Diet for ADHD: Foods to include and avoid

The diet for ADHD aims to improve brain health (Image via Unsplash/Caleb Woods)
Diet for ADHD aims to improve brain health. (Image via Unsplash/Caleb Woods)

A well-planned diet for ADHD may ease symptoms of this disorder. It's not well known whether diet plays an important role in the pathophysiology of ADHD. Nevertheless, a well-balanced diet can provide essential vitamins and minerals for brain functions. Antioxidants in foods can also protect the body from oxidative damage.

Nutritious food is good for the brain, whether someone is suffering from any disorder or not. A nutritious diet can improve memory and cognition while preventing neurodegenerative diseases. Although data is limited, a nutritious diet for ADHD can help manage and reduce symptoms to an extent.

What is ADHD? Relationship between ADHD and food

ADHD is a complex disorder of the brain (Image via Unsplash/Robina Weermeijer)
ADHD is a complex disorder of the brain (Image via Unsplash/Robina Weermeijer)

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder find it difficult to maintain attention, lose track of conversations and forget important details.

They also experience mood swings, irritability and low tolerance. According to the CDC, ADHD is often associated with a lack of concentration, trouble organizing tasks and activities and often losing items. It's not known whether food habits trigger ADHD symptoms.

Symptoms of ADHD are similar to that of autism spectrum disorder, which is another chronic illness associated with behavioral traits like repeating words or phrases more than usual, getting upset by minor changes and delayed skills, including movement and language skills.

ADHD diet for adults

A diet for ADHD aims to provide adequate nutrients to support brain health and improve memory and cognition. It has to be kept in mind that this diet is not a cure for ADHD, and medical supervision is essential for the proper treatment of individuals with the condition.

ADHD food to include in diet for ADHD

High-protein foods along with complex carbs and olive oil can improve brain function. Foods that do not cause inflammation are considered best for the brain. Include the following foods in a diet for ADHD:

  • Vegetables: tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts and turnips
  • Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, dates, figs, melons, pears, strawberries and peaches
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and watermelon seeds
  • Nut Butters: almond butter, cashew butter and peanut butter
  • Legumes: pulses, peanuts, chickpeas, beans, peas and lentils
  • Whole grains: oats, brown rice, whole wheat bread, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat and whole wheat pasta
  • Fish and seafood: tuna, mackerel, shrimp, salmon, sardines, trout, oysters, clams, crab and mussels
  • Poultry: chicken, duck and turkey
  • Eggs: chicken, quail and duck eggs
  • Dairy: cheese, yogurt and milk
  • Herbs and spices: garlic, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, basil, mint, rosemary and pepper
  • Healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados and avocado oil

Olive oil is amazing for the brain and is also an important component of the Mediterranean diet. Include olive and olive oil in a diet for ADHD for best results.

Foods to avoid with ADHD

Refined sugar should be avoided in a diet for ADHD. (Image via Unsplash/Faran Raufi)
Refined sugar should be avoided in a diet for ADHD. (Image via Unsplash/Faran Raufi)

Although there are no proper guidelines for a diet for ADHD, avoiding foods with refined sugar and processed carbs can improve memory and cognition.

Ultra-processed foods contain food additives, including artificial sweeteners and flavors that might be harmful to the brain. Avoid the following foods:

  • Added sugar: Added sugar is found in many foods, including sodas and other beverages.
  • Simple carbs: corn syrup, honey, white bread, pasta, crackers and baked goods
  • Trans fats: Margarine, fried foods and other highly processed foods
  • Seed oils: soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil and grapeseed oil
  • Processed meat: processed sausages, hot dogs and other similar products
  • Ultra-processed foods: fast food, instant meals and packaged snacks

Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatrician and allergist, created his version of the diet for ADHD in the 1970s and named it the Feingold diet.

He suggested limiting and avoiding all foods with artificial sweeteners, colors, salicylates, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and tert-Butrylhdryquinone (TBHQ). It's not known whether his diet for ADHD is effective, though.

Indranil Biswas is a nutritionist and personal trainer with a diploma in dietetics and personal training with a specialization in sports nutrition and strength training.

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Edited by Bhargav