Updated: Mar 1
Support your ADHD brain with the simplest shift in eating habits!
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, here in the UK the average diet for an adult contains more than enough protein to be considered healthy.
However, those of us with ADHD need to think carefully about the timing of our protein intake. We need a protein-packed breakfast and easy access to protein snacks throughout the day.
Firstly, foods high in protein not only help build tissues,muscles, bones and our immune system, but their component parts, chains of amino acids, are also the building blocks of neuro-transmitters, our brain-messengers.
Protein molecule showing Amino acid chain
An example of an important neuro-transmitter for us is dopamine, which plays crucial roles in executive function, motor control, motivation, arousal, reinforcement, and reward.
Secondly, by keeping us feeling fuller for longer than a carbohydrate-rich diet might, proteins also help prevent food cravings and thus sugar surges to the brain. This is likely to decrease hyperactivity. Well-balanced blood sugar creates a steady supply of glucose to the brain as fuel.
Finally, studies have also shown that protein may help the body absorb ADHD medication more effectively and take effect faster.
Where can it be found?
Protein is in beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, seeds, soy, quinoa, bulgur, cereals and dairy products.
It is so readily available that, so long as it is sourced from a wide variety of foods, all dietary preferences are catered for.
When should we eat protein?
The key here is consistency!
Breakfast for many has to be tempting or it will get skipped.
We need to kick-start the system with fuel, and protein should always be included.
Think about having an egg, as this little power-pack offers over 10% of your daily recommended protein intake. If that’s a step too far in the mornings, think about having a bowl of nutty muesli, yogurt with a scattering of seeds, or peanut butter on wholemeal toast.
Snacks are perfect opportunities to top-up with protein. Rather than something carb-loaded or sugar-packed, maybe have grab-and-go snacks in the kitchen cupboard, like shelled nuts (pine nuts and walnuts top the list!), bags of pumpkin, chia or flax seeds.
Get creative! Load up celery sticks with cottage cheese (a massive 10% by weight of protein) and don’t forget to balance with fibre from fruit and veg. There are many suggestions of protein snacks online, but watch out for calorie-loaded protein bars!
For lunch and evening meals, the chances are you are including protein already. The key point is the breakfast kick-start and then providing a consistent supply throughout the day in order to care for our ADHD brains.
How can we make this habit-shift easy?
1. Look at protein content on food labels when shopping for your favourite breakfast and snack items – what might you substitute?
2. Notice the effect your substitutions have on your mood and focus after just one week. Make a note. Do you have a diary? Notes on your phone perhaps?
3. How will you incorporate your new substitutions in the future? How can you easily remember next time you are food shopping?
Crack on with your own super-simple system to remind you and enjoy the difference well-timed protein can make!
Published Spring 2022
ADHD and diet:
Insufficient protein in the diet
ADHD, genes and neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters and receptors
Why your brain needs protein
The role of dopamine as a neurotransmitter in the human brain
Enormous thanks for inspiration to:
Emma Slade https://emmaslade.com
Laurie Dupar, founder of https://www.iactcenter.com/