Can what I eat affect my ADHD?

You wake up late, rush to get dressed, and head out the door. You stop for a latte but forego grabbing anything to eat, based largely on the fact that you ate your body weight in chips and salsa last night while out with friends.

Can caffeine, skipping meals, eating too many carbs and choosing certain foods impact your ability to focus, maintain motivation and complete the days tasks efficiently? The short answer is YES.

Consider the following:

A 2012 review suggested that caffeine improves performance on both simple and complex attention tasks. The authors concluded that caffeine has clear beneficial effects on attention, and that these effects are even more widespread than previously assumed. However, higher caffeine intakes do not necessarily result in additional increases in alertness. Meaning, one cup of joe is probably sufficient, while more than that may be too much of a good thing.

Is binging on carbs one of your favorite past times? Serotonin-releasing brain neurons are unique in that the amount of neurotransmitter they release is normally controlled by how many carbohydrates you consume. This means, the more carbohydrates we eat, the more serotonin we produce. Which sounds great, but really this boost in mood encourages our continued consumption of carbs, which are readily available every day. The more carbohydrates we consume, the more difficult it is for our pancreas to control insulin levels and this leads to a whole host of problems (think: weight gain, increased blood pressure, fatigue and even increased risk for dementia).

A 2014 study revealed that disruptive patterns of eating behaviors, metabolically unfavorable nutritional status, and diminished physical activities of male children diagnosed with ADHD are linked to compromised growth and development and appearance of metabolic diseases in adulthood. Meaning, children with ADHD often skip meals and this contributes to a higher rate of metabolic diseases (think; diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol) as they becomes adults.

So what can you do to use food as a tool for improving your symptoms of ADHD instead of making them worse? Here are four suggestions:

1. Eat a healthy breakfast. And while you’re at it, why not try this delicious chocolate quinoa breakfast bowl from The Minimalist Baker.



2. Limit your caffeine consumption to one serving, in the morning. And balance it out with a serving of healthy protein, to avoid feeling jittery. This green tea latte is a perfect option.



3. Don’t skip meals. In fact, try eating 6 small meals a day, instead of 3 larger ones. This helps balance your blood sugar and prevent those carb binges you’re trying to avoid. Dr. Oz provides a detailed 6 mini-meal plan that’s easy to follow. 


4. Stick to eating whole ingredient foods in their natural form. While the research on the effects of sugar and food additives (like red dye and preservatives) on ADHD are controversial, there is solid evidence that the best approach for overall health and nutrition is a diet that limits sugary and processed foods and is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in certain types of fish, flaxseed and other foods.

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