Here are 5 ways to get the GABA your brain is craving:

  1. Swap your afternoon coffee for a cup of oolong tea. When we feel overworked and worn out, coffee is a natural go-to. But its high levels of caffeine send the activating brain chemical dopamine soaring. The tradeoff for short-term productivity is a jittery feeling and insomnia hours later. Try oolong tea instead. It contains GABA, and sipping it may provide you with the break your brain and body needs. The break you’ll get may provide you with the stamina to get everything done without feeling worn out.
  2. Swap the candy bar for cherry tomatoes and hummus. The high levels of fat in that candy bar are not only bad for your waistline, it’s bad for your brain! High levels of unhealthy fat also increase dopamine levels. But cherry tomatoes are rich in GABA, and the olive oil in hummus helps to balance your omega-3 versus omega-6 ratio. This ratio can help balance all of your brain chemicals over the long-term which will leave you feeling peaceful and happy.
  3. Swap the soda for a glass of kefir, a probiotic drink. Soda is not only associated with obesity; a new study showed an association with soda (and diet soda) and depression. Kefir contains GABA, and the carbohydrates boost serotonin – your other main feel-good, peaceful brain chemical. Talk about a double whammy!
  4. Swap orange chicken and fried rice for grilled shrimp and brown rice. The high fat in orange chicken and fried rice flood your brain with dopamine which can even set you up for food addiction. But the shrimp contains a healthy dose of GABA, and the high-fiber brown rice gives you nice, healthy release of serotonin.
  5. Ditch the TV and downward dog your way to bliss. At the end of a long day, sitting on the couch and mindlessly watching hours of TV may be the easy fix. But if we really want to get the peace and happiness we’re really craving, we may have to get a little more creative. Buy yourself a zafu – a round meditation pillow. When you get home, set the kitchen timer for 10 minutes and practice meditation. Start increasing that time by 1 minute each day until you can sit for 30 minutes. Or, find a great yoga class, and go with friends. Your body and your brain will thank you!
Dr. Mike Dow

Article written by Dr. Mike Dow
Author of Diet Rehab