Proper nutrition for treating ADHD symptoms and related disorders has not been sufficiently emphasized by the medical community. However, the brain, representing 2% of our body weight and demanding “25% of our total body glucose use” (ADDResources.org), requires proper dietary components in order to perform optimally.
Glucose shortages, as well as shortages of certain vitamins and minerals, have dire consequences for both executive and non-executive brain functions — from decision-making, attention, and judgment to sensory processing and task performance. People diagnosed with ADHD should pay particular attention, as a well-rounded diet can help ease ADHD symptoms and have a huge positive impact on cognitive and behavioral functioning.
“There is good emerging evidence that aspects of diet can indeed affect ADHD. It is likely that multiple factors may be at play in regards to environmental exposures and ADHD, and dietary exposure effects may be multifactorial as well. Recommendations that combine what is known about diet and ADHD deserve renewed consideration” (Psychiatric Times).
In general, you want to find foods that are low in simple carbohydrates and sugars (not french fries and candy), or low on the Glycemic Index (GI), but are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids (WebMD). Low Gi foods break down sugar steadily, helping those with ADHD improve their mental acuity and concentration.
Meanwhile, “Fats make up 60 percent of the brain and of the nerves that run every system in the body,” says William Sears, M.D., an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at UC Irvine, School of Medicine. “The better the fat in the diet, the better the brain will function” (Additude Magazine).
Here is the breakdown of ADHD-friendly food categories.
- Lean meats: lean beef, pork, poultry, and eggs. Lean proteins are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, which help brain cells communicate with each other, thereby jump-starting and sustaining the mind. (Additude Magazine; ADD Resources)
- Legumes: nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, and cashews), pumpkin seeds, soybeans, kidney beans, and lentils — these have the lowest glycemic index of any food, but still offer benefits from protein and fat.
- Fruits: Grapefruit, apples, cherries, oranges, and grapes.
- Vegetables: Especially those containing Alpha lipoic acid, vitamin E, and antioxidants, all found abundantly in green leafy vegetables. Vegetables help maintain or improve cognitive function (National Center for Biotechnology Information).
- Whole grains (complex carbohydrates): The fiber found in whole grains helps prevent blood-sugar level peaks and valleys, helping to increase attention and prevent fatigue. Oatmeal, bran, higher-fiber cereals, brown rice, and whole-wheat pastas — all are low glycemic index foods. (Additude Magazine).
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These healthy fats can be found in cold-water white fish such as tuna, salmon, and sardines. Because many kids don’t like to eat fish, you might consider finding fish oil to supplement the diets of kids with ADHD. Omega-3’s can also be found in flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, olive and canola oils.
- Vitamin C: is required by the brain to make neurotransmitters — keeping brain cell communication flowing (Additude Magazine).
- Vitamin D: likely helps with cognitive and emotional functioning (Psychiatric Times) and counteracts numerous maladies, from rickets to depression (MedLine Plus).
- Zinc, iron, B vitamins, and magnesium: broadly, low levels of these important minerals are associated with insufficient dopamine levels or the regulation thereof, as well as inattention, cognitive deficits, and feelings of calmness — symptoms all pronounced in people with ADHD (Additude Magazine / Additude Magazine ; Psychiatric Times; ).
- Picamilon: contains B-vitamin niacin, improves brain blood flow, and has mild stimulative effects.
ADHD Friendly Diet
Introducing supplements and herbs should be done with caution and with the advice of your medical doctor.
Eating the proper foods is something that benefits you regardless of your health disposition. In fact, parting from the days of the “food pyramid,” experts in the field of nutrition now recommend that we fill half our plates with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with a protein, and the remaining fourth with a carbohydrate that is rich in fiber (Additude Magazine).
Doing so should not only help you treatment symptoms of ADHD, but contribute to an overall healthier lifestyle.
Image courtesy of Alli Miller RD