A healthy diet is essential for all of us, but for kids and adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), adjusting their nutrition has been scientifically proven to make a difference when it comes to properly managing symptoms.
While the exact cause is unclear, ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder involving inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. It’s thought to originate from low levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in the region of the brain responsible for self-regulation which makes completing tasks, finding focus, perceiving time and regulating behavior very difficult for those suffering.
While ADHD is not curable, managing symptoms is key, which is where medication, behavioral therapy, and nutrition come into play. Here are a few tips for individuals or parents of children with ADHD that are trying to manage symptoms through nutrition:
Avoid foods that are:
- High in sugar – Studies show that kids with ADHD show more symptoms after eating copious amounts of sugar. As parents, you might think, “I don’t need a scientist to tell me that,” but the truth is that sugar is disguised in so many ways in the foods we eat, especially when marketed to kids. Keep an eye out for ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, sucrose, molasses, malt syrup, and dehydrated cane juice. There are all just fancy ways of saying “sugar.”
- Simple carbs – Like sugar, simple carbohydrates also cause rapid spikes and falls in blood sugar. A lot of common “junk foods” like chips, candy, sodas, and fries are considered simple carbs but sports drinks, white bread, white pasta, and potatoes without skins also fall into this category.
- Full of artificial dyes and preservatives – There are multiple studies that prove that children with ADHD are negatively impacted by food additives. In addition to worsening symptoms, they can also interfere with hormones and overall growth. When it comes to feeding a child with ADHD, the more you can stick to whole foods and foods with just a few ingredients, the better.
- Considered “allergy causing” – Gluten, wheat, corn, and soy are the big four when it comes to common allergy causing foods. It’s very common for some children to become hyperactive and have trouble focusing after consuming them. Before resorting to medication, ask your doctor about allergy testing. One of these food categories might just be the culprit.
Incorporate foods that are:
- Rich in protein – Protein can prevent surges in blood sugar which increases hyperactivity and impulsivity. A protein-rich breakfast can help to start the day off right.
- Complex carbs – Just like protein, complex carbs can help to maintain steady blood sugar levels and suppress hunger which could lead to unhealthy snacking. They also help people to sleep better. Foods like fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, whole-grain bread and pasta, and brown rice all fall in this category.
- Rich in certain nutrients including:
- Zinc, Iron, and Magnesium – All three of these nutrients help to produce dopamine and improve the brain’s response to it. Low levels of them can lead to inattention, cognitive deficits, and other severe ADHD symptoms. Foods like nuts, soy, fortified cereals, beans, lentils, eggs, meat, and seafood are sources of these essential nutrients.
- B vitamins – Studies show that giving children with low B vitamin levels a supplement improved IQ scores and reduced aggression and antisocial behavior.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Important in brain and nerve cell function and can be found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna. In a study at Göteborg University, in Sweden, Omega-3 reduced ADHD symptoms by 50 percent. However, it’s important to note that fish can contain high amounts of toxins including mercury, dioxins, microplastics, histamine, and more.
Let’s talk supplements for ADHD
While supplements can be an excellent way to provide your body with key nutrients, not all supplements are alike. There is a ton of information out there about the benefits of certain supplements but be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any, especially when it comes to treating kids with ADHD. We’ve mentioned a few key nutrients above, and while there are supplements out there for these deficiencies, nothing beats whole foods which are generally easier for your body to process and absorb. Here are several other herbs and plant-based remedies to talk to ask your doctor about:
- Ginkgo and Ginseng – Known as “cognitive activators” these herbs act as stimulants without the side effects of ADHD medications. They help ADHD patients to be less impulsive and distractible.
- Pycnogenol – This is an herb which is extracted from French maritime pine bark and is found to reduce hyperactivity and help with visual-motor coordination and concentration.
- Rhodiola Rosea – This is made from a plant and can improve alertness, attention, and accuracy. While it can be great for patients over the age of around 12, it can be overstimulating for small children.
A well balanced diet is key
The key takeaway here is that a well-balanced diet and lifestyle can make a huge difference when it comes to treating symptoms of ADHD and medication isn’t the only option. Everyone is different so it’s critical that you talk to your doctor about you or your child’s unique case, become educated on the options, and advocate for yourself or your child. ADHD can be difficult to overcome and it might take some trial and error, but it is possible to take control of symptoms and your life.