There may be a link between eating some types of food and ADHD symptoms becoming worse.
Foods and ingredients often associated with ADHD symptoms include sugar, caffeine, wheat or dairy products.
It can help to keep a diary of symptoms and foods eaten at the time to see if there is a pattern. The NHS cautions against changing the diet of a child with ADHD and cutting out foods without getting proper medical advice first.
As well as eliminating what could be food triggering symptoms some experts make dietary recommendations aimed at helping or managing ADHD symptoms.
What is an ADHD diet?
Ideally, an ADHD diet would help the brain work better and lessen symptoms of ADHD, such as restlessness or lack of focus. You may hear ADHD diets described in the following ways:
Overall nutrition for ADHD: This includes the food you eat daily. How can your overall nutrition help or harm ADHD? The assumption is that some foods you eat may make ADHD symptoms better or worse. You may also be lacking some foods that could help make symptoms better.
Supplementation diets for ADHD: This includes adding vitamins, minerals or other nutrients to make up for deficiencies in your diet that may contribute to ADHD symptoms. The assumption is that nutritional component that your body needs is lacking from your diet.
Elimination diets for ADHD: This involves removing foods or ingredients that are suspected of contributing to ADHD symptoms. The assumption is that you are eating something unhealthy that causes ADHD symptoms or makes them worse.
Overall nutrition and ADHD
Scientific research on ADHD diets is limited and results are mixed. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says healthcare professionals should stress the value of a balanced diet, good nutrition and regular exercise for children, young people and adults with ADHD.
Some health experts also believe that diet may play a role in relieving ADHD symptoms. Some of the approaches taken include:
- Eat a high-protein diet, including beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts. Add protein foods in the morning and for after-school snacks, to improve concentration and possibly increase the time ADHD medications work.
- Eat fewer simple carbohydrates , such as sweets, honey, sugar, products made from white flour, white rice and potatoes without the skins.
- Eat more complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and some fruits (including oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples and kiwi). Eating complex carbohydrates at night may help sleep.
- Eat more omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in tuna, salmon, other cold-water white fish, walnuts, Brazil nuts, olive and canola oil.
Elimination diets and ADHD
In elimination diets, you identify a particular food or ingredient you think might be causing symptoms. Then you stop eating anything containing that substance. If the symptoms subside, then you continue avoiding the substance.
Can eliminating foods from your diet improve ADHD symptoms? Research in all these areas is ongoing and results are not clear-cut. Here are some common areas of concern and what the experts recommend.