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ADHD and Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): How does it impact learning in school AND what can we do?

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Organization: Erin Falco RDN, Inc.

Author: Erin Falco, RD

Publish Date: 09-29-22

Hypoglycemia is when our blood sugar rises and crashes after high sugar foods. This can contribute to our kiddos having difficulty focusing and paying attention. Simple carbohydrates (carbohydrates without fiber), like waffles, pancakes, cereals, watermelon etc spike the blood sugar fast. The pancreas then makes a hormone called insulin which is meant to stabilize the blood sugar back to normal. However, when there is lack of protein, fiber, fat in the meal/snack-our blood sugar crashes instead. This is when our kids display ADHD like symptoms- inattentiveness, inability to focus, irritable, moody, angry, etc. Of course they can’t focus when they are "HANGRY". When the blood sugar dips, the body asks for MORE sugar to get back to safety (our bodies always need to be in homeostasis (safety). So guess what?! They CRAVE/WANT to eat/drink more sugar/simple carbohydrates to feel better! Your kids are ACTUALLY listening to the physiological need to eat more. The fastest and most readily available source of fuel is carbohydrates. So, that is what they want. And.... if they have a choice between veggies and chips- The body will ask for chips! Because its the fastest fuel to survive!

This has nothing to do with WILLPOWER. Your kids can’t WILL their way out of wanting more sweets, snacks, etc, If the day starts with sugar. Once the blood sugar drops in response to a high carbohydrate meal and our kiddos respond naturally by eating another dose of sugar/simple carbohydrates- it's a never ending roller coaster of emotions throughout the day- temper tantrums, mood swings, fogginess, fatigue, forget-fullness.

So, how do we help to manage the high and low blood sugar rollercoaster to keep our kiddos energized, focused and attentive in school?

1. Breakfast is REALLY the most important part of the day. Starting the day with a balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats will improve mood, attention, focus and energy throughout the day. Protein and Fat help slow down the carbohydrates/sugars of the meals and helps the blood sugar rise slowly. Examples of proteins/fats: organic and pasteurized eggs, nitrate- free sausage/bacon, nut or seed butters, protein powders, full fat organic yogurt (if not dairy free). Complex carbohydrates have Fiber- an indigestible carbohydrate that can help regulate the blood sugar and sustain energy for the brain. Examples include: Non- starchy veggies, apple, raspberries, berries, whole grains oats, quinoa, flax meal. Look for greater than 3 grams/fiber per serving on labels.

Try some of our favorite additions:

-Add flax meal ground to everything! (its high in fiber, has protein and (omega 3’s) brain boosting fats) to yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes/waffles, smoothies

-ADD nut or seed butter to pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, yogurt

- Mix veggies into Egg muffins, omelets, sweet potato hash

-Add avocado to toast or a breakfast burrito for energy stabilizing fats

-Mix protein powder into smoothies, oatmeal, pancakes, waffles and smoothies

2. Ensure your kiddos have a balanced lunch box (complex carb, protein and fats) and a snack for a gap longer than 3-4 hours in school. Check out our School Lunch Box ideas post for more lunch and snack ideas

3. Swap out simple sugar foods for natural sugar (complex carbohydrate) alternatives.


-Whole fruit in place of fruit squeeze pouches. Make sure to balance fruit with protein/fats- examples: nuts/seeds, cheese, turkey roll ups, edamame

-Skip the juice and soda- it's the fastest way to increase blood sugar (1 capri sun=3.5 tsp of sugar. 1, 12 oz can of soda= 9.75 tsp sugar. Tip: Allow a fun water bottle and add cucumbers, mint, berries, oranges or limes.

-Add veggies into the lunch- kale chips, celery, cucumbers or carrots with olive oil, balsamic and sea salt or with nut/seed butter

- Full fat yogurt with whole fruit in place of yogurt tubes

-Oat Energy bites or home -made granola bars in place of candy

-Create your own trail mix- nuts, seeds, dark chocolate chips or dried fruit

-Nutella- make your own using 1 cup softened dates, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup hazelnuts, 4-5 Tbsp Hershey's cocoa powder, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1/4 cup coconut/olive oil- Mix in food processor.

4. Set your child up for success- check with the teacher to find out lunch time and if it's longer than 3 hours after breakfast and if so, determine if your child can have a snack or leave the classroom to have one to ensure stable energy, focus and mood. If your child has a 504 or IEP plan in place- make sure to add a snack break into their plan.

If you'd like to learn more about ADHD, visit us at for more posts and webinars. If you would like you or your child to become a patient: Apply here.

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