The ADHD diet: Include Healthy Carbs!
I’m not a big fan of ADHD diets that call for a total elimination of certain foods. They often lead to frustration and confusion over what exactly to eat. Some diets forbid so many foods that trying to figure out what you’re allowed to eat will cause a small panic attack in itself.
If creating a healthy diet becomes a stressful affair, it’s probably time to loosen the reigns and take it easy. However, it’s good to know that certain types of carbs are best avoided.
Carbs, Too Much or Not Enough?
If you want to make some healthy adjustments to your ADHD diet, first consider the amount of carbohydrates (aka sugars) you consume. Most people consume three meals a day, the majority of which consists of carbohydrates. Unless you have a vigorous daily exercise routine or a job that requires excessive manual labor, this is probably more than required. If the carbohydrate intake in your ADHD diet is higher than the amount of energy you need in a day, you’ll feel sluggish, unfocused and cranky.
Also, be mindful of the type of carbs you consume. Many people crave carbs because they’re primarily consuming the refined variety. These have a very low nutritional value and can cause the brain to become foggy.
You may ‘feel’ full but your body and brain are not nourished – you will remain hungry because your body craves REAL FOODS. These non-nutrients also cause a considerable amount of digestive stress. Eating refined carbohydrates is basically a lose-lose situation.
However, some people with ADHD don’t eat enough food. While they are trying to finish to-do lists or make deadlines, nutrition becomes a side note. As I’ve discussed in my article about insulin, both under-eating and over-eating can aggravate ADHD symptoms. If you’re looking to reduce ADHD symptoms, avoid the insulin roller coaster at all costs!
Cautionary Note Regarding Low Carb Diets!!!
Be careful with low carb diets. In my experience, there is such a thing as eating too few carbs. Although lowering your carb intake can be beneficial for weight loss, it can seriously impair your health if taken to extremes. In some people a low carb diet can cause adrenal fatigue, hair loss, digestive issues among other problems.
Avoid or Minimize Refined Carbs
Be kind to your ADHD brain by minimizing consumption of any foods that contain refined flour, refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup. These foods provide very little nutrients and can seriously upset your system. Having an occasional muffin or some chips shouldn’t cause problems, but eating pizza, pasta, cake or white bread on a regular basis will.
Basic List of Refined Carbs:
- Soda and other sweetened beverages
- Processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup (check the label)
- Jam, jelly, candy, etc…
- Canned fruit (with added sugar)
- Pretzels, chips (containing white flour and sugar)
- White pasta, white bread, etc… (made with refined flour)
- Cakes, pastries, cookies, muffins, etc… (made with refined flour)
Which Carbs to Include in the ADHD Diet?
- Starchy carbs: tubers (potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes), legumes and grains (properly prepared), rice, bananas, breadfruit, risotto.
- Non-starchy carbs: most other vegetables and fruits not included above.
Both of these carbohydrate types have a high nutritional value and help your body and mind stay healthy. In the right amounts, their high-fiber content facilitates digestion and signals the body when it’s full – this is nature’s way to prevent overeating. You will also feel full longer and your insulin levels will stabilize. Eating healthy, natural carbs in the right amounts is basically a win-win situation.
My general suggestion is to consume mostly non-starchy carbs and include small amounts of starchy carbs. Unless you’re training for a marathon, your body doesn’t require large volumes of potatoes, grains, beans or legumes to thrive.
Note on Grains, White Flour and Gluten!
Consuming moderate amounts of whole grains has been proven to reduce anxiety while white flour deregulates insulin levels and stimulates the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones.
All grains, however, contain gluten and gluten intolerance has been associated with ADHD symptoms.
Traditional food preparation (like soaking and fermenting grains) can restore the digestive system and eliminate these intolerances. However, this can be time-consuming. Another option is to avoid gluten altogether.
Gluten Free Carbs:
1. Fruits & Veggies
4. Sweet Potatoes & Yams
What Works For Me
Even though I tolerate grains, I’ve seen a tremendous improvement in my overall sense of wellbeing and ADHD symptoms when limiting them. I do eat bread, pasta and other grain based foods occasionally (less than once a month), but in general I get the majority of my carbs from fruits, vegetables and small amounts of rice, tubers, legumes, quinoa and honey.
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