We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” But have you ever considered how true this is for mental illness?
It turns out our diets play a vital role in how our brain functions. And though this may be a concern to those of us with unhealthy appetites, it can also be a blessing for those looking to avoid traditional medications.
For parents of children with ADHD, one of the most difficult decisions you have to make is whether or not you want your child on a prescription. However, before you accept that doctor’s request, it may be beneficial to try some natural alternatives. Including a healthy and wholesome diet.
Within this blog, we provide you with a detailed outline of the proper diet for someone struggling with ADHD. Discussing the best foods to eat and avoid. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
How Our Diet Affects our Brain
It wasn’t until recently that researchers discovered something now known as the gut-brain connection.
To put it simply, our gut holds hundreds of millions of neurons that are connected to our brains through nerves in the nervous system. ¹ These neurons have a huge influence on a number of different brain functions, including:
The gut-brain connection is what’s responsible for those gut-feelings we occasionally get. For example, when we’re nervous we may feel “butterflies in our stomach.” This is our gut trying to tell our brain something feels off.
Naturally, one way to better influence our gut-brain connection is through a proper diet.
And, with that said, many of those who struggle with mental health are seeking out diets that can specifically aid to their symptoms.
The Importance of Protein and ADHD
Protein-rich foods have an important role in the body when digesting. They create neurotransmitters, a chemical used by brain cells to communicate with one another.
This communication has been proven to play a vital role in those struggling ADHD. Not only for its way of helping the brain communicate better but also for preventing blood sugar levels from increasing. ²
Protein-rich foods include:
- Lean beef
- Low-fat dairy products
Though it’s important to make protein apart of each meal, nutritionists say it’s most vital in the morning. This is due to the fact that neurotransmitters can help awaken the brain.
Vitamins and Minerals – The Missing Link
Unfortunately, even with a balanced diet, we’re often missing key vitamins, minerals, and fats that can improve ADHD symptoms.
According to Richard Brown, M.D., author of How to Use Herbs, Nutrients, and Yoga in Mental Health Care:
“Supplements and diet can correct nutrient shortfalls that exacerbate ADHD symptoms.”
The following are some of the most important supplements you can add to your daily routine:
- Zinc, Iron, and Magnesium
People who struggle with ADHD have a symptom that isn’t physically obvious – they have trouble regulating dopamine. Luckily, supplements such as zinc and iron can help improve this regulation.
On the other hand, magnesium influences neurotransmitters involved in attention and concentration. In effect, magnesium has the ability to calm the brain while improving cognitive function. ³
- B Vitamins
Though B Vitamins have been found to increase levels of dopamine, they also have a number of other benefits. Particularly, to children who struggle with ADHD.
Studies show that even just a small dosage of B Vitamins helped children’s IQ scores improve by nearly 16 points. Furthermore, it helped decrease aggression and antisocial conduct. ⁴
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to improve brain and nerve cell function. In effect, foods or supplements containing omega-3 can help reduce ADHD symptoms.
In fact, one study found that when people with ADHD ate foods high with omega-3 fatty acids, their ADHD symptoms reduced by nearly 50%. ⁵
- Ginkgo and Ginseng
ADHD medication tends to activate cognitive functioning and, in turn, improve ADHD symptoms. However, the list of side effects makes it very unattractive for most people, especially parents.
Luckily, there are natural alternatives, including ginkgo and ginseng. Both herbs not only improve cognitive function but also make people with ADHD less impulsive and distracted. ⁶
It should be noted that Asian ginseng may overstimulate younger children.
Foods to Avoid with ADHD
As has been discussed, our diets play a major role in how we think and feel. This is all-the-more true for those struggling with ADHD – whether adult or child.
Recent studies have found the following foods should be avoided by those who experience symptoms of ADHD:
- High-Sugar Foods/Snacks
It’s fairly well-known that children who consume high amounts of sugar are likely to be more hyperactive. However, what many parents don’t know is children with ADHD are even more “turned on” by sugar. ⁷
In other words, sugar is almost like an activation for ADHD symptoms.
To avoid this, it’s important to stay away from fruit drinks and cocktails. When you go grocery shopping, make sure to study the nutrition labels and keep an eye out for the following ingredients: high-fructose corn sweetener, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, sucrose, molasses, and malt syrup.
- Artificial Dyes and Preservatives
Food additives can have a strong effect on those struggling with ADHD. Recent studies have found that artificial food coloring and flavors – including preservative sodium benzoate – with cause hyperactivity. Even in children without ADHD. ⁸
Foods containing these ingredients are often colorful and direct to kids, such as Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms.
If you struggle with ADHD or have a child who does, it’s important to remember that prescription medication doesn’t always have to be the option.
With the advent of modern science and medicine, we are developing a better understanding for how our brain and body works. And with that understanding, we have found ways to improve our mental function without taking strong medication.
We hope this guide has helped you move closer towards your goals and aided you in thwarting ADHD symptoms.
Still have questions concerning a diet plan for someone with ADHD?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any personal or professional advice to add, we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ HHS Public Access: Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication
² ClinicalTrials.gov: Neurocognitive and Neurobiological Improvement in ADHD Children With High Protein Diet
³ International Journal of Preventive Medicine: Magnesium, Iron, and Zinc Supplementation for the Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
⁴ PubMed: Improvement of neurobehavioral disorders in children supplemented with magnesium-vitamin B6. I. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.
⁵ Dovepress: Critical appraisal of omega-3 fatty acids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder treatment
⁶ Neural Plasticity: Natural Product-Derived Treatments for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Safety, Efficacy, and Therapeutic Potential of Combination Therapy
⁷ Jones, T W, et al. “Enhanced Adrenomedullary Response and Increased Susceptibility to Neuroglycopenia: Mechanisms Underlying the Adverse Effects of Sugar Ingestion in Healthy Children.” The Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 126, no. 2, 1995, pp. 171–177.
⁸ Springer Neurotherapeutics: Artificial Food Colors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Symptoms: Conclusions to Dye for
Food is crucial for everybody, not just in time when you find yourself in any kind of struggle.
Well said, thanks for sharing.
Thank for the comment. I 100% agree that food plays a crucial role in everyone’s mental stability which is why I mentioned the brain-gut connection at the beginning of this article. The purpose of this piece was to show that the right food can help improve ADHD symptoms for those with unhealthy diet habits. Of course, this remains true with everyone and not simply those struggling with ADHD.