Adult ADHD / Coping Strategies

ADHD and Eating: The Glycemic Index

I’m really into this food issue right now, so let’s just keep it rolling.

I don’t really have any interest in “diets”. I have a dark past of depriving myself of food, either accidentally or intentionally. I’ve made crappy eating choices. Even though I had interest, when I was younger, in things like vegetarian eating, it took me a long time before I started really thinking hard about making sure I ate regularly and making sure I ate enough protein. That’s pretty much my “diet plan” right there. Eating regular, sane portions of food on a regular basis, that involve protein. I use the glycemic index as my guide.

The glycemic index isn’t a diet – it’s just scientific information about food that can help you  make better choices about eating.

The University of Sydney created a website that explains the whole concept pretty well. The American Diabetes Association also provides useful information on the topic. Here’s how they sum it up:

“The glycemic index, or GI, measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. Foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food — either glucose or white bread.

A food with a high GI raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low GI.

Meal planning with the GI involves choosing foods that have a low or medium GI. If eating a food with a high GI, you can combine it with low GI foods to help balance the meal.”

Basically, what they’re saying is that some foods are more likely than others to jerk your blood sugar up and down after you eat them. If you eat a lot of high Glycemic Index foods, those foods make your blood sugar spike and then drop it, hard. Like cookies. Cookies will fuck up your blood sugar. If you eat low glycemic index foods like meat…any kind of meat…that’s a type of food that doesn’t spike your blood sugar. It burns off in your body slowly and gives you sustained energy.

This isn’t just a strategy that works for diabetics – it’s useful information for anyone to know. You need to have the right kind of fuel to get through your day and feel good, right? And ADHDers tend to benefit from keeping their blood sugar even – if your blood sugar jumps around you are more likely to be grouchy, angry, irritable, and unable to think.

As the Mayo Clinic’s website points out – following an eating plan that accounts for only Glycemic Index ratings of food does not take into account other nutritional factors that may be worth considering (like Glycemic Load…the links I’ve provided also talk about that and it’s worth reading about because some foods have a high Glycemic Index, like watermelon, but a low Glycemic Load). However, considering Glycemic Index ratings can be a good place to start if you are just trying to keep your blood sugar from bouncing around all day.

Oregon State University provides this online PDF that is an interesting chart of different foods and their glycemic index as well as their glycemic load. If you scan it, you’ll see that there are big difference between, say, things like rice…and things like meat. These types of things are easy to understand. Rice is mostly carbohydrate. Meat is all protein. There are some foods that are a little trickier though – like regular dairy products. Some of them have higher glycemic index numbers – but low glycemic load numbers. Think about it – they contain protein and fat. Protein and fat take longer to burn off. Hence…these foods are probably not as impactful on your blood sugar as they would be without that delicious fat and protein.

I offer all of this, like as said, only as a starting point. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist. I just know that by getting familiar with the impact that foods can have on my blood sugar, I’ve been able to make eating choices that help me keep my blood sugar more stable, which in turn helps me minimize ADHD-related mood and cognitive issues. Normally, when I eat something that I know is really sugary – like fruit, or a cookie – I will try to balance it with something on the lower glycemic index end of things, like maybe a hunk of cheese. I won’t sit down and eat a plate of rice – I’ll pair it with some kind of meat (if you’re a vegetarian you would want to track down proteins that are kind to your blood sugar that don’t involve meat, obviously). I never eat just a plate of pasta with sauce. I always eat it with some cheese and a little meat – I eat a LOT of ground turkey. It’s easy to cook up with some salt, pepper and garlic, and then for the next few days I can include it in my meals. Ground turkey is great with a bowl of noodles, some veggies tossed in, and a splash of teriyaki sauce. It also happens to be delicious in a marinara sauce on a bed of pasta. See what I’m saying? Yeah, you can eat a bag of regular M&Ms for a snack – just don’t be surprised if you feel like crap and can’t think afterward, because your blood sugar is doing a freaking jig. I’ve actually found that I cannot eat a regular bag of M&Ms AT ALL without something else with it. But peanut M&Ms jerk my blood sugar around less. I’m not saying you should just eat those all day…just that once you start to pay attention to the impact of higher glycemic index foods on your ability to function, it’s very informative. In a pinch, if I’m on the road and I know I’m not eating for another hour, but I need something to tide me over so I don’t lose it, I will pick the peanut M&Ms, not the regular ones. Better yet, I might grab a bag of nuts (just not cashews…fun fact, they’re not nuts at all, they’re a fruit!)

My journey to blood-sugar friendly eating started when I was about 26. I had a job that required physical activity all day – and I HAD to make sure I ate regularly. I started by just making sure to eat SOMETHING. I evolved and started making sure I ate something with a decent amount of protein. So say…I started with having some kind of snack bar kind of thing. Well I noticed that some of them were really carb heavy…so I started eating ones that had more protein. Then I started packing things like cheese sticks or (I know, gross, not a health food, but high in protein) beef jerky. From there, I’ve just gotten better about having my food sources be healthier. But you don’t have to make ALL changes at once. Start simple. Buy a pack of string cheese sticks to bring with you – they don’t rot easily, they last forever. Our kids like those Baby Bel cheese wheels that come in the wax. I don’t mind tossing one of those in a lunchbox once in a while. Peanut butter – if you like peanut butter, that’s a great protein-filled snack.

Anyway…I’ve gone on long enough…you get the idea. This is just information that I use to make eating choices that keep my blood sugar more level. And I really shouldn’t have eaten that brownie that I ate for breakfast, I feel terrible.


4 thoughts on “ADHD and Eating: The Glycemic Index

  1. I try to do this too. A while back I saw some medical speculation that those with ADHD use more glucose in our brains because of the active way we process thought, and recommended a diet like yours. It does help, because the crash from not eating is unpleasant.

    • Oooh, that’s really interesting, I’ll have to Dr. Google that info 😉 I have really wicked blood sugar issues (I bottom out quickly and easily and it’s not pretty…and half of my family is diabetic…). Would make sense to me if that was true, based on my own family’s situation.

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