By Marian Mitchell, INHC (AADP)
Food impacts the health and functionality of your brain. It seems like common sense. However most people are unaware of it. We take vitamins, eat fortified foods, eat four to five times a day and think we’re getting all we need. Unfortunately, for some of us this isn’t the case.
ADHD is defined as a syndrome, usually diagnosed around the age of seven. It’s characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness, short attention span and sometimes hyperactivity. These characteristics can interfere with academic, occupational, or social performance. While it seems to be a genetic condition, research reveals that certain foods make symptoms worse while other foods will actually improve symptoms and thus improve the quality of life for those with ADHD.
Foods that Make ADHD Symptoms Worse
While you may have heard that diet doesn’t matter and won’t help symptoms, science tells a different story. There are foods that will make symptoms worse and should be minimized at the very least and at the best, completely eliminated. While some foods may not trigger symptoms at all, others will. All of the food and food additives listed below are unhealthy and should be avoided for the sake of health.
MSG — Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is not only an excitotoxin linked to all kind of health problems including headaches, aggravating asthma, disorientation, and learning disorders, it has also been shown to decrease dopamine levels in the body. Balanced dopamine levels are essential in keeping impulsivity and activity in check, something those with ADHD struggle with.
Food coloring and preservatives — Artificial food coloring and certain preservatives, such as Potassium Benzoate and Sodium Benzoate, have been shown to lead to hyperactivity, behavior and sleeping problems in children and adults. Studies show that when those diagnosed with ADHD removed artificial coloring and preservatives from their diet, they experienced an improvement in symptoms.
Sugar — Yale University School of Medicine found that children who consumed a high sugar diet had lower scores on tests measuring learning and attention and fidgeted more once blood sugars became low. Erratic blood sugar levels affect learning, mood, and behavior, often triggering hyperactivity.
Artificial sweeteners — While reducing or completely eliminating sugar is healthy, replacing it with artificial sweeteners is not. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to a variety of health problems including heart palpitations, migraines, anxiety, depression, “spaced- out” feeling, memory loss, dizziness, obesity, muscle spasms, and more. With side effects like this, it is obvious how avoiding these will improve symptoms and overall health.
Personal food sensitivities — Studies have shown that 15% of those diagnosed with ADHD are found to have Celiac Disease (an autoimmune disease triggered by consuming gluten) and even more have other food sensitivities that exacerbate their ADHD symptoms. Finding out what these foods are through an IgG/IgA blood panel and supervised elimination diet may help improve ADHD symptoms and help address other health concerns including skin rashes, stomach pain, bowel movement issues, allergies, and moodiness.
Foods That Make ADHD Symptoms Better
It’s overwhelming to eliminate foods which are so prevalent in our stores. We all love food and need to enjoy foods that love us back. Below I have listed foods that will not only improve your symptoms but your overall health.
Protein — A protein rich diet helps to keep blood sugar levels stable which in turn helps to balance moods, sustain energy, and normalize the appetite throughout the day. Along with keeping things balanced, protein also contains the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine. Tryptophan enhances relaxation and improves sleep abilities while tyrosine is a primary component of the neurotransmitters that enhance concentration. Starting your day with a breakfast that includes 25-40g of protein will help maintain your blood sugar levels all day long.
Iron-rich foods — Low iron levels, not necessarily anemic levels, are associated with poor concentration and mental function, muscle weakness, irritability, poor memory and fatigue. Making sure to consume iron-rich foods is an essential diet strategy for those with ADHD. Foods high in iron include liver, red and dark meats, egg yolks, dark leafy greens and navy beans.
Probiotic rich foods — Gut health is important for overall health but especially for serotonin production. 90% of serotonin is produced by our gut bacteria. When there isn’t adequate healthy bacteria in the gut, serotonin production will suffer. Foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, kefir water, kombucha, and raw sauerkraut.
Omega-3 rich foods — Omega-3 fatty acids directly affect cognitive and behavior function in all ages. Being deficient leads to symptoms including mood swings, sleep problems, depression, poor memory, fatigue, dry skin, and heart problems. Food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include dark leafy greens, wild-caught fish, pastured beef, flax and chia seeds. A diet rich in nutrients and low in processed foods is the foundation for health. When you eat healthy you’ll have energy, clear thinking, better sleep, less pain or discomfort and be less likely to get sick. When you also suffer from ADHD, it is important to be diligent about including foods which ensure you get the nutrients necessary for optimal brain function. Also, you need to avoid foods that are known to make you feel worse as this will help you to feel more in control of yourself and your life. You deserve to feel amazing and what you eat truly does matter. Enjoy the nutritious recipes below!
1 sweet potato
1 tbsp butter from pastured cows
Happy Belly Tropical Green Smoothie
½ cup frozen mango
1 cup kefir made from milk of choice
½ lb wild-caught salmon, cut into two filets