ADHD Diet: Brainy Breakfast Ideas

May 25, 2012 by Dr.Yannick Pauli

Healthy breakfasts are a critical component of any ADHD diet, especially for school-age kids with a busy day ahead of them.  Eating breakfast allows your child to replenish the energy stores depleted during sleep and start the day with a full tank of fuel. Letting your child go to school on an empty stomach will only aggravate his or her ADHD symptoms.  As his or her body draws fuel from its own energy reserves, the stress hormones that harness this energy can leave your child feeling lethargic, irritable, and unable to focus or behave.  Of course, not all breakfasts are good for ADHD kids. Read on to find out the best types of breakfasts that fuel the ADHD brain.

What makes a brainy breakfast?

You may already be familiar with neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers that send signals to different parts of the brain to control behavior and mood. But are you aware that neurotransmitter activity is affected by food?  Two proteins have the strongest effect on neurotransmitters – the calming protein called tryptophan, and the energetic neurostimulant tyrosine, which boosts dopamine and norepinephrine. A good breakfast for an ADHD child should have an equal balance of both proteins – tryptophan-rich foods to keep your child’s energy levels in check, and energy-boosting tyrosine-rich foods to prime the brain for a day of learning.  Foods high in tryptophan include red meat, dairy, and soy products, while tyrosine-rich foods include avocados, bananas, and legumes.

Provide a protein-rich breakfast

When preparing a healthy breakfast, it’s important to note the ratio of proteins to carbohydrates, and ratio of tryptophan to tyrosine. The best way to jump-start the brain is to eat a low-carbohydrate meal with tyrosine foods; serve meat, dairy, and eggs with a side of whole wheat bread or fruit. On the other hand, high-carbohydrate low-protein meals relax the brain to the point of lethargy or sleepiness. Avoid serving chocolate, pasta, and seeds until dinnertime, when you want your child to unwind.

Watch out for sugary carbs

The classic American breakfast of cereal and milk may be easy to prepare, but it’s one of the worst meals an ADHD child can start the day with – especially if the cereal comes in different colors and flavors.  These cereals are rich in refined sugar, which enter the bloodstream quickly and boost energy levels a little too soon.  The sugars get used up by the body as your child’s energy skyrockets and once they’re gone, the blood sugar levels go on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, affecting concentration and mood.  Not to mention that such junk cereals are chock-full of artificial additives, which have are known to cause ADHD.

Instead of cereal, give your child complex carbohydrates like fruit sugars and starch. These are slow-burning carbs that provide a steady stream of energy without causing the rapid changes in mood and behavior.