When my son was nine years old, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Soon after that, his older sister was given the same diagnosis. There are many myths around the causes of ADHD, ranging from ideas such as it is caused by watching too much television to it is an excuse for being disobedient and unruly. All debating aside, people with ADHD often have trouble sitting still and attending to boring, rote tasks or anything that is not interesting to them, among other symptoms.
I often thought that their hyperactive behavior was because they had too much energy. Further research showed me that in fact, their brains were sleepy and the constant motion was keeping their brains awake. This explained why boring tasks were difficult for them and why doctors usually prescribe stimulant medications for children who have ADHD. I didn’t want to use medications with my children, so I went looking for a nourishing ADHD diet for kids and for any other remedies that might help.
One thing I discovered is that, in individuals with ADHD, it is thought that certain brain chemicals are low. These chemicals are not just found in the brain, though. They are also found in the intestinal tract. So, if I were able to help improve my children’s digestion and gut flora, I should also be able to increase the amount of brain chemicals produced there. Another discovery had to do with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates make the brain a bit sleepy. Have you ever felt like you needed a nap after eating lunch? If so, then you know what I mean.
Here are some important things about food I discovered that have helped my children and will help you, too, as you are trying to provide a nourishing ADHD diet for kids in your home:
Feed them a high fat, moderate protein, lower carbohydrate diet. Healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and animal fats from pastured animals help build healthy brain cells and heal the intestine. Healthy fats provide long lasting energy, fat soluble vitamin A and vitamin E, and the necessary building blocks for hormones and healing. An important dietary supplement, cod liver oil, also provides vitamins A and D while at the same time supplying the body with omega 3 essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA). These are needed in the brain to help with focus and fuel brain cells, along with many other health benefits.
Protein is important for building new cells and for waking up the brain. Protein, like fat, helps to regulate surges in blood sugar that may contribute to ADHD symptoms. Quality sources would be grass fed beef and lamb, pastured cage free poultry, wild caught fish, and naturally raised pastured pork. Other sources would be the eggs and dairy from such animals. Grass fed, pastured animals are naturally higher in omega 3 essential fatty acids as well as providing essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron and vitamin B12. Many children with ADHD are often deficient in vitamins and minerals and have poor digestion. Giving them higher quality, nutrient dense protein sources is an important way to correct this problem.
Carbohydrates are important for children, but need to be balanced with fats and proteins. While they tend to make the brain sleepy, they are still an important source of energy for growing bodies (although the sleepy carbs tend to come from grain based foods). However, they need to come from nutrient dense sources, not empty calories like crackers. Great sources of carbs for kids are fresh, organic fruits and vegetables: carrot sticks or apple slices with nut butter, baked sweet potato drizzled with honey and butter, celery sticks with nut butter and raisins, jicama sticks with honey cream cheese dip, yucca fries, frozen bananas dipped in dark chocolate (no sugar), and plenty of other ideas. Fruits and vegetables provide the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals that your children need, and they tend not to spike blood sugar levels. Be sure to complement your vegetables with some fat so that all the fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, are absorbed.
My children do not always comply with the diet that I try to offer them. Now that they are seventeen and fifteen years old, they sometimes choose to buy food that is contrary to what I have been feeding them. They buy themselves soda, chips, and candy or they buy themselves a thick submarine sandwich (which often has thick bread and not so thick meat and veggies). They often feel sick afterwards – sneezing, sleepy, grumpy, unable to concentrate, and bloated—and wish they hadn’t binged. It’s okay to let kids discover for themselves why you are trying to provide them with a nourishing ADHD diet. So as you seek to make the transition for yourself in helping your children, don’t be discouraged if they occasionally eat something that you know may make their symptoms worse. Invite them to embrace the changes through their own discovery process. Happy eating!