Unlocking ADHD writer, Hana Cheng, finds out what types of food are good for nourishing the ADHD brain.
Did you know that what you eat can improve or worsen your ADHD symptoms?
The ADHD brain is bored, under-stimulated and uninhibited. It produces less dopamine than the average neurotypical brain. ADHD hinders a person’s capacity to choose to eat cleanly resulting in the ADHD symptoms being exacerbated.
There are 4 types of food that have an effect on the ADHD brain:
- Refined Sugars
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in the body. Free radicals are compounds that are linked to multiple illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants also protect the brain from oxidative stress which damages cells.
Unhealthy foods (those that are high in fat and/or sugar, processed foods, alcohol, etc) do not remove the free radicals (waste). In fact, foods with a high refined sugar content can actually cause an accumulation of waste.
Foods that are high in antioxidants include:
- Dark chocolate
- Red cabbage
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. When consumed in moderation, caffeine improves working memory and reaction times as well as reduces fatigue.
Some adults with ADHD claim that consuming a small amount an hour or two before bedtime helps with sleep. Caffeine is thought to help them focus on falling asleep instead of on other thoughts that may distract them from sleeping. However, the effects of caffeine are largely dependent on many variables, and vary greatly among individuals.
Finding the right balance of caffeine is important as consuming excess caffeine can cause irritability and anxiety.
Caffeine can be found in the following:
- Coffee and espresso
- Dark chocolate
- Energy drinks
- Caffeine supplements
Serotonin is a key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. It also helps with focus and reduces anxiety.
Produced in the gastrointestinal tract, serotonin improves the absorption of nutrients and activates the neural pathway from the gut to the brain.
The levels of serotonin can be increased by consuming lean proteins, seafood, fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains. Examples of serotonin rich foods include:
- Nuts and seeds
Refined sugars are mainly found in processed food and contain virtually no vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, fiber, or other beneficial compounds. Refined sugars include table sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Examples of foods with refined sugars include:
- Drinks – sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, vitamin water, fruit beverages, etc.
- Breakfast foods – cereals, granola, muesli, cereal bars, etc.
- Sweets and baked goods – chocolate bars, ice cream, croissants, some breads, baked goods, etc.
- Canned goods – baked beans, canned vegetables and fruit, etc.
- Bread toppings – jams, nut butters, spreads, fruit purees, etc.
- Diet foods – low fat yoghurts, low fat peanut butter, low fat sauces, etc.
- Sauces – ketchup, salad dressings, pasta sauces, etc.
People with ADHD seek stimulation in the form of foods that are high in simple carbohydrates and refined sugars. These types of foods provide immediate satisfaction.
Foods that are high in refined sugars negatively impact the ADHD brain by preventing the brain from operating effectively. Some of the ways that refined sugar foods affect the brain include:
- Impairing executive function
- Exacerbating mood disorder symptoms (depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia)
- Creating a sense of satiety which causes a decrease in the consumption of proteins, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients which are crucial as protectants against symptoms of ADHD
Choosing the right foods to eat is relatively simple to implement and a natural way to manage ADHD symptoms. The next time you are out for groceries, bring along a list of ADHD friendly foods to add to your shopping cart – your brain and body will thank you for it!