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3 Food Rules for ADHD Families: What to Eat, What to Avoid

Rule 1: Eat high-quality calories, but not too many.

The quality of your food affects how your brain and body work. Try to eat high-quality food, and be careful with calories. Impulsivity leads many people diagnosed with ADHD to eat the wrong things too often. In fact, impulsivity is associated with unhealthy weight gain, which has been shown to be bad for the brain. Eat only high-quality calories. One cinnamon roll contains 720 calories and a small quiche more than 1,000 calories while a 400-calorie salad made of spinach, salmon, blueberries, apples, walnuts, and red bell peppers will increase your energy and, maybe, make you smarter.

It’s not as simple as calories in, calories out. Some calories adversely affect your hormones, your taste buds, and your health. Eating sugar and processed food, even in small amounts, leads to craving more food and feeling less energetic. You can eat more if you eat healthy, high-quality food that gives you energy and turns on the hormones that affect metabolism.

Rule 2: Drink plenty of water.

Your brain is 80 percent water. Anything that dehydrates it, such as too much caffeine or alcohol, impairs your cognition and judgment. Drink plenty of water every day.

To know whether you are drinking enough water for your brain, a good general rule is to drink half your weight in ounces per day. If you are significantly obese, don’t drink more than 120 ounces a day. If you are an athlete, make sure to replenish electrolytes after the game or working out. Cutting out sugary drinks and juice eliminates about 400 calories a day from the average American diet. That allows you to either eat more healthy food or eliminates a lot of calories, if you are trying to shed pounds.

Rule 3: Eat high-quality, lean protein.

It is important to start each day with protein to boost your focus and concentration. Protein helps balance your blood sugar, increases focus, and gives your brain the necessary building blocks for brain health. Think of it as medicine, and take it in small doses. Recent studies3 show that consuming large amounts of protein at one time can cause oxidative stress (a problem that burdens your body and brain), making you feel sick.

Great sources of protein include wild fish, skinless turkey or chicken, beans (eat them like a condiment, not too often or too much), raw nuts, and vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. I use spinach instead of lettuce in my salads for a nutrition boost. Protein powders can also be a good source, but read the labels. Whey protein contains casein, which is an excitotoxin in the brain, and can be overly stimulating for some people. Many companies put sugar and other unhealthful ingredients in their powders. My personal preference is pea and rice protein blends.

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