A healthy breakfast can reduce or eliminate some of the hyperactive symptoms in children predisposed to ADHD and improve their school performance because of better behavior and attention.
Just as the wrong fuel in a car engine will make it run poorly, or not at all, certain foods can affect how one feels and performs. Here is a brief look at the effect of a high sugar white flour breakfast from one of America’s leading Integrative Pediatricians:
Sanford Newmark, M.D. in his book “ADHD Without Drugs, A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD” says “One of the single biggest factors contributing to ADHD behavior is lack of proper nutrition.”1
“A sugary breakfast that doesn’t contain adequate protein… causes blood sugar to soar, then crash, with potentially negative effects on the child’s ability to sit still and pay attention, whether she has ADHD or not!”2
David Ludwig, Director of Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital in Boston, describes it this way:
“Here’s what happens: A child eats a breakfast that has no fat, no protein, and a high glycemic index – let’s say a bagel with fat-free cream cheese. His blood sugar goes up, but pretty soon it crashes, which triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline. What you’re left with, at around 10 a.m., is a kid with low blood sugar and lots of adrenaline circulating in his bloodstream. He’s jittery and fidgety and not paying attention. That’s going to look an awful lot like ADHD to his teacher. The possibility exists that in children predisposed to ADHD, quality of diet may have additional impact.”3
And it is even more serious than that! Newmark goes on to say “Eating too many highly processed carbohydrates doesn’t just lead to ups and downs in blood sugar. Over time, with too many repetitions of this cycle of rising and falling blood sugar, the body can actually become resistant to insulin. More insulin is produced, other hormones are activated, and the final result can be obesity and diabetes.”4
“I (Newmark) have had a number of parents tell me that, when their child eats a healthful breakfast and lunch… they notice definite and significant improvements (italics mine) in behavior and attention.”
What makes a healthy breakfast? Whole milk and dairy products. Raw unsalted nuts and seeds or butters. Whole eggs. Whole grain breads and products. And a healthy breakfast for your child must include protein – here are some ideas (assuming no allergies):
- Yogurt (Greek yogurt is higher in protein) with fresh fruit, nuts, and/or granola.
- An egg with whole-grain or sprouted grain toast. The egg could be poached, scrambled, fried or as an omelet, but not every day.
- Whole-grain or sprouted grain toast or bagel with peanut or almond butter, tahini or whole milk cream cheese.
- Oatmeal (the slow cook kind) with raisins, nuts, yogurt and/or maple syrup.
- Whole grain, low sugar cold cereal with whole fat cow, goat, almond or coconut milk. Nuts and fruit are a nice addition.
- Pancakes made with whole grains and eggs – buckwheat with blueberries, or oat with chopped apple and cinnamon are great combos. You can also add ground flax seed for more nutrition. Use real maple syrup because it is a complex carbohydrate that does not give a sugar rush.
- Leftover refried beans and tortillas.
- Smoothies – lots of choices to mix fruits and yogurt, or nut butters. A way to also take supplements and vitamins easily.
As you can see I am strong on pancakes and weak on smoothies, so suggestions for smoothie choices will be welcomed.
Note: Organic foods are highly recommended because of the many pesticides and other chemicals found in non-organic food. Using organics also avoids the problem of GMO foods which are suspected of being a factor in the cause of the Autism spectrum.
1. Do not call this an experiment. It is a shift to healthier choices for breakfast for the whole family. You can tell your child that it is your job to make sure they grow up strong and healthy.
2. All of the former food must leave the house and everyone has to make the shift or it will not work. The best place to start healthy food choices is at the grocery store. This may be challenging, and the rewards will be well worth it!
The effect of a white sugar/white flour breakfast is like a drug (as is the crash), so there may be some resistance to the change. However, most children will adjust to the healthier diet and some will even come to prefer it because they know they feel better when they eat healthy food.
This is the tough part – what to do if your child will not eat the healthy breakfast? An excerpt from Sanford: “You can simply and calmly let him know that this is what is available; he can eat it or not, as he likes. If he doesn’t eat it, you allow him to leave the table after a reasonable amount of time (maybe 10 minutes) and assume he will be fine to lunch.”
“Won’t he become hypoglycemic (a blood sugar drop) and have even worse behavior? He might become a little hypoglycemic, but probably less so than after eating the sugar-on-sugar that was his normal breakfast.”
“He will remember how hungry he got before lunch, and the next day (or the next, or the next, depending how stubborn he is), he’ll probably eat the breakfast he’s given.”
“In a way, you’re actually giving power back to your child. After all, he or she still has the major decision-making power in the situation.”5 In addition, by giving him a healthy breakfast you have empowered him to have more control over his behavior and accomplish what he wants.
Sanford talks much more in depth about this and the care of ADHD children in his book, and I highly recommend reading it.
Congratulations to every parent that makes the commitment to feeding their children healthy food!
1. ADHD Without Drugs, A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD. 2010 by Sanford Newmark, MD, p. 45
2. Ibid, p. 51
3. Scholastic Parent & Child. (2007 Sep) Turn off the TV to fight fat and ADHD: television commercials can affect your child’s diet, and in turn his learning. http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/health-nutrition/turn-tv-to-fight-fat-and-adhd
4. ADHD Without Drugs, A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD. 2010 by Sanford Newmark, MD, p. 53
5. Ibid, pp 66-67
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