Your diet can impact ADHD symptoms

Your diet can impact ADHD symptoms

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates 3-5% of the population has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is an ongoing pattern of attention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with function or development. Symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Since there is no cure for ADHD, typical treatments and therapies include medication, psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments. But there has been an increasing interest in how diet and supplements can play a part in treatment by reducing symptoms.

“Diets high in sugar may increase inattention and make ADHD symptoms worse,” says Amy Perdomo, a nurse practitioner specializing in psychiatry at the Aurora Health Care.

Certain foods can keep a person’s energy and blood sugar level stable and improve concentration:
  • Protein-rich foods – Protein prevents spikes in blood glucose levels, which can surge increases in hyperactivity. Foods rich in protein include meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Complex carbohydrates – These help prevent blood sugar spikes, make you feel fuller longer and encourage better sleep. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain bread, pasta and brown rice.
  • Vitamins and mineralsStudies link ADHD with low levels of certain micronutrients. Though it is unclear if these can improve symptoms, they are still essential in your diet; iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B-6 and vitamin D.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – These may improve attention, focus, motivation and working memory in children with ADHD. Some sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds.

In general, the best diet for people with ADHD is the diet that doctors recommend for most other people — one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthful fats and lean proteins. It should include limited amounts of saturated fats and junk foods.

Additional tips:
  • Schedule regular meal and snack times, especially since routine is important for children with ADHD.
  • Do not skip meals as this could lead to blood sugar crashes and excessive junk food consumption.
  • Keep plenty of healthful foods on hand for a quick snack.
  • Speak to a doctor about taking a multivitamin and multimineral supplement, which may be especially helpful for picky eaters and people with nutrient deficiencies.

For those with ADHD, diet is so important says Perdomo, “Two-thirds of children will have clinically significant symptoms into young adulthood, therefore education on diet from childhood through adulthood is very important.”

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  1. Sally Bunday MBE April 5, 2023 at 9:58 am · Reply

    For the last 45 years my organisation, the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group has been advocating the importance of diet and nutrition for ADHD/ Hyperactivity as it was called. We were the first to undertake the research into Essential Fatty Acids and the Co-factor vitamins and minerals. Our work was published in 1981.
    Sadly whilst there is more interest than there used to be there is still a reluctance to recommend this approach more. It is good to see more articles on this important subject.

  2. One thing to add to this list: there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that artificial colors make ADD/ADHD symptoms (and other mental health issues) much worse. By eliminating those food additives from your diet, you could drastically change the symptoms you’re experiencing.

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About the Author

Amy Werdin
Amy Werdin

Amy Werdin, health enews contributor, is a provider public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has been with the organization for 19 years, starting out in marketing for Advanced Healthcare, then Aurora Health Care and now in her current role. She enjoys reading, movies and watching her two daughters dance and her son swim.