11 Foods to Eat and Avoid When Treating ADHD
Although there is no firm scientific evidence suggesting that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is caused by nutritional problems or diet, certain foods may play a role in reducing or heightening the symptoms.
So, there are certain foods you shouldn't eat if you have ADHD.
Following an ADHD nutrition plan that is rich in vitamins and protein can help control some symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But, you should at the same time avoid sugar, common allergens, and artificial flavours.
Here’s what to eat and what to avoid if you have ADHD:
What to Eat For Symptom Control
The fact is, deficiencies in certain food types can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD in children and adults.
This is of course a vicious circle, since “children with ADHD may be at risk for a variety of nutrient deficiencies due to the attentional demands required to sit through a meal to obtain adequate levels of nutrient intake.”
Fortunately, an ADHD diet that contains adequate levels of the right food types actually optimises brain function.
Such foods include:
1. Protein for ADHD Brain Function
Protein-rich foods — such as lean beef, fish, pork, poultry, eggs, nuts, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy products, and soy — can help minimise ADHD symptoms.
Foods rich in protein are used by the body to produce neurotransmitters, the chemicals that the brain cells release to communicate with each other. Additionally, protein can prevent blood sugar surges, which often increase impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Since the body manufactures brain-awakening neurotransmitters whenever you eat protein, it’s vital to start your day with a breakfast that contains protein.
Find ways to slip in some lean protein meals during the day too.
Related: A Guide to Plant-Based Protein Foods
2. An ADHD Diet of Balanced Meals
Eating a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates has been found to bring ADHD symptoms under control.
Patients with ADHD should always think about their plates when making meals. Some experts recommend that half of the plate should be filled with fruits or vegetables, one quarter with protein, and the last quarter with carbohydrates.
Of course, healthy dietary fats are also incredibly valuable. Fat, after all, makes up 60% of the brain and the nerves that govern every body system.
Eating several daily servings of whole grains rich in fibre also helps to prevent blood sugar levels from surging and then plummeting. If you’re not able to receive adequate levels of all essential nutrients in your diet, doctors recommend taking supplements to correct nutrient shortfalls that heighten ADHD symptoms.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids in ADHD Diet
Studies indicate that omega-3s are important for brain and nerve cell function.
A study conducted by Sweden’s Göteborg University in 2009 concluded that a daily dose of omega-3s reduced ADHD symptoms by up to 50 percent.
Foods rich in omega-3 include cold-water and fatty fish, such as tuna, sardines and salmon.
Another study suggested that omega-3s tend to break down faster in the bodies of ADHD patients than in those without the condition. Omega-3 fatty acids enhance improvements in mental focus and cognitive function.
4. Ginkgo and Ginseng in ADHD Diet
Ginkgo and ginseng herbs are natural cognitive activators. They typically act like stimulants, but without the side effects of pharmaceutical ADHD medication.
Adults and children who take these herbs improve on ADHD rating scales and are less distractible and impulsive.
However, Asian ginseng is known to over-stimulate younger kids. Consider switching to American ginseng if that is the case with your child.
5. The Role of Zinc, Magnesium & Iron
Zinc is known to regulate the neurotransmitter dopamine and can make methylphenidate more effective by enhancing the response of the brain to dopamine. Low levels of zinc correlate with inattention.
Similarly, iron is necessary for making dopamine. One study showed low levels of iron in 84 percent of children with ADHD as compared to 18 percent in the control group. Typically, low iron levels correlate with severe ADHD and cognitive deficits.
Like zinc, magnesium plays a critical role in the production of neurotransmitters involved in concentration and attention. It also has a calming benefit on the brain.
6. B Vitamins & Multivitamins in ADHD Diet
Numerous studies suggest that giving supplements to children with low levels of B vitamins improve IQ scores (at least by 16 points) and reduce antisocial behaviours and aggression.
Many drugstore chains offer high-quality, inexpensive store-brand B-vitamin formulations that you can try.
If a child with ADHD is a poor eater or consumes lots of take-out food, soda and chips, it is likely they are not getting the daily recommended level of vitamins and minerals.
Giving a daily multivitamin/multimineral can ensure that they get the right levels no matter how finicky they are.
7. Pycnogenol in ADHD Diet
Pycnogenol is an extract from French maritime pine bark. It has been found to improve hyperactivity and enhance concentration, attention and visual-motor coordination in students with ADHD after one month.
The outcome was based on standardised measures alongside teacher and parent ratings. The herb is also extremely rich in polyphenols, antioxidants known to protect brain cells from free radical damage.
8. Rhodiola Rosea in ADHD Diet
Rhodiola Rosea is made from a plant that grows in the Arctic of the same name. The herb can improve attention, alertness and accuracy.
However, it can be extremely stimulating for young children but can be beneficial for children aged eight to 12.
The herb is most useful for students who have to complete long papers and spend several hours reading.
9. Foods to Avoid with ADHD
There are certain foods that can heighten the symptoms of ADHD. They include:
High-Sugar Foods and Snacks
Multiple studies suggest that some children who have ADHD crave copious amounts of sugar. One study indicated that when hyperactive children consume more sugar, they become more destructive and restless.
A similar study at Yale University also concluded that high-sugar diets heighten inattention in some children.
Some common food items to avoid include fruit drinks or cocktails, which are higher in sugar than 100 percent regular fruit juice. Always scrutinise food labels and avoid any foods or drinks labeled:
- High-fructose corn sweetener
- Rehydrated cane juice
- Malt syrup
10. Food additives
Artificial colours, preservatives and flavours have been found to lead to hyperactivity in some children.
However, the effects vary depending on the age and the type of additive. Based on numerous recent research findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that eliminating food colorring and preservatives from the diet is a reasonable solution for children with ADHD.
11. Caffeine and Foods That Cause Allergens
Although some studies indicate that small amounts of caffeine may help with some symptoms of ADHD in children, the side effects of caffeine may far outweigh any potential benefits.
Most experts recommend that patients with ADHD should limit caffeine intake or just avoid it altogether. If you take ADHD medication, caffeine can make certain side effects worse.
According to many studies, wheat, gluten, soy and corn can cause some children to lose focus and become more hyperactive. Experts recommend that all children with ADHD should be screened for food allergies before any medication is prescribed for them.
Talk with your doctor about various methods for testing allergies.
The Bottom Line
Overall, a healthful diet may help reduce symptoms of ADHD. Strive to reduce exposure to food additives and artificial colours and instead improve intake of omega-3 fatty acids and valuable micronutrients.
A balanced diet will certainly improve your overall health and nutrition and set you off for a lifetime of good health.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Fish Oil for Autism: Could EPA, DHA Benefit Autism and ADHD?.
Guest blog by Sara Anderson of The Mango Clinic, a medical clinic that provides world-class healthcare services. Sara has been associated with the healthcare industry for over five years and specialises in medical content.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Protein-rich foods — such as lean beef, fish, pork and poultry — can help to minimise ADHD symptoms.