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18 Foods to Avoid if You Have ADHD

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Do you have ADHD? Don’t eat another thing until you’ve read about these foods to avoid if you have ADHD. You may be able to improve your ADHD symptoms just by eliminating these problem foods from your diet.

ADHD is a condition where a person has trouble with executive functioning, attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. While ADHD commonly affects children, many adults with ADHD continue to have symptoms throughout their lives. One does not “grow out” of ADHD if the condition is diagnosed correctly. ADHD sticks with you for life, making it harder to complete basic, daily tasks that are necessary for adult life.

Adults with ADHD are more likely to face a job loss, have trouble with relationships, become addicted to controlled substances, and have issues with self-esteem and depression. Because these issues are dangerous and can be deadly, it is important to manage ADHD symptoms throughout life, even if you are no longer taking medication.

The good news is, the diet has been linked to an improvement in ADHD symptoms. Certain foods are linked with reducing the symptoms of ADHD, such as eating a larger amount of omega-3 fatty acids and getting more B vitamins, but the issue of what foods might make ADHD symptoms worse is discussed less often.

Certain foods have been shown to make ADHD symptoms worse for a large number of individuals with ADHD, whether they are adults or children. Not all individuals will have the same reaction to foods, but if you have ADHD, and are particularly wanting to avoid medication, paying attention to these trigger foods can go a long way toward preventing the dangerous symptoms of ADHD.

Avoid the following foods if you have ADHD:


Studies have shown that kids who have ADHD are particularly sensitive to preservatives in foods. A study from 2011 found that the consumption of sodium benzoate and other preservatives can affect the strength of a person’s ADHD symptoms.


Preservatives to Avoid
  • butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Sodium benzoate
  • butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  • sodium nitrate
  • tertbutyl hydroquinone (TBHQ)

Artificial Dyes

Artificial dyes are also linked with making ADHD symptoms worse. A study from 2014 found that children and adults with ADHD who drank sodas containing artificial dyes had increased ADHD symptoms. Typical side effects of artificial dyes include increased hyperactivity and other behavior issues.


Dyes to Avoid
  • FD&C Blue No. 1 and No. 2
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) and No. 6
  • FD&C Green No. 3
  • Orange B
  • Citrus Red No. 2
  • FD&C Red No. 3 and No. 40 (allura)

Packaged Foods

Packaged foods are unhealthy for everyone, but their high content of preservatives and dyes and their lack of nutrients makes them particularly bad for individuals with ADHD. A person with ADHD is likely to be deficient in certain vital minerals, like B vitamins and vitamin D. It is unknown if a person with ADHD has trouble absorbing these vitamins more than the average person or just requires a higher nutrient intake than someone without ADHD. Additionally, packaged foods are also high in sugars and other artificial sweeteners, which also have negative effects on a person with ADHD.


It shouldn’t be a surprise that sugar can make ADHD symptoms worse. Sugar has a stimulating effect on the brain that can make mood swings, impulsivity, and hyperactivity worse. One simple way to live a healthier life is to reduce sugar intake and cut back on all sweets and sugary foods and drinks. Regular sugar isn’t the only culprit. Artificial sweeteners may also cause a problem and increase ADHD symptoms. For best results, limit sugar intake of any kind to once a week.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are a type of fat that the human body cannot use. This fat is the worst type of fat because it is damaging to the body in multiple ways. For someone with ADHD, trans fats may even worse because hydrogenated oils interfere with the functioning of nerves. A person with ADHD has trouble controlling nerve impulses and adding trans fats on top of that further compounds the issue. No one who struggles with a short attention span should consume high levels of trans fats. Avoid any foods that contain any amount of trans fats, even if the package says “0 grams of trans fats per serving.” A manufacturer can claim 0 grams even if they contain up to .5 grams of trans fat per serving, which can quickly add up to damage in the body if you consume more than half a gram per week.


Certain foods are more likely to cause allergies than others. Many individuals are allergic to substances such as wheat, gluten, corn, soy, and dairy. Even if you don’t think you have a food allergy, you might be more sensitive to a certain food than you realize. Some allergies, rather than cause physical reactions, cause mental reactions. Studies have found that certain allergies can cause hyperactivity and attention problems in children. If your child is suffering from a food allergy, they may not have ADHD, but instead, might be suffering from an allergic reaction.

Ice Cream

Some individuals with ADHD are allergic to dairy. You can be allergic to dairy and not know about it. If you notice yourself feeling tired or sluggish after consuming ice cream or dairy, or notice any stomach sensitivities, you may have a dairy allergy. If you notice any of these signs, avoid the consumption of ice cream and dairy.


Even though yogurt is a bit healthier than ice cream, thanks to the inclusion of probiotics, yogurt is still a dairy product and may cause sensitivity issues. Stop eating yogurt if you notice an increase in hyperactive symptoms after eating yogurt.

Fish High in Mercury

Heavy metal poisoning can have a devastating effect on health in general, and in the short-term, can also worsen ADHD symptoms. Mercury poisoning lowers your ability to focus and also makes concentration harder. Instead of eating fish high in mercury, like tuna, opt for fish like salmon, shrimp, or lobster.


It’s no surprise that soda is bad for the brain, particularly for children and adults with ADHD. Soda contains high levels of preservatives and also usually contain artificial colors. Red sodas may be particularly for kids and adults with ADHD. High levels of sugar are also known to cause mood swings, which are made worse by ADHD symptoms.

Fruit Juice

You might think that fruit juice is a healthy alternative to soda, but while it is true that fruit juice contains more vitamins than soda, the sugar in fruit juice is almost no better than the sugar found in sodas. Fruit juice takes the extracted sweet juice from fruit and concentrates it, usually adding more water later. The result is a sugary beverage that has few of the same health benefits as eating fresh fruit.

Fast Food

Fast food is not healthy for anyone, but if you have ADHD, you may want to work extra hard to avoid eating fast food regularly. Fast food is high in preservatives, trans fats, sugar, and just about every other unhealthy thing you can eat that makes ADHD symptoms worse. What’s even worse is that fast food contains little nutrients that feed your brain. Individuals with ADHD typically require a higher nutrient intake than that of a person without ADHD, making a steady diet of fast food even worse for someone with ADHD.

Red Meat 

Some studies suggest that red meat can cause problems in individuals with ADHD. Red meat may increase symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsive behavior. If you frequently eat red meat, try switching it out for fish, pork, or white meat to reduce the negative symptoms of red meat.


Chemicals commonly added to foods have been suggested to cause problems in individuals with ADHD. Common culprits are preservatives and dyes, but other chemicals may also cause issues. Look for sneaky hidden chemicals in unexpected products. You may be surprised to find some of these dangerous chemicals lurking in the following foods:

  • Vitamins
  • Cereal
  • Toothpaste
  • Sauces
  • Canned fruit
  • Gelatin
  • Cake and muffin mixes


Salicylates are a natural chemical found in apples, almonds, grapes, tomatoes, and aspirin. But for some individuals with ADHD, salicylates may cause ADHD symptoms to worsen. Some individuals with ADHD notice that eating foods with salicylates cause attention and hyperactivity issues.

Foods High in Salicylates
  • Grapes
  • Cranberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Almonds
  • Apples

Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Vegetables are food for individuals with ADHD, but frozen veggies come with hidden dangers. Some brands include artificial coloring in their frozen vegetables and fruits, making them triggers for ADHD symptoms. Many frozen foods are also treated with organophosphates as a pesticide and may cause issues with behavior issues that have similar symptoms to that of ADHD.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks may feel like a quick pick-me-up for individuals with ADHD, but if you have ADHD, you should avoid most energy drinks. Most energy drinks are high in artificial sweeteners, sugar, artificial dyes, and preservatives. Drinking a lot of energy drinks can make you jittery, have sudden mood swings, and have trouble with impulsivity and attention. If you have ADHD, avoid drinking energy drinks if possible.

Diet Can Make A Difference in ADHD Symptoms

Even though ADHD is largely a genetic condition, what you eat can make a difference in the day-to-day symptoms that you see. A person with ADHD struggles with executive function, attention, impulsivity, and organization. If you are eating foods that may worsen ADHD symptoms on top of your ADHD, you may be making your symptoms worse than they have to be. If you’d like a more natural treatment for ADHD, try eliminating some of these problem foods from your diet and see if you notice a reduction in ADHD symptoms.





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