An Essential Guide to the ADHD Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid for Improved Symptoms

ADHD Diet
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Did you know that the food you eat could have a significant impact on your ADHD symptoms? A balanced ADHD diet can play a crucial role in managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), improving symptoms, and optimizing brain function. In this blog post, we will explore various aspects of an ADHD-friendly diet, from the types of foods to eat and avoid to specialized diets and personalized plans, all aimed at helping you live a healthier and more focused life with ADHD.

Key Takeaways

  • A balanced diet with dietary supplements and mindful choices can help individuals with ADHD improve their symptoms.
  • Protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats & omega-3 fatty acids are essential for managing ADHD.

Understanding ADHD and Diet: Reducing Symptoms

Deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects children and adults. It is characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. Those with ADHD can manage their adhd symptoms and boost their overall well-being through a healthy diet. 

Research has indicated that a balanced diet, including polyunsaturated fatty acids, can be inversely related to ADHD. On the other hand, some dietary patterns, such as Western and junk food patterns high in refined grains, processed foods, and sugar, may make adhd symptoms worse.

One of the primary dietary interventions for ADHD includes the use of dietary supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These supplements can help address nutritional deficiencies that may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. For instance, children with ADHD have been found to consume more foods high in sugar and fat, while also consuming fewer nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

Restriction and elimination diets are another potential intervention for ADHD. These diets remove certain foods that may trigger or worsen symptoms in some individuals and may be an alternative to medication for some.

Ultimately, the key to managing ADHD symptoms through diet lies in consuming a balanced mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins, and nutritional supplements, while limiting the intake of foods high in sugar, saturated fats, and simple carbohydrates. Mindful dietary choices can help individuals with ADHD enhance their symptoms and brain function.

Protein Power: Boosting Brain Function

Protein is a vital component for brain health, as it plays a fundamental role in the formation of neurotransmitters, which are essential brain chemicals. In fact, research conducted by Salvat et al. (2022) found that children with ADHD consumed a lower percentage of protein but a higher amount of simple sugars, tea, and “ready-to-eat” meals than their peers without ADHD. 

Incorporating protein-rich foods in the diet can help prevent blood sugar spikes and support neurotransmitter production, which could potentially improve ADHD symptoms.

Protein-rich foods offer benefits for people with ADHD. Examples include lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products. Nutritious snacks high in protein, such as protein bars, jerky, smoothies, can also be beneficial for individuals with ADHD.

Following a diet rich in protein can help support overall brain function and may lead to improvements in:

  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Working memory

Those with ADHD can fuel their brain for optimal function by prioritizing protein in their diet.

Carbohydrate Choices: Simple vs. Complex

Carbohydrates play a significant role in the diet, but not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour, are quickly metabolized by the body, resulting in a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. These sugary foods, along with complex carbohydrates, provide different energy levels and satiety.

Ned Hallowell, an ADHD expert, recommends consuming whole grains to avoid blood sugar spikes. Choosing complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help individuals with ADHD maintain steady blood sugar levels, aiding symptom management. In contrast, abstaining from simple carbohydrates may result in a reduction of certain ADHD symptoms.

The Importance of Healthy Fats and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, play a crucial role in managing ADHD symptoms. Research has indicated that omega-3s are integral for proper brain and nerve cell function and may reduce ADHD symptoms by up to 50%. Omega-3 fatty acids may improve:

  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Working memory

In children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), finding the right ADHD medication can be crucial for managing symptoms effectively as part of a comprehensive ADHD treatment plan.

Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, and sardines, as well as flax seeds and chia seeds. For those who may not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their diet, supplementation is an option. OmegaBrite, Omega Rx, MorEPA, Nordic Naturals capsules, and Barlean’s Omega Swirl drink are recommended omega-3 supplements for individuals with ADHD.

It is noteworthy that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids could have the potential to reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention symptoms in ADHD. Research suggests these nutrients may be beneficial for the disorder. Studies have shown that doses of EPA greater than 500 mg are effective in improving hyperactivity symptoms.Brain Tip EPA

Including omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can significantly benefit individuals with ADHD by improving symptoms and promoting overall brain health. Whether through food sources or supplementation, focusing on healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids is a crucial aspect of an ADHD-friendly diet and a natural ADHD treatment regimen. 

Is it ADHD or something else

Essential Vitamins and Minerals for ADHD

In addition to healthy fats and proteins, essential vitamins and minerals play a vital role in managing ADHD symptoms. Some key nutrients that may be particularly beneficial for those with ADHD include:

  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

These nutrients play crucial roles in various aspects of brain function, such as regulating neurotransmitter pathways and supporting nerve cell growth.

Some dietary sources of these essential vitamins and minerals include:

  • Fatty fish
  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Nuts
  • Soy
  • Fortified cereals

In addition to these dietary sources, vitamin and mineral supplements can also be considered to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients.

Exposure to the sun, milk, eggs, and fortified food items are also excellent sources of vitamin D. Nutritional supplementation may be necessary if deficiencies are present, as these deficiencies can exacerbate ADHD symptoms.

Incorporating nutrient-dense foods and supplements in their diet can support overall brain health and improve ADHD symptoms in affected individuals. Maintaining a balanced diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals is a crucial component of managing ADHD.

The Sugar Debate: Impact on ADHD Symptoms

High sugar intake can negatively affect attention and behavior in some individuals with ADHD. It’s important to limit sugar consumption for overall health. The World Health Organization is concerned with the health of adults and suggests a daily limit of 2 teaspoons (50 grams) for sugar. Moderating sugar intake could potentially improve symptoms and maintain overall well-being in individuals with ADHD.

moderating sugar intake


Aside from reducing sugar consumption, it is also essential to make healthier food choices. Opt for nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, instead of sugary and processed foods. Mindful dietary choices can lead to better management of ADHD symptoms and enhance overall health.

Caffeine Considerations for ADHD

Caffeine, a stimulant commonly found in coffee, tea, and cola, can have varying effects on individuals with ADHD. Some people may experience side effects such as:

  • insomnia
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • stomach discomfort
  • anxiety

On the other hand, others may find their focus and motivation improved with minimal to no adverse effects, as observed in some double blind placebo controlled studies.

It’s important for individuals with ADHD to be aware of their personal reactions to caffeine and adjust their consumption accordingly. For example, adults taking stimulant medications for ADHD may be at a higher risk of experiencing adverse effects from caffeine. On the other hand, some individuals with ADHD may find that caffeine improves their focus, alertness and motivation without causing significant side effects.

Always consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your caffeine intake.

Steering Clear of Artificial Additives

Artificial additives, such as food colorings and preservatives, may worsen ADHD symptoms in some individuals. These additives can be found in various processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, candies, and sodas. Children with ADHD who use an elimination diet may see improvements in their symptoms and overall well-being by avoiding artificial additives.

To steer clear of artificial additives, start by reading food labels carefully. Look for ingredients such as:

  • high-fructose corn sweetener
  • dehydrated cane juice
  • dextrin
  • dextrose
  • maltodextrin
  • sucrose
  • molasses
  • malt syrup

These ingredients can indicate the presence of food additives. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible, as they are less likely to contain artificial additives.

In addition to avoiding artificial additives, individuals with ADHD should also focus on consuming a balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods. Some examples of nutrient-dense foods include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins
  • Healthy fats

Diet interventions involve making healthier food choices and eliminating artificial additives allows individuals with ADHD to proactively manage their symptoms and promote overall health.

Identifying Food Allergies and Intolerances

Food allergies and intolerances can exacerbate ADHD symptoms in some individuals. Certain foods are known to potentially cause allergies and worsen ADHD symptoms. Identifying and eliminating these trigger foods from the diet may help improve ADHD symptoms, such as:

  • gluten
  • wheat
  • corn
  • soy
  • dairy
  • artificial food coloring

To determine if food allergies or intolerances are contributing to ADHD symptoms, it is essential to do systematic review and comprehensive lab work. Testing for food allergies and working with a specialist can help identify problematic foods and create a tailored diet plan that avoids trigger foods and supports overall health.

Remember, when identifying food allergies and intolerances, each individual’s needs and reactions may differ. A personalized approach to managing ADHD symptoms through diet can lead to more effective and lasting improvements in overall well-being.

Specialized Diets and ADHD: Nutrition for ADHD

Various specialized diets that may benefit individuals with ADHD include:

  • Anti-Inflammatory diet
  • Mediterranean diet
  • Paleo diet
  • GAP diet

However, the effectiveness of these diets varies and should be tailored to individual needs. Some individuals may find significant improvements in their ADHD symptoms by following one of these specialized diets, while others may not experience the same benefits.

Your healthcare provider can help determine which diet may be most appropriate for your specific needs and help monitor your progress, ensuring that you receive the necessary nutrients for overall health.

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and ADHD

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and may help improve ADHD symptoms by promoting brain health. Genetic variants such as MTHFR can affect what foods we should or shouldn’t eat. This diet entails consuming whole, unrefined foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while abstaining from processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats.

While further research is needed to fully understand the impact of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet on ADHD symptoms, adopting this diet may provide potential benefits for overall health and well-being. Some potential benefits of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet for individuals with ADHD include:

  • Improved focus and attention
  • Reduced hyperactivity and impulsivity
  • Better mood regulation
  • Enhanced cognitive function

Focusing on nutrient-rich foods and minimizing inflammation may help individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD improve ADHD symptoms and overall brain function.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole foods, healthy fats, and lean proteins, which may benefit individuals with ADHD. Research has indicated that increased adherence to the Mediterranean Diet, which includes vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, and healthy fats, is connected to a lower risk of ADHD diagnosis. This diet is abundant in nutrients, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function and may enhance learning, memory, and mood disorders.

Although the Mediterranean Diet may not directly prevent or reduce ADHD symptoms, it can provide numerous advantages for overall health and cognitive function. Adopting the principles of the Mediterranean Diet in an ADHD-friendly eating plan can bolster brain health and potentially alleviate symptoms.

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet eliminates processed foods and focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods, which may help improve ADHD symptoms. The diet consists of:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

The Paleo diet does not include grains and legumes.

While the Paleo diet may not be specifically designed for individuals with ADHD, its emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods and nutrient-dense ingredients can support overall brain health and potentially improve ADHD symptoms. Adapting the principles of the Paleo diet into an ADHD-friendly eating plan can yield potential benefits for overall health and well-being.

GAP Diet

The GAP diet aims to heal the gut and improve brain function, potentially benefiting individuals with ADHD. This diet is an elimination diet that removes:

  • grains
  • pasteurized dairy
  • starchy vegetables
  • refined carbohydrates

The few foods diet focuses on vegetables and fermented foods for a healthy gut.

While there is limited scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of the GAP diet for ADHD, its focus on gut health and the potential connection between gut health and brain function makes it a consideration for those seeking alternative dietary approaches to manage ADHD symptoms. 

Customized ADHD Diet Plans

A personalized diet plan, created with the help of a nutrition professional, can help manage ADHD symptoms and improve overall health. By tailoring the diet to individual needs and preferences, individuals with ADHD can ensure they’re getting the necessary nutrients for optimal brain function and symptom management.

To create a customized ADHD diet plan, one can follow these steps:

  1. Compile a list of ADHD-friendly recipes.
  2. Assess pantry and refrigerator contents.
  3. Plan meals and snacks.
  4. Incorporate high-protein foods and nutrient-dense options.

Taking a personalized approach to managing ADHD symptoms through diet can lead to more effective and lasting improvements in overall well-being for individuals. 

Summary

In conclusion, managing ADHD symptoms through a healthy and balanced diet can be an effective strategy for improving overall well-being and brain function. By incorporating nutrient-dense foods, such as lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, individuals with ADHD can provide their brains with the fuel needed to function optimally. Specialized diets and personalized diet plans may also offer potential benefits for those with ADHD, but it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to one’s diet.

Remember, each person’s ADHD journey is unique, and finding the right diet and holistic treatment plan to manage symptoms is a personal process. By staying informed, making mindful dietary choices, and working with healthcare professionals, individuals with ADHD can take control of their symptoms and lead healthier, more focused lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What diet is best for ADHD?

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins is best for ADHD. Two studies have demonstrated that an elimination diet (eliminating sugar, gluten, dairy, eggs, certain meats, and food dyes) improved symptoms in 70% of children with ADHD. Keep in mind that research is ongoing in relation to ADHD and diet.

What foods to avoid if you are ADHD?

Foods to avoid if you have ADHD include caffeine-containing beverages, high-fructose corn syrup, milk, chocolate, soy, wheat, eggs, beans, corn, tomatoes, grapes, oranges, fatty foods, and processed food with added sugar.

Does sugar calm ADHD?

Sugar is not an effective way to calm ADHD, as it can further disrupt an already dysregulated brain and negatively impact the gut.

Can omega-3 fatty acids help with ADHD symptoms?

Yes, research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help improve ADHD symptoms such as attention, focus, motivation, and working memory.

Citations

Pinto, S., Correia-de-Sá, T., Sampaio-Maia, B., Vasconcelos, C., Moreira, P., & Ferreira-Gomes, J. (2022). Eating Patterns and Dietary Interventions in ADHD: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 14(20), 4332. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14204332

Ríos-Hernández, A., Alda, J. A., Farran-Codina, A., Ferreira-García, E., & Izquierdo-Pulido, M. (2017). The Mediterranean Diet and ADHD in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 139(2), e20162027. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2027

Shareghfarid, E., Sangsefidi, Z. S., Salehi-Abargouei, A., & Hosseinzadeh, M. (2020). Empirically derived dietary patterns and food groups intake in relation with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical nutrition ESPEN, 36, 28–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2019.10.013

Woo, H. D., Kim, D. W., Hong, Y. S., Kim, Y. M., Seo, J. H., Choe, B. M., Park, J. H., Kang, J. W., Yoo, J. H., Chueh, H. W., Lee, J. H., Kwak, M. J., & Kim, J. (2014). Dietary patterns in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nutrients, 6(4), 1539–1553. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6041539

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your struggling child or teen? 

Dr. Roseann and her team are all about science-backed solutions, so you are in the right place! 

Grab your complimentary copy of
147 Therapist-Endorsed Self-Regulation Strategies for Children: A Practical Guide for Parents

You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s professional speaking page to see how we can work together.

Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”

Dr. Roseann - Brain Behavior Reset Parent Toolkit

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2023

Scroll to Top

Download Your Copy

147 Therapist-Endorsed

Self-Regulation Strategies

for Children

A Practical Guide For Parents

147 therapist endorsed self-regulation strategies for children a practical guide for parents
Skip to content