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Children's Nutrition

How Protein Helps With ADHD in Children

You’re always trying to help your ADHD child feel like their best selves, and diet is an important part of that. Studies have found that additive-free diets, with plenty of iron and omega 3s, are helpful for managing symptoms and supplementing medication. Protein is also helpful in reducing symptoms. Dr. Vince Monastra explains:

“When you eat a food containing protein (like dairy products, eggs, nuts, meat, poultry, fish and beans) our body can make neurotransmitters like dopamine, noradrenalin, adrenalin, serotonin and GABA that help us concentrate, control our moods, and maintain a ‘calm, focused state’”

As you bring more protein in your child’s diet, keep some important details in mind. Don’t forget to work with your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare professional to ensure you’re making choices that’s best for their specific needs.  

A Well-Rounded Breakfast is Important

You know breakfast is important, but it’s an easy to meal to overlook as a busy parent managing a busy schedule and a child with ADHD. However, a well-rounded breakfast, with plenty of protein, can be helpful in managing your child’s symptoms, says Sandy Newmark, M.D.”

“Protein-rich foods are used by the brain to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Protein can prevent surges in blood sugar, which increase hyperactivity. Eating protein for breakfast will help the body produce brain-awakening neurotransmitters.”

Don’t forget to round out the breakfast with one more important item: complex carbs. Newmark continues, “Combining protein with complex carbs that are high in fiber and low in sugar will help you or your child manage ADHD symptoms better during the day, whether you’re taking ADD medication or not.”

A few simple breakfast ideas include:

  • Wild or brown rice with a fried egg
  • Whole grain toast with nut butter
  • Whole grain cereal or granola (low or no sugar) with milk or yogurt

Combo Foods Make Your Life Easier

Protein is critical for managing symptoms of children with ADHD and omega 3’s are important as well, according to 2016 research: “When comparing levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in ADHD patients with those in age-matching controls, lower levels are found in ADHD patients’ blood. Omega-3 PUFAs are essential nutrients and necessary for a proper brain function and development.”

That’s why combo foods and meals, those that provide both protein and omega 3 fatty acids, make your life easier. This ensures your child is getting the nutrition they need for a healthy brain and reduced symptoms.

Luckily, dozens of everyday foods are high in both protein and omega 3 fatty acids, including: walnuts, eggs, salmon, chia seeds, navy beans, winter squash and beef.

Protein smoothies, or protein shakes, are also a great way to get both protein and omega 3’s in one sitting. Not to mention, they’re easy to make with minimal mess and cleanup. To choose the best protein for your child, check out our helpful resource, Protein Powder For Kids: A Complete Guide. Just don’t forget about the omega 3’s by tossing in ingredients like chia seeds, roasted squash or walnuts, all of which will add flavor and a creamy texture as well.

Dairy is an Important Source of Protein

Both a 2012 and 2015 study found that a diet high in dairy products and veggies are important for reducing attention and behavioral challenges in kids with ADHD. When choosing protein-rich foods, head to the dairy aisle, where you can find dozens of products for all meals of the day.

Whole grain cereal with cow’s milk, whole grain granola with yogurt, or even a protein smoothie made creamy with milk or yogurt all make great breakfast choices. You can also send your child to school with cheese cubes or cottage as a snack or to eat with lunch.

Remember that dairy does tend to be high in fat, so monitor your child’s growth as you increase their intake of these foods. You can get the RDA for your child’s dairy and fat consumption from the American American Heart Association, but don’t forget to consult with your pediatrician as well. They can keep an eye on any concerning signs that your child may be indulging in too much dairy.

Boost Protein Intake for Your ADHD Child

Keep these tips and ideas in mind as you increase your child’s protein intake. Whether your child indulges in protein smoothies or digs into an extra serving of yogurt, the right nutrition can make all the difference in symptoms and brain function.

The content in the Healthy Height Growth and Nutrition Guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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