Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder that affects the ability to focus and control impulses. It is generally diagnosed in childhood but can affect adults as well. Symptoms of ADHD can make it difficult to concentrate, complete tasks, or behave appropriately in a given situation. The condition is often managed with therapy or stimulant medications but nutrition can also play a huge positive role. Below are six simple food tricks to decrease symptoms of ADHD and get back on track.
1. Eat protein at breakfast
Breakfast can sometimes be a tough meal to keep it healthy: between getting ready for work or getting kids off to school or both, it’s easy to see how easy convenience foods can quickly become a staple as you run out the door. Unfortunately, most of these foods are highly processed and don’t do much for you in terms of brain health. Making sure you consume protein at breakfast will keep you blood sugar levels steady and provide the building blocks necessary to produce neurotransmitters which help regulate brain activity.
Food Trick: Be sure to include a good protein source with your breakfast like eggs (you can hard boil for an easy grab-and-go), nuts and seeds, or a protein smoothie.
2. Ditch food coloring and preservatives
Some studies suggest that the artificial food colorings, flavors, and preservatives used in processed foods can make symptoms in those with ADHD worse. Six artificial colors that have become the most controversial are Yellow #6, quinoline yellow, carmoisine, Red #40, Yellow #5, and ponceau. In Europe, warning labels are required in foods containing these colorings, however, different studies on the subject have been inconclusive so these additives remain in the American food system.
Food Trick: A trial elimination of these additives can help you determine if these ingredients are causing problems with ADHD. If symptoms seem better when they are avoided then stay off them! A quick scan of the ingredient list will help you determine if they are in your food or better yet, stick with whole foods and you won’t have to worry about it.
3. Avoid major food allergens
Immune reactions caused by food allergies or food sensitivities could be to blame for some symptoms of ADHD. Studies show, some of the most common food allergens like wheat, corn, eggs, dairy, and soy are often the culprit and can cause those with ADHD to lose focus and become more hyperactive. Food allergies or sensitivities can be tested for using blood or skin tests or you can try an elimination diet.
Food Trick: Try eliminating major allergens like wheat, corn, eggs, dairy, and soy from the diet for at least 6 weeks. After six weeks reintroduce the eliminated one at a time, waiting 2-3 days between reintroductions. Note any symptoms experienced and see if the reintroduction of any of these foods cause an increase in symptoms. You’ll want to continue to avoid foods that increase symptoms.
4. Swap out your sugar
Research shows a high sugar intake increases inattention and can make those who have ADHD more restless which can lead to more destructive behaviors. Making it a habit to read food labels can greatly reduce your added sugar intake. Newer food labels will have a separate line item letting you know how much sugar has been added to a product. Taking a look at the ingredient list can also be helpful. In addition to plain “sugar,” watch out for words like high-fructose corn sweetener, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, sucrose, molasses, and malt syrup which are all code for sugar.
Food Trick: the number one source of added sugar in the American diet is beverages. Swapping out that “fruit drink” and “fruit cocktail,” as well as sodas and energy drinks for water or flavored sparkling water will make a huge impact in your sugar consumption.
5. Get in your Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their role in neuroprotection and brain health. They function by protecting the brain from oxidative damage and inflammation. Low levels of Omega-3s, especially in childhood, have been associated with poor brain maturation and cognitive dysfunction including inattention and decreased concentration. Research shows increasing intake of these beneficial fatty acids can reduce ADHD symptoms.
Food Trick: Chow down on cold-water, fatty fish rich in Omega-3s and low in mercury contamination. Fish like mackerel, cod, haddock, sardines, tuna, and salmon are great options.
6. Master your minerals
Minerals serve many functions in the body so it should come as no surprise that they are involved in attention and concentration. Specific minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iron can be especially beneficial in ADHD. Zinc and iron are necessary in order to make dopamine and improve the brain’s response to this important neurotransmitter responsible for attention and executive functions. Low levels of both zinc and iron correlate with inattention. Magnesium is also used to make neurotransmitters involved in attention and additionally has a calming effect on the brain.
Food Trick: Increase your intake of foods rich in zinc, iron, and magnesium like poultry, seafood, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and spinach.
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