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ADHD and Diet: Tips to Help Manage Your Child’s Symptoms through Nutrition



Children suffering from ADHD can face a lot of hurdles in their young lives, as can the parents of said children. While the symptoms of this condition can adversely affect all areas of a child’s life, they are particularly troublesome when it comes to academic performance—poor retention of information, forgotten homework assignments, subpar grades.

Medications are the standard treatment, but for many, leave something to be desired. Interest in natural strategies is growing and one particular area getting a lot of attention is diet. While no one dietary intervention has been conclusively proven to affect the course of this disorder, current research has given us a lot to chew on and can serve as a starting point for experimentation.

Good Old Common Sense Eating

A long-term study out of Australia produced findings that are really not that surprising since it concludes that following the basic tenets of a healthy diet were associated with fewer diagnoses of this condition; I think the issue is, we are told to eat this way so much that we just tune it out; we are always looking for special diets and special foods and discount the power of following basic dietary principles. Tracking children for 14 years, researchers found that children whose diets were rich in fish and other healthy proteins, whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables were less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD compared to children who ate the standard Western diet full of sugar, processed foods, and saturated fat.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have gotten a lot of press in recent years; while most closely associated with promoting heart health, they serve many other purposes in the body; these fats are concentrated heavily in the brain and appear to influence brain functioning and mental health through numerous mechanisms.

While not definitive, many studies have found these taking omega-3 fatty acids compared to placebo led to an improvement in symptoms of ADHD in children, which suggests low levels of these fats (which our bodies cannot make on their own) may contribute to the condition in some way. Good sources in the diet include salmon and other oily fish, walnuts, flaxseed and hemp seed. If you want to use supplements, talk to your child’s doctor first for guidance.

Importance of Iron and Zinc

The minerals zinc and iron play crucial roles in healthy brain function and other bodily functions that can impact ADHD; research has found that children with ADHD were deficient in these nutrients and that raising levels may help reduce symptoms; Good sources of zinc include beef, lamb, turkey, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and oats; good sources of iron include meat, cereals and other foods fortified with iron, almonds, apricots, beans, broccoli, raisins, spinach, and tofu. Taking too much iron or zinc in supplement form can lead to a host of problems so make sure to discuss this with your child’s doctor beforehand, who can instruct you on dosage and proper use.


The idea that eliminating certain foods and ingredients in foods will improve symptoms has been a matter of debate when it comes to treating ADHD; a popular diet that emerged in the ’70s for managing hyperactivity in children suggests eliminating all preservatives, additives and food coloring—some recent research supports the idea that these substances may contribute to hyperactivity in children; there is not enough evidence to make the claim that they cause ADHD, but it might be something to consider when planning your child’s diet.

Food allergies have been linked to worsening a host of conditions and another common strategy is eliminating common allergens from the diet, such as wheat, soy, and dairy. Research suggests this may work in small subsets of children who have ADHD, such as those who have allergies. These foods in and of themselves probably do not contribute to symptoms, but if your child happened to have an allergy or sensitivity, this strategy may produce desirable results; if not, it may not make any difference.