ADHD and Food: Choosing the Right Diet for your child

Isn’t it astonishing to know that the secrets of controlling the ADHD symptoms of your child are hidden in the food that she eats? ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) that affects your child’s brain leading to difficulty in regulating emotions and concentration. Hyperactivity, trouble with organisational skills, lack of attention are some of the common symptoms in children with ADHD.

Although medicines can treat ADHD, being mindful in choosing foods that are good for a child with ADHD and can further help optimise her cognitive functions is important:

Strengthen Brain Functions With Protein: 

Protein contains amino acids that are the building blocks of brain’s neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters—dopamine and serotonin–help brain cells communicate with each other. Dopamine is responsible for improving focus and motivation while serotonin controls sleep and appetite. Besides that, protein also stabilises blood sugar level, which is behind the increase in hyperactivity.

Including protein-rich food in your child’s diet will boost concentration and help her perform better. Sources of protein are:

  • Chicken,
  • Fish 
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Cheese
  • Peanut butter

Omega 3 In Treating ADHD Symptoms:

Our brain and the nervous system contain high levels of Omega 3, a nutrient that plays an essential role in nerve transmissions, new cell formations and creating brain chemicals. Regular consumption of Omega 3 has shown considerable improvement in the cognitive functions of children with ADHD, with increased attention span, good focus and better memory. Here are some foods that contains high levels of Omega 3 –

• Fishes like Tuna, Salmon – Make interesting fish sandwiches, fish pasta salad or fish wrap 

• Walnuts – A handful of walnuts as a quick snack would be a good idea.

• Flaxseeds – Sprinkle flaxseeds on salads or mix in smoothies. Using flaxseed oil as medium of cooking can also help.

Elevated intake of packaged snacks might increase the potential of nutritional imbalance, lower emotional intelligence and exacerbate symptoms of ADHD 
Source: Korean Journal Nutrition

Choose Your Carbs Carefully:

Always opt for complex carbohydrates that contain vitamins, fibre and minerals such as fruits and vegetables and wholegrains. Also low GI ( Low Glycemic Index) foods manage blood sugar effectively and help children with ADHD perform better. Here are some low GI foods:

• Fruits like apple, pears, oranges, kiwi, grapes

• Wholegrain cereals: When buying packed foods such as wheatflakes or museli, avoid cereals with artificial colours and sweeteners.

Vitamins and Minerals :

These micronutrients have a great contribution in improving attention and alertness in your child’s brain.

Vitamin B : Vitamin B6 is essentially beneficial for ADHD as it increases the levels of neurotransmitters like, serotonin, dopamine and nor epinephrine. Vitamin B12 regenerates neuron

Food Sources: Banana, Leafy green vegetables like spinach 

Vitamin C : Besides its many other benefits, vitamin C also helps our brain in making neurotransmitters. It also aids memory and can have anti inflammatory effects on brain.

Food Sources: Orange, Lemon, Kiwi, broccoli, papaya.

Minerals : Magnesium, zinc and iron play crucial roles in regulating or creating brain’s neurotransmitters. Most of the children with ADHD are found to have deficiencies of these minerals. Magnesium also can reduce anxiety. Deficiency of zinc can trigger attention issues and iron helps in making dopamine.

So include these foods rich in minerals, in your kid’s diet : avocado, banana, leafy greens, beans, spinach, cashew.

ADHD and Foods to Avoid:

Since food has tremendous influence on your child’s well being, you must remember that a whole lot of food can worsen the situation for her. The more we deviate from a simple, healthy, and natural diet, our complications grow manifold, ADHD being one of them. Here’s a list of food known for exacerbating the symptoms of ADHD :

1) Sugar and Artificial sweetener: Sugar is not good for your child. Overuse of sugar can make her restless, irritable, inattentive and stressed. Though sugar doesn’t cause ADHD, it can magnify the symptoms. Artificial sweeteners may also have treacherous effects on cognitive functions and emotions. So avoid :

  • Candies – loaded with sugar and artificial colours candies are known as inducing hyperactivity. 
  • Packaged Fruit juice – These contain large amounts of sugar 
  • Soda and Energy Drinks these contain sugar as well as other varied stimulants like sweetener, artificial colour, caffeine etc.

2) Cocoa and Chocolates with caffeine – since they can result in hyperactivity and lack of focus

3) Fast Food : may contain various stimulants like food dyes, additives, artificial colour etc that can be potentially harmful for your kid.

4) Packaged food: A whole bunch of your kid’s favourite food that you’ve allowed her to have so far, comes under this category. Chips, cake, pre-packed lunch, crackers, cereals are a few to mention. All these packaged foods contain sugar, salt, additives or preservatives which are condemned as stimulants.

5) Red Meat : Red meat is also blamed for worsening ADHD symptoms like restlessness, inattentiveness, irritability and stress. Eliminate red meat from your child’s diet and opt for healthier salmon, tuna or chicken.

Check Out for Food Sensitivity:

Try to identify foods that apparently worsen ADHD symptoms in your child (but that does not mean your child is allergic to those foods.) Eliminate the suspected culprits from your child’s diet for 5/6 weeks, and watch for any difference in behaviour of your kid. Most common offenders known for exacerbating ADHD symptoms are :

  • Dairy products : Ice cream , yoghurt, cheese ( Try goat cheese instead of cow cheese) 
  • Corn
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Few Simple Tips That You can Follow : 

• Always carry some homemade cookies, wholewheat crackers or nuts to satiate your child’s hunger when travelling.

• Medications may cause your child to lose appetite. Select high-nutrient packed foods that serve enough nutrition even when consumed in small portions. Try avocado, yoghurt, peanut butter and/or banana.

• Replace soft drinks with high-protein homemade smoothies or shakes

• Always offer natural, healthy food like fruits, berries, nuts, wholegrains, instead of packaged food.


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