Food can bring great pleasure to people. It can also be a source of guilt or stress as we understand how poor food choices can impact our health. The ADHD brain sometimes is especially sensitive to negative impacts of poor food choices. However, planning and implementing healthy food choices can be overwhelming in the sometimes chaotic ADHD household. Here are some tips for how to achieve an ADHD friendly diet.
What ingredients do I try to avoid for our ADHD household?
I am far from perfect when it comes to food choices. However, the more I have learned I have selected a few things to focus on to make healthier food choices for myself and my family. Foods commonly advertised targeting kids in particular often lack proper nutrients and have excess of less than helpful ingredients. Convenience items, or breakfast foods are often the same.
There are 4 primary things I look for on nutrition labels for our family. If there are other health concerns, there are definitely other ingredients to keep an eye out for. For us, I try to keep the sugar count low, particularly added sugar. I try to shy away from artificial sweeteners to fill the sugar gap, and avoid the artificial dyes. The last item is less vital in my super active gymnasts, however empty carbs are low on the list of foods I want to feed my family. Check out the link between ADHD and type 2 diabetes here. To fill the carbohydrate needs I try to stick with whole grains, fruits and veggies, etc. I look for some fiber to balance out the carbs. Foods made with white flour don’t show up in our home very often.
What foods do I target to include in our ADHD household?
Protein, fiber, and healthy fats are the biggest target foods for our family. Omega 3’s are studied to be very beneficial for brain health. I started out looking towards the Keto diet when my ADHD husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. However, many of the popular recipes that focus just on the fats are lacking important nutrients and fiber. If you just look at keeping carbs low, you could be eating a ton of cheese, and no fiber. I can only imagine how constipating that could end up being! Our family also has no need to achieve ketosis for weight loss.
I have discovered even for a healthcare professional like myself, understanding “healthy” food choices can be challenging. Many of us grew up with the food pyramid, which could load us up on a ton of empty carbs! More recently schools have moved to a healthy plate image to teach balanced nutrition. This is closer to a proper balance of foods, but still leaves room for a lot of poor food choices!
How to stick with an ADHD friendly diet
For our family, I try to keep it simple. I prepare as much “real” food as possible such as meats, veggies, fruits, whole grains and basic dairy. Many sources suggest dairy produces an inflammatory response in the body, however it’s not something we have felt the need to cut out at this time. I include a wide variety of foods to get important nutrients. Check out my post here on ways that freezer meal prep can make this easy, save time, and save money. Rather than maintain a super restrictive diet, I make small modifications when needed to keep using many favorite recipes. Check out my post here on 5 easy food substitutions that can help.
Ibotta has been a great app to help introduce me to many new, healthier food choices that I might not have tried otherwise due to the price tag. Getting cash back is great motivation to try new foods! And deals are always changing. Companies are catching up with consumers that want to follow some of the popular diets such as keto.
Let’s talk more about sugar
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For diet changes to be successful to maintain, they shouldn’t be super restrictive. And I just pointed out that we try to avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners. So how do we enjoy desserts?
I primarily stick with plant based sweeteners, either monk fruit or stevia. Those are not linked to cancer like the well known aspartame. Sometimes a mix will contain some sugar alcohols, which most commonly show up as erythritol or xylitol in the ingredient list. These have much lower impact on the blood sugar level than regular sugars. However, the reason is poor absorption, which in excess can cause digestive upset.
For baking, I often use this mix of monk fruit with erythritol. They have a mix for a powdered sugar replacement too. There are many options available, and it is well worth the health impact to find one that is agreeable, without extra negative side effects.
Drinks can make a huge difference in a successful ADHD friendly diet!
I will confess, I don’t take time to read the labels in everything. I know I use sauces in my food that contain sugar. However, drinks are a huge substitution that is worthwhile. Especially with people with ADHD that tend to self medicate with caffeine, it is easy to consume a ton of sugar in drinks. Before his type 2 diabetes diagnosis, my husband was guilty of filling one of those 64 ounce gas station jugs twice with Mountain Dew many days. Yikes! We’re talking over 400 grams of sugar in drinks alone!
So if you’re like me (and my husband) and know you should just drink water, but struggle without the caffeine or added flavor, you will probably fail without a good substitute. This is where these drinks from Pure Boost come in for me. I love this Berry Blast, and Citrus Sunrise any day. If I’m feeling like I’m lacking in greens, I’ll reach for this Green Mojo. And if I’m feeling like I need a little immune boost, I’ll grab this Elderberry Power. The taste is great, and I feel good about the lack of sugar or artificial sweeteners or colors. And the added vitamins help fill in some other dietary gaps.
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The content in this post is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is merely opinion based on personal research and experience.