Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that makes it difficult to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors. At this time, ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavior disorder in children. (1) Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD often begin in childhood and continue through adolescence and adulthood.

Some symptoms include the following:

  • Fidgeting and squirming when seated
  • Becoming easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli
  • Being forgetful in daily activities
  • Being in constant motion
  • Having trouble waiting for a turn

At this time, there is no known cure for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The condition is most commonly treated with medication to help reduce symptoms and improve functioning.

Unfortunately, some of the medications doctors prescribe to treat ADHD have high rates of abuse. Because such drugs are amphetamines, they produce stimulatory effects when patients use them in high doses.

These medications can not only lead to overdose; they come with a wide range of side effects on their own as well.

The good news is that diet may also play a large role in managing ADHD symptoms. Therefore, altering your (or your child’s diet) can be a good first – or even supplementary – step.

However, please be sure to consult with a medical professional before abandoning medications a doctor has placed you or your child on. Also be sure to discuss these dietary recommendations with a medical professional as individual needs may vary.

ADHD Diet – Foods To Avoid

1. Sugar

Ever notice how most children will be basically bouncing off the walls after eating a sugar-heavy meal? There’s a reason for it – and it goes double for those who have ADHD.

A diet full of processed sugar can lead to numerous health problems, including obesity and diabetes. But when it comes to the ADHD diet, it’s even more important to eliminate it. Eating sugary foods can cause spikes in blood sugar, which can lead to hyperactive behavior. When the blood sugar levels drop quickly, focus levels drop, as well. (2)

2. Gluten

If your body is sensitive to gluten, then the breads, pastries, and desserts you’re eating could be affecting your brain function. In fact, gluten can trigger hyperactivity or inattentiveness if you have an intolerance (3). Why not try an elimination diet to see how your body reacts to gluten? (4)

Gluten exists in many foods like the pastries outlined above. However, you’ll also find it in popular cereals, granola, pasta and even beer.

However, eliminating gluten from your diet isn’t impossible. For example, with pasta, you can try rice pasta. Cereal? Try corn flakes.

3. Dairy

Dairy is also a common allergen for many people.

Some people with ADHD may also have a dairy sensitivity. If this describes you, dairy could be affecting your brain health and causing symptoms such as brain fog and irritability.

Again, try an elimination diet. If you strongly suspect that you have a sensitivity to dairy, see a health care professional to get tested for a dairy allergy. (5)

4. Food Coloring and Dyes

Research has shown a possible link between food dyes and hyperactivity. In fact, the European Union requires labeling of products with artificial colors. (6) Even for those who aren’t following an ADHD diet, these chemicals can be extremely harmful to your health. Stay away from chemical dyes, including Orange B, Citrus Red No. 2, FD&C Blue No. 1 and No. 2, and FD&C Yellow No. 5 and No. 6 (7).

5. Artificial Sweeteners

Did you know that artificial sweeteners pose many of the same health threats as sugar? Well, research has shown that chemical sweeteners affect physiology, which may lead to changes that harm the brain. An ADHD diet should steer clear of artificial sweeteners (8).

Artificial sweeteners live in a lot of foods and drinks, such as the diet versions of popular sodas. Even if you yourself don’t suffer from ADHD, steering clear of foods and drinks containing artificial sweeteners is a great idea since these sweeteners can cause several complications.

There are natural sweeteners you can try in place of those chemical artificial sweeteners. These include stevia, maple syrup, and dates.

ADHD Foods To Eat

1. Omega-3 Foods

Good fats like Omega-3’s are essential for a healthy body and a healthy mind. Studies have shown that Omega-3’s help control behavior and improve memory. Eat foods like avocados, walnuts, chia seeds and dark leafy green vegetables. Eliminate trans fats and fried fats from your diet, like those found in junk food and fast food. (9)

2. Iron-Rich Foods

According to a 2004 study, iron deficiencies in children may contribute to ADHD symptoms (10). Adding iron-rich foods to your diet can help control hyperactive symptoms. Eat plenty of spinach, lentils, and sesame seeds to get your fill of iron.

3. High-Protein Foods and Snacks

Protein has the ability to boost focus and concentration by balancing blood sugar levels. It also gives your brain the building blocks it needs to maintain brain health. Add foods like quinoa, lentils, spirulina, nut butter, and green leafy vegetables to your diet to stock up on protein.

4. Probiotic Foods

Research has shown that brain health and gut health are connected. Keeping your gut healthy by adding probiotics to your diet can help keep your brain working properly as well. Try a variety of fermented foods, like kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

5. Foods High in B Vitamins

B Vitamins are known to help reduce ADHD symptoms (11). They regulate carbohydrate metabolism and help the central nervous system function properly. Eat foods such as sweet corn, legumes, green leafy vegetables, peas, and spinach to make sure you’re getting B vitamins in your diet.

In conclusion, diet alteration can be an excellent first step following an ADHD diagnosis. You will likely have to give up some foods to combat ADHD symptoms. However, in most cases there are many alternatives that can taste just as great without side effects that may go beyond ADHD symptoms.

However, please consult with a medical professional before you (or your child) stop taking ADHD medications a doctor has prescribed to you. While these medications do have negative side effects as well as a risk for abuse, stopping them abruptly or without proper consultation can pose risks as well.