ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the central nervous system and involves symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Managing thoughts, tasks, time and decisions can be challenging for someone with ADHD (otherwise called executive functioning) and can affect their ability to plan and prepare healthy meals. ADHD affects approximately 5% of children and 4% of adults (although levels in both adults and children are on the rise) in Canada.
As an educator and holistic nutritionist, the most helpful tool I offer families who struggle with this condition is education around the role that nutrition plays in behaviour and symptom relief for the whole family. ADHD is not caused by nutrition-related challenges, nor can nutrition cure this condition; however, research shows that nutrition is a major player in the intensity of ADHD symptoms in children and adults.
A few simple swaps coupled with what I call ‘nutrition packing’ can make a big difference in the everyday lives of adults and children.
Here are 4 health tips that can positively impact your family’s well-being and reduce symptoms of ADHD:
- Tip # 1: Balance That Pesky Blood Sugar
- Tip # 2: Omega-3 Magic
- Tip # 3: Pump the ADHD Micronutrient Powerhouses
- Tip # 4: Probiotics: The REAL Superheroes who do ALL THE WORK
TIP # 1: Balance That Pesky Blood Sugar
The amount of sugar in our blood can directly impact our mental and emotional state, especially for those struggling with ADHD.
When blood sugar levels rise as a result of eating high simple carbohydrate foods (refined and processed foods), the body converts these into glucose that floods the bloodstream. Blood sugar levels rise and initiate insulin production (a hormone secreted from the pancreas to counter the situation) resulting in an inevitable blood-sugar level plunge. This drop manifests as fatigue, brain fog, disorientation, and even depressive symptoms. It also initiates the release of cortisol, leading to that shaky or sometimes ‘hangry’ feeling and the sugar cravings begin again, leading to the perpetuation of the processed and high-sugar food cycle.
Avoiding the peaks and valleys associated with poor blood sugar balance can help manage certain ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity and concentration.
Ensuring that meals are consistent and placed every few hours can support this. The key here is to ensure that a meal or snack contains a healthy protein option that is paired with a complex carbohydrate. Sounds simple, right? That unassuming and seemingly healthy granola bar your child eats may have oats, a complex carbohydrate that breaks down slowly, supplying steady energy for a longer period of time; however, these highly processed snacks are often filled with sugar, counteracting the balance the oats provide. Pairing this bar with a small handful of raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or a few cubes of organic cooked chicken breast will keep blood sugar levels steady and avoid mood imbalances leading to poor concentration.
Complex carbohydrates contain starch and fibre which can slow down blood sugar, helping you feel full longer (think whole food options like beans/legumes, oatmeal, quinoa, sweet potatoes, & brown rice). Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are usually made up of more simple or refined sugars (think anything in a package). If eaten on their own, simple carbohydrates are more likely to lead to imbalances in blood sugar, resulting in the blood sugar ‘crash’ synonymous with tantrums in children and mood imbalances in adults.
Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day can greatly impact ADHD symptoms in a positive way!
Click here for my blood sugar balancing Goji & Cacao Chip Granola Bar Recipe
TIP # 2: Omega-3 Magic
Okay, so let’s talk about Omega-3 Fatty Acids and how they can help with ADHD symptoms. First off, Omega-3s are like the cool kids of the fat world. They’re essential fats that our bodies can’t make on their own, so we gotta get them from our diet.
Now, you might be thinking, “why do I care about Omega-3s?”
Well, for starters, they’re super important for brain health. In fact, the brain is made up of 60% fat, and Omega-3s are a key component of that fat. So, it’s no surprise that Omega-3s have been shown to be helpful in managing ADHD symptoms.
Research has found that children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of Omega-3s in their blood compared to kids without ADHD. And studies have shown that supplementing with Omega-3s can improve attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in children with ADHD.
But how exactly do Omega-3s do all this?
Well, it’s believed that they help with brain function by reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the brain. Plus, they’re involved in the production of neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers in our brains that help us think, feel, and behave.
So, where can you find these Omega-3s?
The best sources are fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. But if you’re not a fan of fish (or just don’t eat it often enough), you can also get Omega-3s from other sources like chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans.
If you’re looking for an easy way to add more Omega-3s into your diet, you could try making my favourite (and family-friendly) salmon patties. Not only are these salmon patties packed with Omega-3s, but they’re also a great source of protein and other nutrients that can help support brain health and manage ADHD symptoms.
So, give ’em a try and see how you feel!
Click here for my favourite Salmon Cakes Recipe.
TIP # 3: Pump the ADHD Micronutrient Powerhouses
Let’s talk about the micronutrient superheroes that can help with ADHD symptoms! These tiny nutrients may be small, but they pack a powerful punch when it comes to supporting our brains and bodies.
First up, we have iron.
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in carrying oxygen throughout our bodies. It helps our red blood cells deliver oxygen to our brain, which is critical for optimal brain function. Studies have shown that people with ADHD often have lower levels of iron, which can lead to symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and lack of focus. To boost your iron levels, try adding iron-rich foods like spinach, beef, lentils, and pumpkin seeds to your diet.
Next, we have zinc.
Zinc is a mineral that plays a crucial role in our immune system, but it’s also important for brain function. Low levels of zinc have been linked to ADHD symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Zinc can be found in foods like oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.
Moving on to magnesium, which is another essential mineral that our bodies need to function properly.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies, including neurotransmitter function, which is critical for brain health. Studies have shown that people with ADHD often have lower levels of magnesium, which can lead to symptoms like restlessness and anxiety. Magnesium can be found in foods like spinach, almonds, avocados, and dark chocolate (yes, you read that right!).
Finally, we have vitamin D.
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies can produce it when we’re exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is essential for bone health, but it’s also important for brain function. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to ADHD symptoms like inattention and hyperactivity. Vitamin D can be found in foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms, but it can also be hard to get enough through diet alone, especially in the winter months. So, don’t be afraid to soak up some sun (with proper sunscreen, of course!) or take a vitamin D supplement if you need to.
Incorporating these micronutrient superheroes into your diet can help support your brain and body, and may even help alleviate ADHD symptoms. So, next time you’re at the grocery store, grab some spinach, beef, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate, and get ready to boost your brainpower!
I have an amazing nutrient-dense smoothie recipe that incorporates all the micronutrients needed to support ADHD symptoms that we just discussed.
Click here for my favourite Super-Nutrient Avocado Blueberry Smoothie.
TIP #4: Probiotics: The REAL Superheroes who Do ALL THE WORK
Let’s talk about the superheroes of the digestive system – probiotics!
You might have heard about these friendly bacteria, which are often found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut. They do more than just aid digestion, they also play a crucial role in supporting ADHD symptoms.
Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, both good and bad.
When we consume antibiotics, sugary or processed foods, or experience stress, it can lead to an imbalance in our gut bacteria. This is where probiotics come in – they help replenish the good bacteria, keeping the balance in check. Now, research has found that there is a link between the gut and the brain, and that imbalances in gut bacteria can contribute to ADHD symptoms.
When the good bacteria are low, it can lead to inflammation in the gut, which can then lead to inflammation in the brain. This can cause symptoms like brain fog, mood swings, and difficulty with concentration.
When we consume probiotics, we increase the number of good bacteria in our gut, which can then help reduce inflammation in both the gut and the brain. This can lead to improvements in concentration, attention, and overall mood.
Not all probiotics are created equal, so it’s important to choose a good quality one.
Look for a probiotic that contains a variety of strains, and check that it’s been tested for potency and purity. You can also get probiotics from foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Incorporating probiotics into your diet can be as easy as adding some kefir to your morning smoothie, having a serving of yogurt with berries as a snack, or adding a spoonful of sauerkraut to your salad. It’s a tasty and easy way to support your gut and brain health.
So, there you have it – the power of probiotics in supporting ADHD symptoms. I have a great recipe for a gluten and dairy-free snack rich in probiotics and antioxidants. This snack is not only delicious but also packed with probiotics, which can help support gut health and in turn, benefit ADHD symptoms. Plus, it’s gluten and dairy-free, making it suitable for those with dietary restrictions. Enjoy!
Click here for my Coconut Yogurt with Berries recipe!
Remember, a happy gut leads to a happy brain, so let’s give those superheroes some love!
If you’re looking for support with your family’s health goals or need support with mental health, ADHD, Autism or other neurodiverse conditions, feel free to book in a FREE discovery call at Soma & Soul Wellness so we can chat to see if Holistic Nutrition is a good fit!