“My kid seems to crave carbs all the time! Is this because of their ADHD?” I get this question all the time from parents who have a child with ADHD. While it may not be obvious to think that problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity could be related to food cravings, there is a connection.
Research shows that low levels of dopamine, the chemical in the brain thought to be at least partially responsible for ADHD symptoms, is also related to cravings for sugar and other carbohydrates. Why? Sugar and other high carb foods boost dopamine levels in the brain, leading us to crave them more often when dopamine levels are low. Since kids with ADHD have chronically low levels of dopamine, they are more likely than other kids to crave and eat sugary or carbohydrate-heavy foods. On top of this, their impulsive tendencies make it hard for them to stop eating these foods even when they are full.
While the consequences of eating a diet high in sugar and other carbohydrates may not be immediately obvious in kids with ADHD, the long-term effects could be significant. Research shows that ADHD is a risk factor for obesity in adulthood. Knowing that kid with ADHD are at risk for developing obesity later in life, it’s important to take steps early on to help them foster a healthy relationship with food. So, what are some things parents can do to help kids with ADHD eat a more balanced diet?
Encourage moderation. Provide a variety of food that include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy grains, but also allow for some of their favorite treats. In general, following the 80/20 rule can help teach kids how to eat well without giving up their favorite foods. With the 80/20 rule, 80% of the food you eat contains healthy carbs, fats, and protein, and 20% of the food you eat are less healthy foods (the foods your kids ask for all the time!).
While it’s common for kids with ADHD to crave a diet that’s high in sugar and other carbohydrates, the effects of these eating habits may contribute to health problems, like obesity, in adulthood. So, don’t wait for things to improve on their own. Take steps now to help your child develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.
This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.