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What to Eat if You Have ADHD

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Suffering from ADHD symptoms? If you don’t want to medicate ADHD, try this natural diet for ADHD instead!


ADHD is a condition caused by a slight difference in the neurological function of otherwise healthy adults and children. Although some individuals believe that the condition is simply the result of poor parenting or lack of discipline, brain scans show distinct differences between a person with ADHD and a person without ADHD.

Research indicates that although ADHD is not caused by specific external influences like too much sugar in the diet or a deficiency in nutrients, changes in the diet can influence the symptoms of ADHD.

Just like how your activity level and brain function can be altered by drinking coffee or switching from junk food to a healthy diet, diet can play a similar role in the treatment of ADHD.

Learn more about the connection between ADHD and the diet below.

The Basics of ADHD

There is no doubt that ADHD is a real condition. ADHD is a neurological condition that affects attention, activity, and impulsiveness. In some children and adults, ADHD is also characterized by sudden mood swings and difficulty regulating emotions, which is thought to be a side effect of impulsivity.

Typically, a child is more likely to have ADHD if her/his parents have it. The main cause of ADHD appears to be genetic, although sometimes prenatal trauma can play a role. Studies suggest that individuals with ADHD typically have lower levels of dopamine and noradrenaline, which are the sectors of the brain that govern self-regulation. In short, a person with ADHD has difficulty regulating their activities and brain.

Naturally, this affects all areas of life, and in severe cases, can lead to difficulty in school, work, relationships, and addiction. Adults and children with ADHD are more likely to have problems with substance abuse due to the difficulty with self-regulation. Although ADHD can be treated with diet, supplements, and medication, there is no real "cure" for the disease.

A person with ADHD will always struggle with concentration and self-regulation.

The Link Between ADHD and Diet

Individuals with ADHD usually have similar nutrient deficiencies. Aside from lower levels of dopamine and noradrenaline, individuals with ADHD also tend to have lower mineral levels. In particular, The University of Maryland cites low levels of zinc and magnesium common in adults and children with ADHD.

Research is not clear on if a person with ADHD has trouble absorbing nutrients or simply requires higher levels to function at optimal levels. In general, studies on ADHD and supplements or diet have taken two different forms. Elimination studies have examined the effects of eliminating certain foods from the diet of a person with ADHD (often sugar, dairy, or dye).

Supplement studies have examined the possible benefits of supplementing with certain minerals or nutrients to determine their effects on ADHD symptoms. We examine some of the research below:

Elimination Studies

Studies on the effectiveness of elimination diets for ADHD are listed below:

Food Additives: Food additives are blamed for numerous health problems, some of which are caused by food additives and some that are not. Studies have suggested that about 10 percent of all children are affected by food additives, with food dyes particularly causing problems in many children.

A study from 1994 published in The Journal of Pediatrics set out to determine if food additives had measurable effects on children with ADHD. 800 children were included in the study and 200 of those children were instructed to avoid all food additives for six weeks. 150 of the children showed improvements in activity level and behavior, but as soon as they were given food additives again, they showed symptoms of hyperactivity once more.

Since that study, researchers have questioned the results often, suggesting that the results were not clear enough to remove food additives from commercial foods. It is possible that some children are more affected by food dyes and additives than others. However, the European Union requires all foods that use additives to state on the package that they could cause attention and behavior problems.

Sugar: Some researchers have suggested that high sugar intake could be responsible for some hyperactivity or attention problems in children. However, a 1995 review of multiple studies on sugar and attention/hyperactivity published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no link whatsoever to sugar intake and hyperactivity levels.

However, most Americans eat far too much sugar than is healthy, and sugar is linked with dozens of other health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. These reasons alone are enough to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet even if attention and hyperactivity are not affected.

Supplement Studies

Researchers have also examined the effects of adding supplements to the diet as a method to control ADHD symptoms in children and adults. Since many individuals with ADHD are typically low in some nutrients, the studies set out to determine if supplementing with these nutrients could affect behavior and attention.

B Vitamins: Children and adults with ADHD are often low in B vitamins, specifically vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. Supplementing with vitamin B6 has been shown to have some improvement in attention and concentration. In a study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2004, it was found that supplementing with vitamin B6 and magnesium had measurable improvements on aggression, attention, hyperactivity, and other ADHD symptoms.

Omega 3: Omega 3 fats are essential for the healthy brain function of anyone. Research has shown that individuals with ADHD tend to be lower in omega 3 levels than individuals without ADHD. Lower omega 3 levels are linked with greater ADHD symptoms. Numerous studies have indicated that supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids can reduce ADHD symptoms.

A 2015 review of these studies published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care concluded," the investigation of nonpharmacological interventions including omega-3 HUFAs in clinical practice warrants extrapolating." In other words, supplementing with omega 3 was highly effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD.

Minerals: Adults and children with ADHD are often deficient in common minerals, including iron, zinc, and magnesium. Anyone who is low in iron and zinc will show signs of cognitive impairment, as a study from 2006 published in Nutrition Reviews found.

However, children and adults with ADHD are particularly low in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. Studies suggest that boosting levels of zinc, iron, and other minerals can have positive effects on the symptoms of ADHD. A 2004 study published in BMC Psychiatry found that when children supplemented medication with 15 mg of zinc daily, their symptoms improved over the group of children taking a placebo pill along with their medication.

Multivitamins: Since research suggests that supplementing with nutrients that are commonly deficient in individuals with ADHD are successful, other researchers wanted to test if a general multivitamin daily could also help adults and children with ADHD. In a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers gave adults with ADHD a placebo pill or a multivitamin containing essential minerals and vitamins. After 8 weeks, the adults who took the real vitamins showed significantly reduced ADHD symptoms over the non-vitamin group.

The Ideal Diet for ADHD

ADHD symptoms can vary from person to person. In general, there are three main side effects of ADHD: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. A person can have just one side of the symptoms or multiple symptoms.

The severity of a person's ADHD is usually determined by how many of these symptoms they exhibit and how much they influence that person's daily life. Because symptoms can vary, what works for one person might not work for another. This is true even with medication, as someone will respond differently to a certain medication than another person. There are several medications with differing formulas available to treat ADHD today.

However, the research suggests that most individuals with ADHD are helped by diet changes and daily supplements. In general, individuals with ADHD will benefit from making the following diet changes:

The ADHD Diet
  • Avoid sugar
  • Avoid food dye
  • Avoid food additives
  • Do not eat artificial sugar
  • Supplement with omega 3
  • Take a daily multivitamin
  • Boost your mineral intake through supplements and foods
  • Avoid processed foods

Foods that are most beneficial for individuals with ADHD contain high levels of B vitamins, omega 3 fats, and minerals. Fish are particularly high in all of these nutrients and are an easy way to add more of these nutrients to your diet. Adding more greens to your diet will also boost your nutrient intake.

Managing ADHD Through Diet

Although medications can be quite effective in treating ADHD, most medication comes with serious side effects that can be life-threatening in certain cases. Additionally, ADHD medication can be expensive. Most people do not want to be dependant on medication throughout life, which is why natural alternatives to ADHD are so popular. If you are trying to avoid medicating your ADHD, diet can make a difference in symptoms. Research has indicated that the above supplements, diet changes, and food eliminations can make a big difference in the severity of ADHD symptoms. If you want to treat ADHD without medication, try the ADHD diet.





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