Diet for ADHD

The best diet for ADHD children will help to decrease symptoms of impulsive behavior and selective attention. Here you can learn about certain food items that can be limited or eliminated and things that can be added to a child's diet that help to minimize symptoms.

Proper nutrition is probably the best treatment for children with ADHD or any other type of disorder because supplying the body with what it needs is always a great place to start in any treatment regimen. It is very common for children to refuse their fruits and vegetables or want to eat the same food everyday. Obsessively wanting to eat the same foods everyday could indicate a food allergy, especially if those foods tend to be wheat and dairy (Ex. Mac n cheese, pizza, etc.)

Starting a special diet should be considered prior to even attempting an ADHD screening that could ultimately lead to a misdiagnosis.

Foods and Ingredients to Limit or Eliminate from a Diet for ADHD

• Artificial colors – especially red dye 40.
• Food Preservatives - Sodium Benzoate, BHA, and BHT are part of the Feingold diet to eliminate symptoms of ADHD.
• Processed sugars - ex. candy, soda pop, sugar cereals, pastries, donuts
• Caffeine – ex. soda pop, coffee and chocolate
• Simple Carbohydrates – ex. Processed sugars, white bread, white pasta and rice.
Gluten free casein free diet - It's possible that eliminating these completely could improve symptoms as well.

One of the most important things to eliminate from a child’s diet when showing symptoms of ADHD is red dye 40. Along with other artificial colors many parents have reported this particular ingredient to be correlated with irritability, aggressive behavior and hyperactivity.

Foods that contain red dye 40 can be very deceiving and it can be found in chips, chocolate cake, and other common snack foods. The food does not necessarily have to be red. It can also be found in children’s vitamins and medicine. We use the Disney Cars vitamins that have no artificial colors or flavors. Personally, speaking they taste really good too!

Other foods to limit include foods containing sugar, caffeine, and simple carbohydrates. When trying to apply a diet for ADHD to minimize symptoms these can often increase anxiety, feelings of nervousness, hyperactive behavior and decrease the ability to pay attention.

Young children should only be getting no more than 3-4 teaspoons of sugar a day and older children should be getting no more than 5-8 teaspoons a day. Unfortunately, children get more than this in only one soda. Just to put things into perspective, one teaspoon equals 4.2 grams.

There are about 44 grams in one bottle of cola almost twice the amount recommended. There are about 25 grams in two pop tarts. Already almost twice the amount for younger children and close to the amount recommended for an older child in an entire day. One dum dum sucker has about 5 grams of sugar. So, about three pieces of candy already put a younger child at the limit for the day.

However, because sugar is pretty much added to all of our foods, just by having one of the foods listed above you aren’t leaving any room for the sugar already added to what would be part of the normal diet.

Simple carbohydrates include things such as white bread, white pasta, and enriched white flour based foods. The reason they are not good when on a diet for ADHD is because they can lead to blood sugar spikes (hyperactivity), which ultimately leads to blood sugar drops (attention difficulties and fatigue).

Foods to Increase and Add to a Diet for ADHD

• Complex Carbohydrates – ex. 100% whole grains, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables
• Omega-3 fatty acids - salmon, light tuna, flaxseed, DHA diet supplements
• Daily multivitamins without artificial colors or flavors

While trying to gradually decrease simple carbohydrates from a diet for ADHD, it is also good to focus on increasing complex carbohydrates such as 100% whole wheat bread (make sure you read the ingredients), 100% whole wheat pasta, spinach pasta, brown rice, fruit and vegetables. If your child has a difficult time switching over to these you can try mixing them with the white pasta/rice and gradually adding more of them until you are only eating the whole grain types.

Attempting to include foods containing omega-3 fatty acids can be difficult, especially considering that that the main sources are generally from fish. However, you can get fine ground flaxseed that can be added to cereals or smoothies. Studies are now showing that symptoms of ADHD improve considerable after adding omega-3 fatty acids to a diet for ADHD.

There are also DHA supplements for children, which contain a certain kind of omega-3 fatty acids. The Disney Cars brand I use for my son contains DHA and there are others as well. You can also get children’s liquid DHA supplements that can be put in their applesauce or juice.

I personally believe that daily vitamins are extremely important for all children and adults. Whole food vitamins are the best to ensure that the body is absorbing as many nutrients as possible. With the way that most food is created it is almost impossible to get the daily recommended nutrients in just a diet.

Even fruits and vegetables that are shipped from across the country lack the original nutritional value. Actually, they say that frozen are the most nutritious because they are frozen immediately and supposedly hold all of their nutrients.

So, if an individual or child with ADHD is not getting the necessary nutrients the body desires, it seems only logical that attention problems may develop. It also gives children a better immune system and helps to emphasize the importance of nutrition.


Another option to consider is the Feingold Diet. It involves eating only all natural foods that do not contain artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. There is a cost to obtain the exact list of foods that are okay, but reportedly has a good success rate in decreasing symptoms.

Whichever you consider, making sure your child is getting proper nutrition is most important. Regardless of whether a diet for ADHD helps with behavior or symptoms of ADHD it is important to build good eating habits that will last a lifetime and help to decrease the chances of future health concerns, such as heart disease.

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