ADHD Diet

 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)

adhd-dietAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood mental conditions. Most symptoms generally occur before 7 years of age.

Symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. The condition can continue into adulthood – however adults exhibit a better ability to control impulsive responses.

Causes of ADHD

ADHD has no known cause – although many feel that it is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain caused either by environmental or genetic factors.

Some environmental factors include; toxin exposure during pregnancy, food additives and allergies, sugar, caffeine, and food coloring – however much of this is theory.

Too Much Sugar

There is considerable difference of opinion has to how refined sugar affects a child’s behavior. Many studies have found no evidence that refined sugar affects behavior of children.

Some feel that a typical celebration (such as a child’s birthday party) is linked to high sugar intake and therefore excitable behavior can be linked to the celebration.

Allergies, Additives, and Food Coloring

The Feingold diet was proposed in the 1970s and linked behavior with diet. However, once again, a number of scientists feel that there has not been enough objective research to concluded that additives are linked with ADHD.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant and it’s effect is different for different people. Some develop more of a tolerance for caffeine than others.

It is not advisable for a child to consume caffeinated drinks (such as Coke or Pepsi, or other “energy” drinks). Especially if a Caffeine Allergy is suspected.

Processed Foods

However, anecdotally, there is evidence that processed foods can be linked with hyperactive behavior.

As a parent you can try to remove as many high-sugar, and colored foods as possible. Juices should be diluted, and sodas, candy, and cookies should be avoided altogether.

Omega-3 and ADHD

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid (i.e. a form of polyunsaturated fat) found in certain fish, and in vegetable sources (such as flax, hemp, and walnuts). There has been a considerable body of research showing that omega-3 (or more specifically the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats) is essential for correct brain function.

There is even evidence showing that a pregnant mother who is low in omega-3 can affect the brain develop of the baby during the 3rd trimester.

Sources of Omega-3

  • 100g Salmon (provides 230mg omega-3)
  • 100g Sardines (provides 220mg omega-3)
  • 100g Herring (provides 160mg omega-3)
  • 100g Tuna (provides 160mg omega-3). The tuna must be fresh or frozen – as canned tuna usually has the oil drained (and is often replaced with omega-6 oils).

ADHD Children and Omega-3

If your child will not eat fish, try mixing in flaxseed oil into certain foods, or look for “enriched” products (such as milks or breads) that have omega-3 added.

Can Diet Make a Difference to ADHD?

Most current scientific research indicates that only a small percentage of children will respond to a diet free of additives. However don’t let this stop you from experimenting with dietary changes.

At the very minimum an ADHD child should be eating 2 fish meals per week.

See Also:

Feingold Diet – A comprehensive outline of Dr Ben Feingold’s program.
Healing ADD Diet

    References:

  • Howard, A. L., Robinson, M., Smith, G. J., Ambrosini, G. L., Piek, J. P., & Oddy, W. H. (2011). ADHD is associated with a “Western” dietary pattern in adolescents. Journal of attention disorders, 15(5), 403-411. link
  • Schnoll, R., Burshteyn, D., & Cea-Aravena, J. (2003). Nutrition in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a neglected but important aspect. Applied Psychophysiology and biofeedback, 28(1), 63-75. link
  • Walker, L. R., Abraham, A. A., & Tercyak, K. P. (2010). Adolescent caffeine use, ADHD, and cigarette smoking. Children’s Health Care, 39(1), 73-90. link
  • Stevens, L. J., Kuczek, T., Burgess, J. R., Hurt, E., & Arnold, L. E. (2010). Dietary sensitivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five years of research. Clinical pediatrics, 0009922810384728. link
 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
Last Reviewed: December 24, 2014. Disclaimer

29 Comments

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  5. Nanette

    My son was diagnosed at age 4, tried medication but changed his personality completely so he was spaced out. After much research, instead tried behavioral therapy. Helped a bit, but worked the most with the change in diet. Turns out he had food allergies, not in the sense that he broke out in rashes or couldn’t breathe, but instead made him hyper. Now I try to remove all sugar and wheat from his diet and no preservatives such as red and yellow dyes. Basically a gluten free diet with minimal dairy. Supplemented with vitamins, namely Omega 3 and probiotics (to rid of all the toxins from the food he’s allergic to). It has been a God send, since now his therapist has rediagnosed his as having been cured of ADHD. I personally think it’s all about the diet and the vitamins. Forget the drugs and watch consumption instead. I am thrilled since I have my loving son back who is doing great in school. Good luck!

    Reply
  6. Christie

    What should a adhd child eat and not eat ??? What is best for there diet. To me kids are kids and they are going to be hyper at times. Teachers mostly need to be the ones specially trained to deal with this behavior and support kids not punish them. We have lots of issues at school, but better positive teacher attitude helps the situation.

    Reply
  7. shyamala

    Hi Anna,
    Have you tried Straterra? It is especially suitable for children who have not responded to stimulant meds and the bonus is that it also reduces anxiety in ADHD suffers. I would also give the elimination diet a go.

    Reply
  8. anna

    my son was dignosed at 31/2 but we had symptoms at one yr old . He is 7 now and we are out of control with him . he has been on every stimulant and is now on anxiety meds too . they only last a short time. we are isolated to just our close family the rest of our friends and family dont want to be around him. Does anyone have advice? we are now working on a new diet to see if that helps.

    Reply
  9. badfo

    What kind of stupid crap is it when a 2 year old gets diagnosed with ADHD?? They are all hyperactive at that age!! Seriously let’s drug all the kids with stimulants but we’ll keep marijuana illegal-makes sense!

    Reply
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