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ADD & ADHD Center

Breakfast and ADHD

author image Jon Williams
Jon Williams is a clinical psychologist and freelance writer. He has performed, presented and published research on a variety of psychological and physical health issues.
Breakfast and ADHD
A little girl eating breakfast outside. Photo Credit: travnikovstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common ailment that affects children and adults. People with this neurological disorder have (1) deficits in attention or (2) hyperactivity, or have both hyperactivity and problems maintaining attention. A healthy diet and a carefully selected breakfast that avoids ADHD trigger foods can be an important part of a comprehensive treatment program, and for some people may directly influence the occurrence and severity of ADHD symptoms.

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The Most Important Meal of the Day

Breakfast is an important meal for anybody, but for those with ADHD it can be a vital factor that determines whether they are able to focus and pay attention, or if they are driven to distraction. For parents of children with ADHD, it is especially important to provide morning meals that sustain your child’s nutritional needs over the several hour period that stretches between breakfast and lunch. Research cited at and published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that children who routinely ate breakfast had improved attention spans, lower hyperactivity, fewer behavior problems, higher math and reading scores and lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Causes of ADHD

Varied factors can contribute to ADHD and need to be considered when planning breakfast. Metabolic conditions such as reactive hypoglycemia or reactive hyperinsulinemia can induce low blood sugars, triggering ADHD symptoms. Further, food sensitivities and food allergies can cause ADHD symptoms. For those people who have ADHD symptoms that are a direct result of metabolic dysfunction or food sensitivities, dietary and nutritional management can be critical to effective ADHD treatment.

Foods Sensitivities and Allergies

For some people, certain foods should be excluded from breakfast and from the diet in general. Various sources, including Phylis Balch, author of “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” note that for an unknown proportion of people, food allergies and food sensitivities contribute significantly to ADHD symptoms. Foods that can trigger ADHD symptoms in some people include: processed foods; foods with additives or food colors; foods with gluten including pasta and wheat bread; dairy products; and artificial sweeteners like aspartame. To assess for food sensitivities, eliminate these foods from the diet for at least three weeks. Note the effect on ADHD symptoms. Reintroduce the items back into the diet one at a time, and monitor the effect on ADHD symptoms.

Sugar and ADHD

Sweet and sugary foods should be excluded from breakfast. For most people, there is a three- to five-hour period between breakfast and lunch. Sugars and starches are transformed within minutes into blood sugar. This may yield a quick burst of energy, but can also trigger ADHD symptoms. Further, once the blood sugars have been metabolized, there is no remaining source of glucose to properly sustain brain activity and attention for the remainder of the morning. For people who are vulnerable to these conditions, the solution is to eat meals that stabilize blood sugars. Avoid simple carbohydrates such as pastries, doughnuts, muffins, sugary or processed breakfast cereals, pancakes, syrup and white bread toast.

Make Breakfasts High in Protein

For people with ADHD, proteins should be included in every breakfast. Proteins take several hours to be digested and converted into blood sugar. Proteins therefore stabilize blood sugars and minimize ADHD symptoms. Proteins also are also converted into amino acids that aid in the creation of important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Foods that contain proteins include soy products, nuts, meats, eggs, yogurt, milk and cheese.

Include Carbohydrates with the Protein

Complex carbohydrates such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods assist in metabolic regulation and can reduce ADHD symptoms. An ideal breakfast will include protein and complex carbohydrates. For example, make a breakfast of eggs and fresh cut fruit; lightly sweetened whole grain cereal with fruit on top; or natural peanut butter on whole-grain bread.


A thoughtfully planned breakfast is an important meal, especially for people whose ADHD symptoms result from metabolic dysfunctions or from food sensitivities. Still, a proper breakfast and healthy diet should not be considered to be a replacement for therapy or medical treatment. ADHD symptoms may result from other medical disorders, or may not respond to dietary interventions. Consult your family doctor if ADHD symptoms persist.

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