ADHD is a widespread disorder that impairs the brain’s attention, self-regulation, and emotional stability functions. While there is no cure for ADHD, some dietary changes may help improve symptoms and quality of life for people with ADHD.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet for ADHD, but some general principles can guide you in choosing foods that support your brain health and well-being. Here are some tips on what to eat and avoid to manage ADHD better.
What to Eat:
- Protein: Protein helps build neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that regulate mood, attention, and behaviour. Protein also helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which can affect energy and focus. Aim for high-quality protein sources, such as lean meats, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, cheese, and yoghurt. Eat protein-rich foods in the morning and as snacks to boost your brain function throughout the day.
- Complex carbohydrates: The brain gets a constant flow of glucose from complex carbohydrates, which break down gradually in the body. You can get complex carbohydrates from foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and root vegetables. They also contain fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support brain health. Eat complex carbohydrates in the evening to help you relax and sleep better.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: The vital fats affecting brain growth and function. They have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects and may help improve symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and mood swings. Both plant foods and fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids. Some examples of plant foods are walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and soybeans. Some examples of fatty fish are salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel. You can also take omega-3 supplements with your doctor’s approval.
- Micronutrients: Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals needed in small amounts for various bodily functions. These nutrients are involved in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters and may affect cognitive performance and behaviour. Some micronutrients that may benefit people with ADHD include iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin D, and folate. You can get most of these micronutrients from a balanced diet of various foods from all food groups. However, you may benefit from taking supplements under medical supervision if you have a deficiency or a higher need for certain micronutrients due to genetic or environmental factors.
What to Avoid
- Simple sugars: Your blood sugar levels change rapidly when you eat simple sugars that digest quickly. This can lead to fluctuations in energy, mood, and concentration. Simple sugars also have calories that do not give you any nutrients and can make you gain weight and have other health issues. Examples of simple sugars include candy, soda, juice, honey, syrup, table sugar, and products made from refined flour. Limit your intake of simple sugars and opt for natural sweeteners like fruits or stevia.
- Artificial additives: Artificial additives are substances added to foods to enhance flavour, colour, texture, or shelf life. Some artificial additives that may worsen ADHD symptoms include preservatives (such as sodium benzoate), artificial colours (such as tartrazine), artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame), and flavour enhancers (such as monosodium glutamate). These additives may trigger allergic reactions or affect neurotransmitter levels in some people with ADHD. Avoid foods that contain artificial additives and choose natural or organic foods whenever possible.
- Allergens: Allergens are things that make some people who are allergic to them have an immune reaction. Some foods that often cause allergies are gluten (a protein in wheat and other grains), casein (a protein in dairy products), eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and sesame seeds. Food allergies or intolerances can cause inflammation in the body and brain and may affect mood, behaviour, and cognition. If you suspect that you have a food allergy or intolerance that may be affecting your ADHD symptoms, you should consult your doctor and get tested. To test if your food allergy has changed, you can avoid the food for some time, reintroduce it gradually, and monitor your reactions. However, it would be best not to do this without medical guidance, as it may cause nutritional deficiencies or food aversion.
ADHD is a complicated disorder that needs a complete treatment plan, including medicine, therapy, changes in habits, and changes in food. Eating a healthy and varied diet that helps your brain health and well-being may not cure ADHD, but it may help you deal with your symptoms and improve your life. Focus on foods that may benefit your brain function, such as protein, complex carbohydrates, omega-3 fatty acids, and micronutrients. Do not eat foods that worsen your symptoms, such as processed sugars, artificial ingredients, and foods you are allergic to. Remember to consult your doctor before significantly changing your diet or taking supplements.
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