Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common mental disorder among children. It is characterized by inattention (such as not following directions), daydreaming, and appearing as if the child is not listening. Other markers include hyperactivity, such as being unable to sit still, excessive talking, and trouble playing quietly, as well as impulsive behaviors like blurting out answers and not waiting for their turn. While it often subsides, adults can also have ADHD. These markers include disorganization, substance abuse, chronic boredom, impulsivity, and mood swings. While medication is the most common way to treat ADHD, diet is another way to help ease the symptoms in both children as well as adults.
Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently
When individuals only eat three large meals a day, they are putting themselves at risk of crashes in energy, particularly if they are not smart about the food choices they make. Both adults and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can not only experience the same crashes but can also see worsened symptoms, such as an increase in inattention and irritability. Their focus will be even more impacted if they suddenly get hungry again. Parents can avoid this with their children by packing smaller snacks for school or feeding them in smaller but more frequent quantities at home.
Adults, of course, would be responsible for managing this themselves by bringing more snacks to work and making smaller meals at home more often. Eating smaller meals more often lessens the potential energy crash and helps level everything out throughout the day. While this will not prevent symptoms of ADHD entirely, it can still help keep dramatic mood swings at bay.
Always Include Healthy Protein Options
Lean and healthy protein, such as chicken, nuts, and eggs, help prevent surges in blood sugar in the body, which contributes significantly to hyperactivity and inattention. Furthermore, the body uses foods rich in protein to help produce neurotransmitters, which improves a patient's brain cells to communicate better and promote sustained energy and alertness. Healthy protein helps the body release energy over longer periods, which means there are fewer significant spikes and drops, both of which can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD in adults and children.
Eggs are an excellent choice for a protein-rich breakfast, and chicken is great for lunches and dinners. In regards to snacks, individuals can reach for small handfuls of nuts, natural peanut butter with apple slices, or sliced avocado on whole wheat toast.
Select Whole Wheat Bread
Many diets out there talk about reducing an individual's intake of carbohydrates, but it is important to note carbs are not the enemy. The right kind is quite beneficial for both adults and children with ADHD. The best choices to manage symptoms are complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat toast, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta. Whole wheat is the way to go since these options do not cause the same spikes and crashes like simple carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, will. Simple carbs have been stripped of their nutritional value. Sure, they may taste good, but will not help symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, especially in the long run.
Include A Variety Of Fruits And Vegetables
Many individuals may not be aware of this, but many fruits and vegetables are also sources of complex carbohydrates! Thus, they should try incorporating more of them, such as apples, oranges, pears, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes into their diet. Why are complex carbohydrates so beneficial for those with ADHD? The body takes longer to break complex carbs down, which is why there are fewer spikes and crashes than simple carbs, as mentioned previously.
Beyond the benefits of complex carbohydrates, however, fruits and vegetables like spinach, pomegranate, and berries are full of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Ensuring the body is not lacking in any of these nutrients is a cornerstone to good health, and with good health comes easier to manage ADHD symptoms, since the body is not being put through the wringer with too much junk.
Avoid Refined Sugars And Junk Food
Avoiding sugar entirely is not possible since there are natural sugars in many healthy foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables). However, with all of these sugars out there, the body does not need the additional refined sugars in junk food. Refined sugar may increase hyperactivity, inattention, and even impulsivity, particularly with the dramatic swings in energy it may cause, since the body does not use it as extended energy, as with choices like lean protein. Also, when children and adults fill up on candy, chips, soft drinks, and other sources of refined sugar, they are losing out on choices with high nutritional value. There may also be a link between artificial colors in food with refined sugar and reactions in children with ADHD, but the results are not one hundred percent proven.
Reduce Intake Of Caffeine And Alcohol
Coffee, energy drinks, and alcoholic beverages are all popular among adults. However, they are all linked to hurting those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Caffeine negatively affects sleep and even makes individuals jumpy when they have too much, and doctors often mention quality sleep is extremely beneficial to patients with ADHD, as it helps them keep their energy at a consistent level throughout the day.
Alcohol, of course, reduces inhibitions for everyone, so adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who struggle with impulsivity can see even more extreme effects. Not to mention, it can cause substance abuse or addiction, another marker of potential ADHD in adults, worse. Parents should also note there is caffeine in many popular soft drinks, so they should limit giving these to their children, and never give a child energy drinks.
Keep Body Hydrated With Water
Every brain needs to remain hydrated to function properly. Judgment and cognitive function both decrease whenever the brain is dehydrated. This applies to an individual who consumes beverages that dehydrate the body (e.g., coffee and alcohol), as well as if they are not drinking enough water. The body is eighty percent water after all! While an often cited standard is to drink eight glasses of water a day (roughly eight ounces each), this may not apply to everyone.
On particularly active days, the body will need more water to replace what it loses through sweat. The best indicator is to drink enough water so urine appears clear. For children, it is important for parents to give them a glass of water regularly. Avoid becoming thirsty, as this is an indicator of dehydration.
Remember To Reach For Healthy Fats
Aside from water, the brain needs healthy fat to function well. In fact, fat makes up approximately sixty percent of the brain and nerves running through the body. This means individuals need to keep them healthy for the body to continue running well. The two most important fats when it comes to this are omega-6s and omega-3s, which make up the brain cell membranes and are an important part of the cell membranes' ability to transport nutrients.
This is particularly important for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as there is an increased risk of lower levels of omega-3s among this group. Experts indicate those with these low levels are the ones who would show the most significant improvement in their ADHD symptoms once they begin to get these healthy fats in their diet. Good sources to try are flaxseed, eggs, spinach, yogurt, and fish like salmon and tuna.
A Balanced Diet Is The Key
When it comes down to it, an essential way to manage ADHD through diet is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Even with the best intentions, leaning heavily on one healthy component can throw off the benefits. Although healthy protein is great in managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, do not rely on this entirely. Aim to incorporate other aspects of healthy eating (such as choosing whole wheat, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and staying hydrated.)
Each one of the tips previously mentioned plays a role in managing the symptoms of ADHD and can work wonders. But they cannot work alone! Just like a balanced diet is key to remaining healthy even without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the mix, it is also essential for the best results.