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Keeping your child's energy level constant facilitates learning.
While behavioral and pharmaceutical therapy may be at the center of your child’s Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder treatment, providing nutritious snacks may also be beneficial. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, eating large amounts of sugar does not cause ADHD, but an appropriate diet should focus on foods and snacks with a low glycemic index, foods that do not results in a dramatic rise and fall in blood glucose.
Foods with Low Glycemic Indeces
Children with ADHD lack the ability to focus, which may result from a lack of stimulation. Low glycemic index foods, particularly for school and as after-school snacks, prevent the spike in blood glucose that would promote hyperactivity, and the following drop in blood glucose, making attention wane. Foods low in glycemic index are usually high in fiber, and/or also contain protein or fat. For example, white bread has a higher glycemic index than does whole grain bread. The fiber and protein from the whole grains slow the rate at which the stomach empties into the small intestine and therefore slows the increase in blood glucose following the meal or snack. The following are examples of low-glycemic index foods: all legumes, all leafy greens, all dried beans, most fruits (dried fruits are higher in glycemic index), whole grain breads, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes (twice baked with a little butter and cinnamon are a special treat, ice cream, and nuts.
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Adding protein to carbohydrate lowers the glycemic index of the carbohydrate. A traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be much healthier with a few changes. Use whole grain bread, jelly or jam with no added sugar, just pureed fruit, and natural peanut butter with no sugar added for the lowest glycemic index sandwich.
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Cheese contains protein and fat, both lowering the glycemic index.
Adding fat, preferably mono- or poly-unsaturated fat lowers the glycemic index. Regular or reduced calorie cheese on top of the legumes and beans or in addition to the fruit make the fruits and vegetables more filling and more appealing. For example, black beans with brown rice, cheese, tomatoes, and avocado, is a very filling and tasty snack. Homemade pizza on whole wheat crust with no sugar added pasta sauce, mozzarella cheese, and pineapple, lean meat, and vegetables is also filling, tasty, and has a low glycemic index.
Eat Whole Foods
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Although they are high in convenience, most processed foods tend to be higher in glycemic index the further they differ from the form in which they are grown. For example, apple juice is much higher in glycemic index than is an apple. Chips and crackers are higher in glycemic index than are brown rice and whole grain bread. The American Dietetic Association has a website with tasty, low glycemic index recipes (eatright.org). The American Diabetes Association has useful information about glycemic index and creative ideas for alternatives to traditional foods. A desirable diet for a diabetic does not differ much from a desirable diet for someone with ADHD.
Explaining Performance Foods
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Sometimes children understand more than we give them credit for. If you are making a radical change in the snacks you prepare, tell your child why. He/she is already aware that there is an attention problem, and is likely frustrated. Explain in an age-appropriate manner that low glycemic index foods keep his/her blood sugar more constant, are not a punishment, but a performance enhancement, and are designed to make him/her the best kid he/she can be.
- Low Glycemic Index
- Whole Grain Carbohydrate
- Performance Foods
- Brain Food
- Blood Glucose Regulation
- ADHD Diet
- American Diabetes Association: Low Glycemic Index Foods [http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/recipes/?utm_source=WWW&utm_medium=DropDownFF&utm_content=Recipes&utm_campaign=CON]
- American Dietetic Association: Low Glycemic Index Recipes [http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6853]
- National Institute of Mental Health: ADHD [http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml]