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The ADHD Diet Plan: Healthy Foods and Supplements for Kids & Adults

What Is the Best ADHD Diet?

Health, food, and nutrition can make a significant difference in the lives of both children and adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

I have used nutritional interventions for hundreds of patients with ADHD during the past 24 years. In many cases, dietary changes have not only improved the symptoms of hyperactivity, concentration, and impulsivity, but also calmed.

Many adults and parents of children with ADHD are eager to try foods and supplements as part of an ADHD diet to help manage symptoms, but they often don’t know where to start. Below, learn how to find healthy food for kids and adults alike — foods to add to your family’s daily meals and things to eliminate — in order to deliver significant symptom relief.

ADHD Diet Rule 1: Stop Blood Sugar Spikes

Foods rich in protein — lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products — may have beneficial effects on ADD symptoms.

Protein-rich foods are used by the brain to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Protein can prevent surges in blood sugar, which increases hyperactivity. Eating protein for breakfast will help the body produce brain-awakening neurotransmitters.

Combining protein with complex carbs that are high in fiber and low in sugar will help you or your child manage ADHD symptoms better during the day, whether you’re taking ADD medication or not. The single most important thing I recommend to patients — especially parents of children with ADHD — is to decrease the amount of sugar consumed daily.

What many people don’t know is that eating simple processed carbohydrates, like white bread or waffles, is almost the same as eating sugar! Your body digests these processed carbs into glucose (sugar) so quickly that the effect is virtually the same as eating sugar from a spoon.

A breakfast consisting of a Pop-Tart and a glass of juice, or a waffle with syrup, causes blood sugar to rise quickly. The body responds by producing insulin and other hormones that drive sugar down to too-low levels, causing the release of stress hormones. The result? By mid-morning, you and your child are hypoglycemic, irritable, and stressed out. This can worsen ADHD symptoms or make some children who don’t have ADHD act like they have the condition. Having a simple-carb, low-protein lunch will cause the same symptoms in the afternoon.

Instead, try breakfasts and lunches high in protein, complex carbs, and fiber — like oatmeal and a glass of milk, or peanut butter on a piece of whole grain bread. The sugars from these carbohydrates are digested more slowly, because protein, fiber, and fat eaten together result in a more gradual and sustained blood sugar release. The result? A child can concentrate and behave better at school, and an adult can make it through that long morning meeting.

ADHD Diet Rule 2: Go for the Fish Oil

Omega-3s can improve several aspects of ADHD behavior: hyperactivity, impulsivity and concentration. As a result, I recommend that all children with ADHD take omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s are essential fats important for normal brain function. They are called “essential” fats because the body must get them from the foods we consume; our bodies cannot make them. Research suggests that children with ADHD have lower blood levels of omega-3’s than kids without ADHD. So, unless your child is a dedicated fish eater, you’ll have to supplement, usually with fish oil, to achieve healthy levels.

A number of studies on omega-3s and ADHD have shown a positive effect. In a 2009 study1, from Sweden, 25 percent of children who had daily doses of omega-3s had a significant decrease in symptoms after three months; by six months, almost 50 percent experienced better symptom management. This is an impressive result for a safe nutritional supplement with few side effects.

How much omega-3 should your child get and in what form? It’s a little complicated. The two main omega-3 fatty acids contained in supplements are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It appears that most benefits are derived from omega-3 products that contain more EPA than DHA. I recommend a total dose of 700 to 1,000 mg a day for younger children, and 1,500 to 2,000 mg for older children.

Omega-3s come in capsule, liquid, and chewable form. The gummies and chewables, unfortunately, don’t have much fish oil in them, so it is expensive and time-consuming to give your child the proper dose. Most kids who are too young to swallow capsules can take the liquid, although you’ll have to be creative about getting them to take it. It is OK to mix liquid omega-3s in just about anything. Orange juice and smoothies are a couple of favorites.

I’ve seen some children improve within a few days, while others didn’t show improvement for a few months. My advice to parents is always to be patient, and not to give up on an omega-3 regimen too soon.

ADHD Diet Rule 3: Maintain Iron Levels

Many parents and professionals are unaware of the important role iron plays in controlling ADHD symptoms.

A study2 done in 2004 showed that the average iron level of children with ADHD (measured as ferritin) was 22, compared with 44 in children who did not have ADHD. Another study3 showed that increasing iron levels in children with ADHD improved their symptoms almost as much as taking a stimulant.

The children in these studies were not anemic. The fact that your child has a normal “blood count” does not mean that his ferritin levels are normal. Because too much iron is dangerous, I do not recommend giving iron without first checking the ferritin level. Ask your pediatrician to test it.

If iron levels are low, below 35, say, talk with your doctor about starting your child on an iron supplement and/or increasing consumption of iron-rich foods, which include lean red meat, turkey and chicken, shellfish, and beans. The ferritin level should be rechecked in a few months.

ADHD Diet Rule 4: Check Zinc and Magnesium Levels

Zinc and magnesium are two other minerals that may play an important role in controlling ADHD symptoms. Both are essential to normal health, and a surprising number of children and adults, with and without ADHD, don’t get enough of them. Zinc regulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, and it may make methylphenidate more effective by improving the brain’s response to dopamine.

Magnesium is also used to make neurotransmitters involved in attention and concentration, and it has a calming effect on the brain. Have your doctor check your or your child’s magnesium and zinc levels when you test ferritin levels. I find that at least 25 percent of the children I see are low in zinc.

While studies have been done on both minerals’ effects on ADHD, the results are not as clear-cut as in studies done on omega-3s and iron.

ADHD Diet Rule 5: Cut Back on Chemicals

Several studies4 suggest that artificial additives make children without ADHD more hyperactive, and make hyperactive children worse. The European Union requires a warning label on food packaging that contains additives: “This food may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Gatorade, cheese puffs, and candy are typical examples of foods containing artificial colors and preservatives, but additives and colors can be found in other foods.

The first step in avoiding additives is to read food ingredient labels until you’ve found a wide range of foods that are additive-free. In most cases, fresh, unprocessed foods are your best bet, as they contain few additives.

However, these days you can find bread, cereal, cookies, pizza, and just about anything else made without additives.

Avoid colorful cereals, like Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. Cheerios are better, and lower in sugar. Substitute 100-percent fruit juice for soft drinks and fruit punches, most of which are artificially colored and flavored.

ADHD Diet Rule 6: Watch for Food Sensitivities

A number of research studies have shown that many children with ADHD are sensitive to certain common foods in the diet. These sensitivities make their ADHD symptoms significantly worse. In one recent study5 50 children were placed on a restricted diet for five weeks, and 78 percent of them had significant improvements in ADHD symptoms!

In my practice, I have seen improvements in many children when they stopped eating foods they were sensitive to. The most common culprits are dairy, wheat, and soy.

It’s important to know that children with ADHD do not necessarily have “food allergies” in the strict, medical sense. Results when testing for food allergies are usually negative in these kids. The only way to know whether food sensitivities affect your child is to remove certain foods from daily consumption and observe his reaction. A child might have food sensitivities if he displays allergy symptoms, like hay fever, asthma, eczema, or GI problems. But I have seen children with none of these problems respond well to a change in what they eat.

If there are one or two foods you suspect might be exacerbating your child’s ADHD symptoms, eliminate one for two or three weeks. Observe your child’s ADHD symptoms during that time. If you are thinking about starting a restrictive plan, find a professional to guide you. I know changes are tough to engineer in a child with ADHD, but many families have done it successfully and are happy with the results.

ADHD Diet Rule 7: Try Helpful Herbs

Several herbs have been recommended for managing ADHD symptoms, including ginkgo, St. John’s Wort, rhodiola, and ginseng. Most have been poorly researched, with two exceptions.

In a large European study6 on hyperactivity and sleep problems, a combination of valerian and lemon balm helped to relax children with ADHD by reducing anxiety. I use these herbs regularly for kids who deal with these problems. Consult a naturopathic doctor to find the appropriate dose for your child.

To improve attention, a new herbal product, called Nurture & Clarity, was developed, and carefully tested, by a team of practitioners in Israel. The children taking it demonstrated significant improvement, as measured7 by their performance on the Test of Variables Attention, a computerized measurement of attention. I would not make definitive recommendations based on one study, but this product is worth looking into. You can read about it at adhd-clarity.com.

Finally, pycnogenol, an extract made from French maritime pine bark, has been shown to improve ADHD symptoms in a limited amount of research8. I have found that the herb helps improve concentration in some children.

One last thought: Herbal products vary greatly in quality, and some contain contaminants. You should find a knowledgeable professional to help you identify reliable sources of pure, standardized herbs.

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Updated on January 17, 2020

“SECS doesn’t need as much evidence for someone to try it on an individual basis,” said Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a physician at Ohio State’s medical center who specializes in childhood ADHD and autism and who coauthored the 2011 study. “You want more evidence before you invest a lot of money or undertake something risky.”

Delaying “standard treatment” — medication and behavioral therapy — in favor of alternative approaches can be risky if it means symptoms go untreated, wrote Arnold and coauthors in their review. If a treatment doesn’t work, there is also the loss of family resources, including time and money, to consider.

Some of the things their analysis found that fall under the SECS category are fatty acid supplements, specifically omega-3 supplements, which seem to improve ADHD symptoms.

“I just felt in my heart of hearts there had to be a better way.”

Dr. Rebecca Carey, parent of child with ADHD

Arnold and coauthors looked at five randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials (the gold standard of clinical research) that tested combinations of fatty acids on ADHD symptoms, in both children and adults. Four had a statistically significant positive effect on symptoms.

Omega-3 fatty acids, said Arnold, show “small but significant benefits,” and as long as these supplements are low in mercury, it makes sense to try.

Other interventions, however — like homeopathic and herbal treatments — were both uncertain and potentially risky, the analysis found.

A supplement with less evidence, but which still passes the SECS test, is the one that Mark Carey takes. Called EMPowerplus, the supplement contains 36 different vitamins and minerals, and is marketed to help with psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, ADHD, and depression.

But only one of the studies done on the pill was placebo-controlled and double-blinded. It showed a reduction in ADHD symptoms in adults. More research is needed on EMPowerplus and similar broad-spectrum micronutrient supplements before conclusions about their effectiveness can be made, Arnold said.

Rebecca and Paul Carey help their twin sons Mark (right) and William with their homework.

Eliminating additives, foods

More difficult interventions tend to be the ones that eliminate whole classes of foods. Elimination diets involve taking foods out of the diet — one of the first iterations of which, for hyperactivity, was the Feingold Diet.

Developed back in the 1970s, the Feingold Diet focused on the link between artificial colors and flavorings and ADHD. Research since then has supported a link. A 2004 meta-analysis of only the gold standard of studies — double-blind and placebo controlled — concluded that artificial food colorings increase hyperactivity in kids with ADHD. And another 2004 study found that kids even without a hyperactive disorder experience behavioral effects of colorings. Preschoolers given a drink with artificial coloring were rated as more hyperactive by their parents than those given a naturally colored placebo. (The study was blinded, so parents didn’t know which their kids received.)

Lidy Pelsser, a researcher at the Netherlands ADHD research center, led a trial in 2009 in which 100 families of children with ADHD were recruited to take part in a five-week “few-foods” experiment. Half were instructed to keep their kids on a healthy diet, and half were instructed to give their children only “turkey, rice, some vegetables, and water — and that’s it,” said Pelsser. Of the 41 families who completed the few-foods diet, 32 responded positively, with 60 to 70 percent improvements on ADHD tests compared to when they’d started.

Pelsser described this approach not as a cure, but as a “diagnostic tool” that is going to have different results depending on the child. If there’s no improvement in behavior after five weeks, “the child is allowed to eat everything again and medication would be appropriate,” she said. If the child improves significantly, then the parents can start adding foods back in slowly and one at a time to figure out which may be triggers.

She warned that this approach is “aggravating.” It is low-risk, but also difficult for families.

When it works, it seems to work really well, said Pelsser, and families are increasingly willing to try. “What I see is more awareness in parents that they do not want to give their medication and they are desperately looking for other ways to help their child.”

A 2014 review estimated that a strict elimination diet may have a 10 to 30 percent chance of showing symptom improvements for ADHD.

Arnold also pointed out that these approaches don’t have to replace medication.

“We know that behavioral treatments tend to enhance the effects of medication, so that the patient can respond to a lower dose,” said Arnold. “There’s no reason to believe that wouldn’t work the same way with diet and nutrition.”

Mark works to solve a Rubik’s Cube in his bedroom.

Parents helping parents

Although diet is widely promoted by doctors as an important lifestyle factor in managing ADHD, along with exercise, routine, and good sleep habits, the acceptance of diet and nutrition as an effective primary treatment is still very “grassroots” within the medical community, according to Dr. Anna Esparham, a Kansas-based pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s integrative health unit.

Carey recalls a feeling of isolation. “I was so despondent about where Mark was and despondent about the treatment options for him that I felt like I couldn’t be the only one,” she said.

So in September 2016, she started a support group for other parents like her who felt like they were struggling outside the mainstream. The first meetings were held at her church — “I didn’t want it affiliated with anything, I just wanted to start it in the local community,” she said — but after six months the group had grown large enough and was taking up enough of Carey’s time that she needed help. She brought it to the medical director at St. Mary’s hospital, in Evansville, Ind., where Carey works, and now the hospital hosts the group, which draws about 30 people to its meetings.

Each week a different speaker comes to talk about topics that the parents indicated they were interested in in a poll at the beginning — things like vision therapy, curbing screen time, and a behavioral therapy called the “nurtured heart” approach.

Carey acknowledges that these things “might not be mainstream or have lots of randomized control trials behind them,” but she figured parents — including herself — deserved to have a place could openly discuss alternatives to the status quo.

Ideally, someday, that place could also be the doctor’s office. Esparham thinks a big part of the reason parents and providers don’t discuss diet interventions for ADHD is a general ignorance of nutrition in the medical field. “A lot of doctors do not know how to give nutritional advice because they didn’t get in school, in residency, in training,” said Esparham.

Pelsser, the Dutch researcher, thinks it might take more than just education — it might take a perspective shift as well. “In the Netherlands as well as the United States there is a lot of skepticism about the effect of food on ADHD, despite the research,” she said. “I think it’s difficult to accept that things could be different from what we have been thinking all the time. It takes courage to say, well, after all, we may be wrong.”

This post was updated in November, 2019.

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may benefit from a nutritious diet. In fact, an ADHD diet for kids may help them get better nutrition. Good nutrition alone can help with better focus, attention and behavior.

At least that’s been my experience.

In this article, you’ll learn why children benefit from a focus on a healthy diet plan, ADHD foods to include in their eating pattern, and how your child may benefit.

Why Kids with ADHD Need a Healthy Diet

Kids with ADHD may also have picky eating, unhealthy snacking, weight concerns (both underweight an overweight), constipation and more.

It’s not surprising that nutrition for kids with ADHD is an essential component to their successful management.

As a pediatric nutritionist, I’ve helped families establish a healthy diet, while supporting the daily struggles associated with feeding the child with ADHD.

Combined with medications, a healthy diet can be effective in helping children learn, pay attention, and moderate any impulsive behaviors or symptoms of hyperactivity.

Additionally, good nutrition helps your child feel good and grow well.

What is an ADHD Diet?

An ADHD diet is one that is balanced with nutritious, wholesome foods containing specific nutrients such as magnesium, iron and zinc, which are occasionally found to be inadequate in the child with ADHD.

The diet is low in added sugar, artificial food dyes and other additives.

Additionally, a scheduled eating pattern is highlighted to encourage attention, behavior, satiety and growth.

Last, feeding interactions are positive and encouraging.

The Story of a Boy with ADHD

Peter (name changed) had ADHD. He was very thin, ate poorly, and was a picky eater. His diet consisted of mostly white foods, and rarely did a fruit or veggie pass his lips.

Give him crunchy, cheesy, salty, or sweet foods and he was a happy camper!

When Peter was diagnosed, he started on daily medications, which dampened his appetite. There were many days when the majority of his eating happened near the end of the day.

That’s when his medications wore off and he was hungry.

Peter’s mom wanted help with three main things:

  • To help him to eat more vegetables,
  • To encourage him to try new foods,
  • And, to address his thinness by helping Peter gain some weight.

In essence, she wanted (and needed) to transition Peter to a healthy ADHD diet plan.

Peter was easily distracted and made careless mistakes, so she was hoping a healthier diet would improve this.

In my professional opinion, I agreed. Peter needed to make the transition to a healthier, more nutritious diet.

His eating patterns were erratic and incomplete, and he wasn’t eating enough. This was affecting his growth, behavior and ability to focus.

Learning in the classroom was challenging for him.

Parents who have kids with ADHD are generally concerned about picky eating, weight, and their child’s behavior. #adhddiet #healthyeating #brainfood

{Read} Even Dietitians Have Trouble Feeding Their Kids

Why Do Children with ADHD Need a Special Diet?

While research is still evolving, there is quite a bit of evidence that good nutrition can help a child with ADHD.

Specifically, a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet can help your child focus, behave better, and get along with others. Feeding the brain and body helps your child’s growth and overall development.

The brain needs nutrients to function well. From carbs to healthy fats, a nutritious diet is like washing the brain in nutrients it needs to function optimally.

Don’t worry, I’ll get to the specifics of what I mean by “nutrients it needs” and “nutritious diet” in a bit.

You probably already know the effects of good nutrition on maximizing your child’s growth and preventing chronic diseases down the road.

The childhood years are an incredibly important foundation to future adult health.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that some children with ADHD miss out on key nutrients in their diets and this may influence their ability to focus, behave and grow.

Why You Need to Pay Attention to Nutrition

We inherently know how important nutrition is for all children.

This simple fact is that good nutrition is not always easy to achieve.

In the child with ADHD, for example, there can be many obstacles to eating well.

Many of the medications used with ADHD may suppress your child’s appetite, reducing his eating.

When on these meds, your child may have little to no appetite.

When off of the medications, he may have a voracious appetite.

Some medication may cause stomach pain or nausea, which may be so uncomfortable that kids are disinterested in eating.

I cover the reasons why children with ADHD aren’t hungry in this article.

Another barrier to good nutrition is picky eating.

Picky eating can stem from a sensory sensitivity to texture, smell or appearance,

Or, it can be learned along the way through ineffective feeding approaches.

Picky eating can certainly prevent your child from getting optimal nutrition.

Of course, there are more obstacles. When they pile up on each other, feeding your child can be a real challenge, and a real stress on families.

I’ve personally witnessed how a food system and feeding strategy can help children with ADHD.

They feel and function better in the world.

We are learning more about what children with ADHD need nutritionally, which enables us to pinpoint the nutrients and foods that can help them.

An ADHD diet for kids is made up of several components.

It includes ADHD nutrients you want to keep an eye on, adequate calories, and regular intervals around eating.

Attention to these can help maximize your child’s appetite.

Let’s focus on the nutrients for ADHD here.

All of these have been studied (and continue to be!) in children.

Fiber

Kids with ADHD tend to be lacking fiber in their diet. This is partly due to picky eating that eliminates fruits and vegetables from the diet.

Nuts, seeds and whole grain items like brown rice or whole grain pasta, as well as fruits and vegetables, are great ways to increase the fiber in your child’s diet.

If your child struggles with constipation, you’ll want to make sure fiber and fluids are getting fair representation in the daily diet.

My natural constipation relief guide can give you further insight.

Polyunsaturated Fats (Omega-3 Fatty Acids)

Healthy fats such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are found mostly in plant sources like nuts, canola or safflower oils, as well as some fish.

PUFAs help blood circulate in the brain.

One type of fatty acid, called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) improves blood circulation in the brain.

EPA has been shown in some research to reduce the symptoms of ADHD, including improved attention, and reduced hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Other studies have shown little effect.

We need more research. Offering your child sources of plant fats and fish is unlikely to harm him and we have plenty of evidence for other health benefits.

Another fatty acid, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important element in nerve cell functioning.

A deficit of DHA in the diet has been associated with poor literacy.

Low levels of essential fatty acids/PUFAs are seen in children with ADHD.

“Essential” means these nutrients aren’t made by your child’s body.

These fatty acids need to come from outside the body, in order to meet your child’s requirements for them.

In other words, they need to come from food or a fish oil supplement.

Generally, research shows that supplementing with a blend of both EPA and DHA may be effective.

Higher dosage levels of EPA in the fish oil blend is preferred.

Again, research is evolving and not conclusive at this time.

Magnesium

In general, the role of magnesium in the body is to help calm nerves and muscles, encourage blood flow throughout the body, and process the calories and nutrients consumed from food.

A deficiency of magnesium has been seen in children with ADHD.

Low magnesium is tied to more distractibility and hyperactivity.

Researchers have noted that a diet rich in magnesium may help children with ADHD pay attention, focus and learn better.

Iron

Inadequate iron in the diet, especially in the early years of life, is associated with poor cognitive development.

In other words, when iron deficiency exists during early brain development, the brain may not reach its full intellectual capacity.

An iron deficiency can have additional far-reaching consequences, such as poor immunity, fatigue, and poor learning in children.

Children with ADHD, especially picky eaters, are of concern.

They may not be getting good sources of iron in their diet, such as beef, poultry, beans and dark leafy greens.

A documented iron deficiency should be treated with iron supplementation under the direction of your healthcare provider.

You’ll also want to optimize iron sources in the diet.

Too much iron can be harmful, so a healthcare professional can help you get the dosage right.

Some children with ADHD experience symptoms of iron deficiency.

Low iron intake may show up as trouble sleeping and restless leg syndrome.

Even if iron levels fall within the low end of normal blood level ranges, kids can have symptoms.

Iron supplementation in children with ADHD who are not iron-deficient may not be effective.

Zinc

Like iron, zinc is involved in brain development, nerve communication and other activities of the brain.

In children with ADHD, poor zinc status has been linked to inattentiveness (but not impulsivity or hyperactivity).

Low zinc status is also linked to poor growth and a poor appetite.

A zinc deficiency should be treated, possibly with supplementation.

Certainly, optimize zinc intake from food, such as beans, beef, fortified breakfast cereals and milk.

Folate

In the typical Western diet and for some individuals, folate is inadequately consumed (despite fortification with folate in many grain products).

Adding foods rich in folate/folic acid has been advised as part of a healthy diet for children with ADHD.

(To learn more about ADHD and nutrition for kids, sign up to get access to my video The ADHD Diet for Kids: Dodging the Most Common Nutrition Mistakes (so You Can Help Your Child Focus, Behave and Grow)

Foods to Avoid with ADHD

Certain foods have been identified as contributing to ADHD-oriented behaviors.

These are fast food items, red meat, processed meats, potato chips and other similar snack chips, high fat dairy products, and soft drinks.

These are the types of foods that are fine to have in your child’s diet in moderate amounts.

If fast food and other processed foods have a stronghold in your child’s diet, you can slowly reduce and minimize them as much as possible.

Also, some children with ADHD react, or are sensitive to, additives in food, including food colors, food preservatives such as MSG, nitrates and nitrites, and artificial sugar (aspartame).

Studies have shown that about 8% of children with ADHD may be sensitive to artificial food colorings.

Some experts believe that number to be higher.

If your child is sensitive to any of these, start to downgrade them, slowly but surely, in your child’s diet.

Sugar and ADHD

A small number of children demonstrate sensitivity to refined sugar (they may become more aggressive).

Research isn’t conclusive about whether the sugar itself is the trigger versus the surges and plummets in blood sugar a child may experience when sugary foods are consumed.

If your child is sensitive, you’ll want to trim it down.

I give you some suggestions about how to slash the sweets in your child’s diet here.

Feeding Children with ADHD

The brain relies on glucose (the simplest form of sugar that circulates in the body after complete digestion of food) for energy.

It makes sense that regular meals and snacks be scheduled to offer up the fuel (calories and nutrients) the brain needs to function well.

It also makes sense that when a child goes for long periods without eating, his behavior, concentration and learning may deteriorate.

The brain relies on glucose for energy, so providing a regular supply of energy from food makes sense.

That’s why I always advise a structure to feeding kids with ADHD. Meal and snack times should be regular and predictable.

For the underweight or low body weight child with ADHD, I recommend more frequent meals and snacks during the day.

Even if your child will only drink a fruit-based smoothie or a cheese stick and crackers, their behavior, focus and general feeling of energy and positivity will benefit from small feedings throughout the day.

Positive Vibe at Mealtimes

Feeding your child with ADHD can be difficult, and a struggle.

There may be behaviors, eating habits, and other challenges you have to navigate on a daily basis.

Remember to always try to keep food and feeding a positive encounter, without pressure or negative emotions.

Change is good, but keep it slow and gradual!

To learn more, sign up to get access to my video The ADHD Diet for Kids: Dodging the Most Common Nutrition Mistakes (so You Can Help Your Child Focus, Behave and Grow)

The ADHD Diet for Kids Program

The ADHD Diet for Kids, a program I developed for parents like you to learn the ins and outs of nutritional management in the child with ADHD, is a game changer.

In this research-based, practical course, I take you through the essential food and nutrients to help your child function at his or her best. Check it out!

Best Breakfast with Kids: The ADHD Benefits Are Real — and Delicious

Maryanne knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but getting her 8-year-old son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to eat in the morning is difficult. Getting his clothes on, teeth brushed, and backpack filled leaves Maryanne little time to prepare a serious morning meal, let alone something Steve will eat.

When it comes to breakfast, 8-year-old Madeline, diagnosed with ADHD/a> last year, knows what she likes: carbohydrates. Her meal of choice is toast with jelly or waffles topped with fruit or, as her mother puts it, “anything made with white flour.”

While there’s nothing wrong with eating carbohydrates in the morning, an all-carb breakfast, or no breakfast at all, is a recipe for inattention. Carbs won’t steady a child’s blood sugar throughout the morning, help her stay alert, or prevent the energy dips that cause her to lose focus in the classroom. High-protein breakfast foods are ideal.

Research suggests a direct correlation between breakfast and academic success. A 1998 study1, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, showed that children who ate breakfast regularly had higher reading and math scores, lower levels of anxiety, and hyperactivity, better school attendance, improved attention spans, and fewer behavior problems.

For children with ADHD, the menu matters, too. In a 1983 study2 published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers at George Washington University tested three breakfast types (high-carbohydrate, high-protein, and no breakfast at all) on 39 children with ADHD and 44 kids without the condition.

For the hyperactive children, performance on several tests, including a test for attention, was significantly worse after eating the high-carbohydrate breakfast, as compared with the scores of the children who ate the high-protein breakfast.

Why is this? Research3 out of Orebro University in Sweden shows that children with ADHD have nearly 50 percent lower levels of an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is one building block of the neurotransmitters in your brain that carry important information; it is needed for attention, learning, and self-control. It is also generated by eating high-protein foods. In other words, eating foods rich in protein jump-starts better learning and behavior.

Best ADHD Breakfast is a Balanced Breakfast

Like most children with ADHD, Madeline has very specific preferences and she will reject any food she’s not fond of. Her mother knows what foods to keep on hand and which to serve first thing in the morning to ensure that breakfast goes smoothly. She tries to balance these foods in ways that give her daughter as many calories and as much high-quality protein as possible, especially on school days.

“When you’re thinking about your child’s eating habits, or any other behavior, you have to recognize his unique temperament and behavioral traits, and work around them,” says Dr. Stanley Greenspan, M.D., author of The Challenging Child.

A balanced breakfast — high in protein and carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and/or vegetables — ensures a varied supply of nutrients along with enough calories to sustain mental and physical energy until the next meal.

“If you don’t eat properly, you can become distracted, impulsive, and restless,” says Ned Hallowell, M.D., founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Andover, Massachusetts, and author of Delivered from Distraction. “Skipping breakfast or self-medicating with food can sabotage the best of ADHD treatment plans. In treating the condition, you must consider balanced, healthy meals an essential component of a proper regimen.”

Protein Power for ADHD

“Protein helps keep your child’s blood sugar levels steady and prevents the mental and physical declines that inevitably come from eating an unbalanced breakfast containing too many carbs,” says Hallowell.

Combining protein with complex carbs that are high in fiber and low in sugar will help your child manage ADHD symptoms better during the day. The sugars from the carbohydrates are digested more slowly because eating protein and fat along with fiber results in a more gradual and sustained blood sugar release.

For your morning menu, try scrambled eggs with whole-grain toast; or natural peanut butter on whole-grain bread. Make sure to skip sugary cereals, which can cause spikes in blood sugar and increase hyperactivity in ADHD kids.

Children need more calories and protein per pound of bodyweight than adults do, to ensure normal growth and development and to maintain good health. The average daily amounts of calories and protein recommended by government health experts for normal-weight children and adolescents are as follows:

  • Ages 1-3: 1300 calories, 16 grams protein
  • Ages 4-6: 1800 calories, 24 grams protein
  • Ages 7-14: 2000 calories, 28 – 45 grams protein

A varied nutrition plan that supplies enough calories will generally supply enough protein. Children with ADHD who are strictly vegetarian and those who avoid meat or dairy can get enough protein from meal choices that are rich in whole grains, legumes (dried beans and lentils), and the many meat and dairy substitutes made from soy protein and wheat gluten.

Protein to Alleviate ADHD Symptoms

Here are some quick, easy, and tasty ways to get enough protein into your carb-lover’s mouth without turning your kitchen or dining room into a battlefield. The idea behind all of them is to start with her favorite carbohydrates, such as waffles, toast, jam, or fruit. Then add in high-protein foods you know your child likes, such as eggs, meat, peanut butter, yogurt, cheese or other dairy products, or beans. Combine these foods in creative ways:

  • Top waffles with melted cheese or ham and cheese, instead of syrup or fruit.
  • Spread peanut butter on apple slices, a halved banana, or celery sticks.
  • Fill a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, black beans, and cheese.
  • Spread a toasted, whole-grain bagel or toast with natural peanut butter or another nut butter, such as almond or hazelnut. Adding a dab of all-fruit jam is just fine.
  • Wrap a slice of turkey bacon around a firm-ripe banana; broil or grill until the bacon is thoroughly cooked.
  • Sauté lean, breakfast sausage patties with pieces of diced apples.
  • Swirl crushed fruit or all-fruit jam into plain yogurt and top with dry, whole-grain cereal or chopped nuts.
  • Fill an omelet with chopped or sliced fresh fruit or spreadable fruit.
  • Serve tuna or chicken salad, sloppy joes, chili, or baked beans over toast.
  • Offer eggs and a smoothie. To save time, make hard-boiled or deviled eggs the night before.
  • Toast a slice of whole-grain bread and add a little whipped butter or margarine and a dab of all-fruit jam; milk.
  • Serve whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, lean meat from last night’s dinner (pork chop, chicken), and orange sections.
  • Top plain yogurt with fresh fruit or mix in oatmeal.
  • Offer a grilled-cheese sandwich made with whole-grain bread and two-percent cheese.
  • Blend up a homemade instant breakfast shake or make sausage patties (see recipes, left sidebar).
  • Serve a veggie omelet with a bran muffin.
  • Offer mixed nuts, fresh fruit, and a glass of milk — a great breakfast for kids that graze.

What works best for Madeline, her mother says, is to eat a small breakfast at home and to have a second breakfast on the way to school. Madeline takes her medication with her first meal, so by the time she’s heading out the door, it’s beginning to take effect and she’s better able to focus on eating. To fill in the protein gaps, her mom may send along some scrambled eggs with cheese in a tightly wrapped tortilla, a high-protein cereal bar, or a bottled yogurt smoothie.

Maryanne discussed Steve’s breakfast problems with her doctor, and they developed some strategies. He suggested that Maryanne and Steve get up 15 minutes earlier, to give her more time to prepare breakfast, and advised that Steve take his medication with his meal rather than just after waking up, to delay the appetite suppression.

The doctor gave them a list of possibilities get more high-protein foods into her son’s daily meals. Their list included lean meats and poultry, eggs, unprocessed nuts and seeds, and milk products, as well as complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain cereals and bread and fresh fruits.

ADHD Friendly Recipes

Instant Breakfast Shake
– 3 ounces low-fat milk
– 3 ounces plain yogurt
– 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
– 3 tablespoons soy or rice protein isolate
– 1/2 cup blueberries, strawberries, or peach slices, fresh or frozen

Process all ingredients in blender on high until smooth. Serve immediately. If your child doesn’t find the shake sweet enough, add a teaspoon of sugar or half a packet of artificial sweetener.

Homemade Sausage Patties
– 2 pounds coarsely ground lean pork, beef, or turkey
– 4 teaspoons sage
– 1/2 teaspoon thyme
– 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
– 1/2 teaspoon basil
– 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
– 2/3 cup water

Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl. Shape into 8 patties. Fry in a non-stick skillet until fully cooked and slightly browned, or package for freezing and use patties as needed.

1 Murphy, J. Michael. “The Relationship of School Breakfast to Psychosocial and Academic Functioning: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Observations in an Inner-City School Sample.” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, vol. 152, no. 9, 1998, pp. 899.
2 Connors, C.K. & Blouin, A.G. “Nutritional Effects on Behavior in Children.” Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 17, no. 2, 1983, pp. 193-201.
3 Venizelos, Nikolaos. “Functional Characterization of Tyrosine, Alanine and Tryptophan Transport in Human Fibroblast Cells.” Örebro University Research Projects, Örebro University, 23 Jan. 2015, www.oru.se/english/research/research-projects/rp/?rdb=p334.

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Updated on January 26, 2020

Protein Supplements for Kids

Many kids get enough protein in their diets as it is and don’t need any extra supplementation 1. However, an active lifestyle, illness or a habit of picky eating can lead to a lack of nourishment, and kids that don’t get proper nutrition don’t grow or thrive as they should. Also, “protein helps to feed the brain,” says Doug Cowan, Psy.D., MFCC, who recommends high protein diets for children with ADHD. So if you think your child needs more protein, there are a few ways you can give it to him.

Whey Protein

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend fitness supplements for children under 18, and even cautions against dietary protein supplements. Pediatric sports medicine expert Dr. Teri M McCambridge, chairwoman of the AAP’s Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, says teens especially eat more than enough protein. She doesn’t think they need the extra boost that whey protein provides, according to the “New York Times.” Their Spring 2008 issue cites a study published in the “Journal of Psychiatric Research” when George Washington University researchers found that consuming high-protein breakfasts helped kids with ADHD concentrate 1. Both Dr. Cowan and holistic pediatrician Randall Neustaeder, OMD, recommend 1 to 2 tablespoons or 15 to 20 grams of whey protein for a kid-friendly protein shake. One commercial whey protein made just for kids is Beneprotein by Nestlé, but you can also find a good whey protein at your local health food store 1.

Soy Protein

If your child is allergic to dairy products, if you want her supplement to have less fat or if you’re a vegan who doesn’t want to give her whey protein, soy protein is an alternate choice. It’s one of the only plant proteins with a complete protein profile — meaning it contains all of the amino acids that people need for proper nutrition. These amino acids have to come from diet, because they can’t be synthesized by the body.

Dietary Protein

You can also increase your child’s protein intake by paying attention to the foods you serve. Healthy protein is found in meat products — including lean beef, pork, chicken and fish — as well as eggs, nuts, beans and dairy foods such as:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • yogurt 1

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental condition usually diagnosed in childhood. ADHD symptoms include excessive motor activity and impulsivity, which leads to distraction and significant attention deficit. It affects 6.4 million American children, with males being 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The symptoms usually start to appear between the ages of 3 and 6. While medication might be prescribed, doctors recommend adjusting diet, too. Studies from the past 10 years show that there are high numbers of ADHD among people with obesity. This demonstrates the importance of a balanced and healthy diet when trying to manage symptoms. So, here’s how you can improve your ADHD diet with an ADHD diet shopping list.

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What to add to your ADHD diet

It is important to know what specific nutrients people with ADHD are lacking in, in order to build an ADHD diet shopping list that will make up for these deficiencies.

Iron and Zinc

Multiple studies show a significantly lower level of iron and zinc in people with ADHD, despite them not being anemic.

Iron is an essential nutrient for the production of dopamine. Therefore, you should make sure you have plenty of it in your diet.

Zinc is important for the production and modulation of melatonin, which helps regulate dopamine function. The increased intake of zinc and iron can reduce ADHD symptoms.

Iron and zinc can be found in:

  • Eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Meat
  • Nuts
  • Red meat
  • Seeds
  • Shellfish
  • Turkey
  • Wholegrain products

Omega3 and Omega6

Compared to others, those with ADHD have lower levels of Omega3 and Omega6. These fatty acids improve overall brain growth and function, and can control negative symptoms associated with ADHD. These symptoms include poor concentration, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and disruptive behavior. They are key to the improvement of ADHD symptoms.

Omega3 and Omega6 can be found in

  • Brazil nuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Salmon (and other cold-water white fish)
  • Soybeans
  • Oil
    • Canola oil
    • Olive oil
    • Fish oil
  • Tuna
  • Walnuts

Stick to the diet. Try Listonic.

B-Vitamins and Protein

Those with ADHD have significantly lower levels of B-vitamins. The lack of these vitamins has been associated with ADHD and other mental disorders in childhood and adolescence.

Protein is also important for brain function and it helps stopping sudden spikes in blood sugar levels, which has been linked to disruptive behavior among children with ADHD. Protein-rich food is also a good source of vitamins B2, B6, and B12. Protein is recommended in the morning and as snacks throughout the day to help keep blood sugar levels consistent.

B-vitamins and protein can be found in:

  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Liver
  • Meat
  • Milk
  • Mussels
  • Nuts
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Yogurt

Complex Carbohydrates

A healthy eating pattern is also characterized by the intake of complex carbohydrates. They are macronutrients which supply energy without spiking blood sugar levels, unlike simple carbohydrates such as sugar. They should make up to 60% of the ADHD diet.

Complex carbohydrates are mostly found in

  • Apples
  • Grapefruit
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Kiwi
  • Legumes
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Tangerines
  • Wholegrain products

Get Some Tech Help For Sticking to Your ADHD Diet

  • Avoid impulse buys and fast food temptations by sticking to your shopping list
  • Lists are uploaded to the cloud so you can update and use your shopping list on any device
  • Direct voice input means you can speak your entire list instead of typing it
  • Share your shopping list with others so they can help edit it when you’re distracted
  • Smart predictive text suggests popular or most recent products when making a new list, saving you time and requiring less concentration

What Food is Not Good for ADHD?

Those with ADHD have higher intakes of nutrient-poor food such as high-sugar and high-fat food. Studies show that a diet high in refined sugar and saturated fat can increase the risk of ADHD and hyperactivity. A healthy diet, with high consumption of fruit and vegetables, can help prevent these outcomes. Dieticians’ advice is to restrict:

  • Antigens
  • Food coloring agents
  • Saturated fat
  • Simple carbohydrates
  • Sugar

However, sugar is particularly important to reduce.

Sugar can lead to a sudden surge in the blood sugar levels, which increases energy levels. Excessive energy can cause trouble with concentration and hyperactivity.

Also, avoid preservatives, and artificial dyes and colors. Especially avoid red and yellow coloring, and food additives such as aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Furthermore, if you are taking medication, most experts recommend that people consume less caffeine, or just avoid it completely, as it can make side effects worse.

What Other Things Can You Do to Help Your ADHD Diet?

Ways to Help You Stick to Your ADHD Diet

ADHD people are quite impulsive and often make impulsive decisions, which gravitate toward eating fast food. Studies have shown a higher prevalence of binge eating behavior among them. An ADHD diet has to be directed toward planning, scheduling, and healthy decisions. Habits such as making a grocery list, getting all the ingredients at the supermarket, and knowing what time and how long it takes to prepare a meal, takes organization, planning, and time management.

However, these skills can be a struggle for people with ADHD.
However, there are some simple steps that can take to help you stick to your diet.

  • Schedule your meals and be disciplined – take half an hour on Sunday to prepare a meal plan for the week. You’ll know what ingredients you will need to buy, how long it takes to prepare each meal, and it will take fast-decision-making off your back.
  • Don’t skip breakfast – ADHD people tend to skip breakfast. This means their metabolism rates reach a low point during the day. Because of this, the body starts craving fat, carbohydrates, and sugar. This will make you lose control of your food restraint.

Other Useful Tips

Get a test for food allergies and nutrient levels in your blood. You’ll then have a guide for what nutrients you need to focus on, and what food and ingredients to avoid. Allergies to preservatives and artificial dye might be common, which worsen ADHD symptoms. Having this knowledge will certainly help you maintain control over your symptoms.

When shopping, read food labels carefully. This will be your best guide when selecting products. Content matters more than packaging, presentation, and marketing. This will also help you to determine which food is high in simple carbohydrates, high in fat, and high in sugar: all of which you should be avoiding.

ADHD Diet FAQs

Can ADHD be cured by diet?

It is not clear yet whether a poor diet is the cause of ADHD or rather its result. Currently, treatments for ADHD only help to control it and prevent it from getting worse. While 6.1% of children in the US are being treated with medication, studies show an amazing improvement of the symptoms through diet control. Statistics show a link between ADHD, obesity, poor diatery habits, and low levels of important nutrients in their body.

So, whilst it’s unclear whether proper diet can be a “cure”, it’s certainly something that is important to symptom management.

Does sugar make ADHD worse?

While it’s still controversial whether or not sugar is a cause of ADHD, or if there is a direct link between ADHD and sugar consumption, sugar does influence hyperactivity because it can quickly enter the bloodstream. This makes rapid changes to glucose levels and triggers excessive adrenaline production. The consumption of added sugar, sugary snacks, and drinks should be drastically reduced.

Sugar should preferably be consumed as part of a main meal and in a natural form (cow or sheep milk, unsweetened dairy products, and fresh fruit). Drinks that should be avoided are sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as smoothies, fruit juice, and sweetened milk products. Therefore, it’s best to stick to water or unsweetened drinks.

What foods should a child with ADHD avoid?

An unhealthy diet increases the risk of hyperactivity or ADHD occurrence in children. Therefore, parents and care-givers should start developing good dietary habits in children as soon as possible: avoiding simple carbohydrates, high-fat, and high-sugar food items.

Food you should absolutely avoid is:

  • Deep-fried food
  • Candy
  • Food containing MSG (such as bullion cubes, seaweed, and soy sauce)
  • Honey
  • Junk food
  • Potato chips
  • Processed juice
  • Products made from white flour
  • Sauces (such as BBQ and ketchup)
  • Soda
  • Syrup (such as corn and maple)
  • Sugary snacks
  • Unskinned potatoes
  • White rice

ADHD Food List

Now that you’re a little more knowledgable about what food and nutrients you should be eating more or, and what to avoid, please find below your ADHD diet shopping list template. Feel free to add things you feel are missing, or take away anything you don’t want to eat.

ADHD Diet Shopping List Template 🛒📃✅

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Lean Meat, Seafood, & Eggs

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Liver
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Shellfish
  • Tuna
  • Turkey

Healthy Oil

  • Canola oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Fish oil
  • Linseed/flaxseed oil
  • Olive oil

Drink

  • Almond milk
  • Coffee
  • Green tea
  • Tea
  • Water

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cashews
  • Chia seeds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Linseed/flaxseed
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts

Legumes

  • Black-eyed beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Red kidney beans
  • Soybeans
  • White beans

Dairy

  • Cheese
  • Cow or sheep milk
  • Yogurt

Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Aubergines/eggplants
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel’s sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Courgettes/zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Rocket/arugula
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Fruit

  • Apples
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruits
  • Kiwi
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Help with a Grocery List for ADHD Diet

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This site is for educational purposes. Everything I share, I gained from my personal experiences,
my research and education, and the experiences and research of others.

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Is there a special ADHD diet for kids that works? Here’s what you need to know!

This is a guest post by pediatric dietitian Jill Castle, MS, RDN. She is offering a free training for parents called The ADHD Diet for Kids: Dodge the Most Common Nutrition Mistakes (so Your Child Can Help Your Child Focus, Behave and Grow, on September 11 and 15, 2018.

Is There an ADHD Diet That Works?

By Jill Castle, MS, RDN

It’s well known that food and nutrients have a powerful impact on the daily functioning in kids with ADHD, particularly in common symptoms such as hyperactivity, concentration, and behavior.

But what if your child is also dealing with additional challenges–eczema, asthma, or GI problems like constipation or diarrhea? You may be thinking about placing your child on a special diet. Special diets like the elimination diet have been around for years, and some of these diets have a proven track record. Other diets, however, are experimental with unknown outcomes.

Let’s walk through a few things you should think about before you place your child on a special diet.

Take Stock Of Current Diet and Eating Patterns

What does your child eat, day in and day out? What times does he eat during the day? What types of food does she like to eat?

In my experience, there may be room for improvement here. It’s not uncommon to see ADHD kids with a repetitive diet, a bland diet, or a diet missing nutritious, wholesome foods. If kids are regularly taking medications, low appetite and erratic eating may be a factor.

A desirable diet for children with ADHD includes nutrient-dense foods that contain quality protein sources, complex carbohydrates, fiber, omega-3 fats and micronutrients that aid in growth, development, and optimal brain and body functioning. An eating routine that showcases three meals and a few snacks each day is also helpful.

Alternatively, an undesirable diet is unbalanced, favoring sugary foods, highly processed foods, and refined grains. Skipping meals and erratic eating patterns complicate the picture because it becomes harder to regularly match nutritional needs.

If there’s room for improvement with your child’s current food choices and eating patterns, focus your efforts here first.

Special Diets with a Proven Track Record

You may have heard of the Elimination Diet or the Feingold Diet; they’ve been around for decades and have some research to back them up. What’s important to note for all special diets: If you take foods out of the diet, you’ll want to find nutritious replacements. While special diets have helped many children, there may be negative consequences associated with them if your child’s eating worsens, food variety suffers, or they simply aren’t managed well.

Elimination Diets

Elimination diets are meant to eliminate a potential allergen or artificial ingredient that may have allergenic effects. There are 3 types of elimination diets:

Single food diet where one food item is eliminated, like eggs.

Multi-food exclusion diet where a group of foods are eliminated.

Few foods diet where the diet is strictly limited to a couple of foods. This last diet is very restrictive and should be done under the supervision of a dietitian and/or doctor.

Generally, elimination diets are short-term, lasting two to three weeks, and are used to pinpoint the foods that are problematic for the child. Once the culprit is identified, a child returns to a regular diet without the offending food or foods. Elimination diets are not long-term; but the offending food can be removed indefinitely (or it can be re-tried, or gradually added back to the diet later on). Always find nutritious substitutes for the foods removed from the diet.

The Feingold Diet

The Feingold Diet removes foods containing synthetic food colors such as Red #40 or Yellow #5. Naturally occurring salicylates may be removed as well, depending on a child’s sensitivity to them. They are found in healthy, wholesome foods like cherries and grapes.

You might also like: Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe For Kids?

The Gluten-free, Casein-Free Diet

This diet removes wheat, barley and rye (and oats that are contaminated with gluten during the manufacturing process) and all dairy foods from the diet. This diet has been researched and used more commonly with autism, and is most successful when guided by a trained nutrition professional.

What Special Diets Look Like in Real Life

You can imagine that following a special diet is hard work. Not only do you need to be versed in what your child must avoid, but more importantly, what your child can eat. The challenge will always be offering a healthy, balanced, varied diet that meets your child’s nutrient requirements.

This isn’t easy. In fact, it can be quite tricky.

There are a few risks you should know about when embarking on a special diet. Number one, many of these diets are restrictive. They narrow your child’s food variety. If your child’s favorite foods are on the “remove” list, it can be hard on everyone. You may see a significant dip in your child’s eating and if ongoing, a detriment to his weight, growth, and nutritional status. Having a nutrition professional to support you can ease the process and ensure your child stays healthy and reaps the benefits of a special diet.

Another consideration for many parents is the fact that they need to cook more, read more labels, plan ahead, and be more alert to their child’s diet than ever before. I know families who are committed to this, and they are thriving in this task (and so is their child). I also know other families that are unable to add this in to their family lifestyle.

A special diet can be the answer to feeling better and notable improvements in a child’s daily functioning. Certainly, watching a child’s daily life improve is the incentive many families need to keep going.

Ask Yourself: Is This Special Diet Working?

Anytime you adopt a special diet for a child with ADHD, you should step back at some point and ask, Is this working?

The fact is, for some kids it will work, and for others it won’t. Because these diets tend to be limited in food variety, if you’re not seeing functional improvements, it doesn’t make sense to keep your child restricted in his eating for long periods of time as it increases the risk for nutritional deficits and other problems.

If your child is doing better on a special diet, be sure to periodically check on growth, food variety, and nutritional status to make sure he or she is thriving.

Jill Castle is a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert, blogger, and podcaster at The Nourished Child. Join her free training September 11 & 15, 2018: The ADHD Diet for Kids: Dodge the Most Common Nutrition Mistakes (so Your Child Can Help Your Child Focus, Behave and Grow).

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