ADHD, Nutrition and College

Worried about that “freshman 15”? (That’s a term for the typical weight gain many experience in their first year of college.) It’s true that there is an adjustment from eating meals at home to choosing from the array of options in most college cafeterias.

While the “freshman 15” may be your biggest concern, another aspect of food choices might have an even larger impact on how well you do in college: making nutritional choices that are best for your brain!

Many experts agree that certain nutritional choices – good for anyone – are especially good for people with ADHD. When you head off to college, no one else will be making your food choices – it’s up to you! So here are some nutritional pointers to keep in mind for supporting your best concentration, mood and overall brain power:

  • Eat a high-protein diet: protein sources include including beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts. Protein is especially important in the morning and for afternoon snacks, to improve

    concentration and, some suggest, to boost the effectiveness of ADHD meds.

    • Breakfast ideas: eggs (hard-boiled are quick), omelettes, yoghurt, smoothies with protein powder, peanut-butter on anything
    • In a rush? Keep some high-protein bars on hand to tuck in your backpack or grab on the go
    • Snack ideas: smoothies with protein powder, hard-boiled eggs, peanut-butter on anything, cheese sticks, a handful of nuts, a protein bar    
    • Dinner: a protein source should fill around 1/4 to 1/3 of your plate
  • Eat fewer simple carbohydrates, such as candy,; anything with corn syrup, honey, sugar; white rice, and pasta and other products (breads) made from white flour. These refined, simple carbs tend to quickly raise blood sugar, giving a boost of energy, followed by a drop in blood sugar and a craving for sweets again. Too many simple carbs can wreak havoc with concentration and mood. 
    • Snack ideas: carrot sticks, fruits, dried fruits (raisins, cherries, apricots, figs), nuts, peanut butter on anything, cheese sticks
    • Craving something sweet? How about dried fruit, some dark chocolate (its anti-oxidants give it some value besides just flavor) or frozen yoghurt?
  • Eat more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables and some fruits – oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples, and kiwi are examples. Some research suggests that eating complex carbs at night may aid sleep. 
    •  At meals: choose whole grains whenever possible – whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice; if you’re cooking for yourself, explore other options such as cracked wheat and quinoa; make vegetables at least half your plate; and stock up on fresh fruit
    • Snack ideas: fresh fruit, granola bars made with oats, carrot sticks, other cut veggies
  • Eat more omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in tuna, salmon, other cold-water white fish, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and olive and canola oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in supplement form. Omega 3s are generally thought to be great for the brain and often recommended as a supplement for ADHD.
    • Lunch: pick a tuna sandwich, and/or add a dressing with olive oil to your salad
    • Dinner: choose salmon when available, and use olive oil on your salad
    • Snacks: keep a stash of Brazil nuts and walnuts in your dorm room, put a small plastic bag of them in your back pack for easy snacking access
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed – they’ll interfere with good sleep. Instead, try an herbal tea, perhaps one containing chamomile, or a warm glass of milk! And give your brain and body some good rest.

Mom won’t be looking over your shoulder to see what you’re eating in college, so it’s up to you to make the choices that will help you feel your best and perform your best.

Keep these pointers in mind, and it won’t be hard…. then not only can you be proud of your choices, you’ll also be feeling good and thinking clearly… so you’ll be glad you did!

photos: carlos porto, antpkr and rakratchada torsap from

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