You Can Eat Your Feelings at the World’s First Happiness Restaurant

If you’ve just gone through a breakup, you’re supposed to cry into a pizza or a tub of ice cream, right? Wrong. Maybe hold up on that extra cheese crust pizza, because it’s not going to make you feel any better. Roll your eyes as much as you like, but there’s actually merit to crying into a banana-oat smoothie instead.

Serotonin, as you may know, is a neurotransmitter. It plays a large part in regulating your mood. The chemical is also linked to a healthy appetite, digestion, and sleep—basically all the things that keep you functioning and sane. So one Melbourne, Australia business owner, Emily Arundel, is setting up a restaurant and fitness centre called Serotonin Kitchen that aims to improve people’s mood through a high serotonin menu.

Obviously, the link between health and happiness isn’t new; most of us have noticed that eating shit somehow makes you feel shit. But Emily feels that the connection is more direct than we might realize, and has worked with dieticians and nutritionists to make food that’s good for your physical and mental wellbeing.

MUNCHIES: So where did the idea for a serotonin cafe come from?
Emily Arundel: Over the years, I just tried all different diets. I was always fit and healthy, I did basketball, rowing, and netball. About five years ago, I tried clean eating, then Paleo, then vegetarian and vegan, raw vegan, and fruitarian—I was just playing. Once I got in tune with my body, I could work out what made me feel better. I started to eat a really high plant-based and high-carb diet—good complex carbs like sweet potato, bananas, quinoa, and brown rice.

Then I started to research why those were making me feel good and that’s how I found the serotonin diet. All these ingredients I was eating a lot of contain tryptophan and that’s what converts to serotonin.

American doctor Dr. Judith Wurtman has dedicated her life to the serotonin diet. She’s done five books on it, dedicated 30 years to it, did her PhD in it—she’s sort of the scientific backing for me. I’ve got a nutritionist, a dietitian, and a food scientist, and we’ve all been coming up with the meals to make serotonin be released.

You mentioned plant-based before. Do you mean vegetarian?
Yes, but no. I’m just not using the word vegetarian or vegan because they have bad stigmas around them. So it’s plant-based but not strictly vegetarian or vegan. It might develop in the future to including bugs on our menu. We’re leaving it open.

Has the diet directly helped you with mood issues?
Yeah, when I was a teenager I had depression and moods going up and down. When I started to work out that food makes me feel good, I found it was because the serotonin stabilizes your emotions and moods. People with anxiety, depression, or even sleep disorders have low serotonin. So getting your serotonin stores back up, eating good foods, and regularly raising your heart rate just stabilizes your mood.

Has Dr. Judith Wurtman studied how food affects people with mood disorders or mental health issues?
She’s done now about 40-50 studies on it. My dietitian that’s working with us, Renee, did her PhD in gut health. Ninety-five percent of serotonin is absorbed through the gut and that’s the research that led to making the link between it [serotonin] and depression and anxiety. Now they’re linking it with ADHD and all these other things especially within children.

So how does all this translate to your menu?
I’ve got a smoothie and juice bar on the side as well, with high-serotonin smoothies. And then breakfast lunch and dinner is really normal food from all different cultures—Japanese, Mexican, Vietnamese—and we’re just including these ingredients. So bananas are high-serotonin, sweet potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, pineapples. And then especially things like beans, lentils, chickpeas and whole grains.

How conclusive is the research in terms of which foods have the most serotonin and how the body reacts to it?
There’s a huge amount of research, Dr. Judith Wurtman has released these graphs of the percentages of tryptophan in food, which converts to serotonin. So that’s what I’m working off and developing meals around—making sure that it converts to serotonin when you eat it.

How much of the food do you have to eat for it to raise your levels?
Everything is dependent on the food. But every meal that we make is a complete meal.

Is exercise part of the business?
I’ve got personal trainers, yoga instructors, even cool things like dog trainers. We’ll have a fitness center next door. We’ve got all sorts of things to regularly raise your heart rate.

When are you opening?
Early 2015.

Thanks for speaking with me.

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