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What is the Best Diet for ADHD?

Hillary Flynn
Updated May 17, 2024
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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder that affects children, teens, and adults. It is most commonly found in children, however, and boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. Kids with ADHD are usually hyperactive, have difficulty focusing, are disruptive in classrooms, and find it difficult to sit still and follow rules. This can impair academic performance and make it difficult for the child to function appropriately in social situations. There is no known cause of ADHD and no specific test to diagnose it, but treatment has usually involved a combination of medication and behavior therapy, and more recently, a diet for ADHD.

The idea behind a diet for ADHD is that the brain will function better when nutritionally satiated, thus reducing symptoms of ADHD such as the inability to focus and the restlessness that accompanies it. Also, some of the symptoms of ADHD are the same as the symptoms thought to be caused by food allergies, so the diet can also be used as a means of diagnosis. The approach to a diet for ADHD involves elimination, supplementation, and an overall nutrition plan.

The first step to the ADHD diet is elimination. Proponents suggest eliminating the following for two weeks: dairy, junk food, fruit juice, sugar substitutes, processed meats, MSG, food coloring, and fish. Sugar, chocolate, and fried foods should be reduced by at least 90%. After two weeks, add each food back one at a time. Eat each food for several days and look for symptoms before adding an additional food. If symptoms are found, the trigger food should be eliminated in the future.

Once the elimination portion is completed, supplementation should be explored. Supplementation is used in conjunction with a diet for ADHD to ensure the needed vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are ingested. This is thought to reduce symptoms that may be triggered by a lack of nutrients.

The first key to a diet for ADHD is protein. Add protein in the form of beans, meat, eggs, nuts, and cheese to breakfast and after-school snacks to improve concentration during school and homework. Cut down on simple carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, and white rice. Increase complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, especially at night, to improve sleep. Eat foods containing omega-3 fatty acids such as tuna, salmon, and olive oil. Basically, a balanced diet high in protein, with complex carbohydrates is ideal.

When it's not possible to get the protein and nutrients needed, supplements can be used. Water is also very important and swapping a glass of water for soda or juice to ensure at least eight glasses a day are consumed is a great first step. Omega-3 fatty acids can be supplemented as well, and many natural remedies for ADHD can be found in local drugstores.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Hillary Flynn
By Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn's insatiable curiosity led her to join the WiseGeek team, where she contributes well-researched articles on various topics. In addition to her work with WiseGeek, Hillary manages an electronic publishing business that allows her to develop her skills in technical writing, graphic design, and business development. With a passion for satirical writing and traveling to historical places, Hillary brings a distinctive voice to her content.
Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Mar 17, 2011

I had heard about the elimination diet for food allergies but did not know that the diet was used for adhd treatment in children as well.

I think I will try eliminating some foods with my son to see if his behavior changes at all. I have already noticed that he is even more hyperactive after having sweets. We don't keep much junk food and fried foods at home but he has access to it at school and I can't supervise him at all times.

Can I try this diet with my son by myself or should it be done under doctor supervision?

By serenesurface — On Mar 17, 2011

I attended a lecture in London by a British doctor who argued that aspartame and other unnatural sweeteners are responsible for many cases of adhd. She said that the wood alcohol in aspartame turns into a toxic and poisonous substance when it is exposed to high temperatures. So any foods and drinks with these sweeteners actually poison us and have many terrible consequences like depression, anxiety, joint paints, memory loss and vision and hearing problems!

I was shocked to hear about this. I consume diet soda every day and I think my fruit juices have aspartame as well. I'm being treated for anxiety and attention deficiency right now.

I generally try to eat healthy but I have a soft spot for sodas and junk food. I prefer diet soda so that I don't gain weight. But guess what? I have gained weight and this is said to be another side effect of aspartame.

I have thrown out the diet coke and my sweeteners. I hope my adhd and anxiety symptoms get better with this change.

Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn's insatiable curiosity led her to join the WiseGeek team, where she contributes well-researched articles...
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