The Importance of Diet in the Treatment of ADHD

Our diets choices affect our health.  The better your diet is, the better your health will be.  A poor diet worsens the symptoms of most medical conditions and it is safe to say that the single most important component of an effective ADHD treatment plan is diet.  Here is why.

Diets that are adequate in protein and low in complex carbohydrates have been consistently proven to improve the symptoms of ADHD.  Children with ADHD often crave carbohydrates and shun protein.  The carbohydrates provide them with a very temporary sense of well being but ultimately causes a neurotransmitter imbalance, which worsens their symptoms.

We have learned in the last few years quite a lot about the vitamins, nutrient, and dietary influences of ADHD.  We know from numerous studies that food allergies and dyes can cause worsening of ADHD symptoms in anywhere from five to thirty percent of people diagnosed with ADHD. 

We have learned that diets low in iron, zinc, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to the presence and severity of ADHD symptoms and that various studies have indicated that people with ADHD symptoms are more likely to have measurable deficiencies of zinc, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.   

We also know that protein intake is an essential component of a health ADHD diet.
Diets that are high in sugar and low in protein are detrimental to all children and adults but are a particular problem for people with ADHD.

Dopamine, nor-epinephrine, serotonin, glutamate and PEA are neurotransmitters in our brain that coordinate all our cognitive functioning.  The cognitive issues that impair people with ADHD, including attention, impulse control, sluggish or hyperactive activity and organizational functions and memory functions are all controlled by neurotransmitters.  Low protein diets cause the body to secrete excess insulin.  The insulin circulates into our cells and acts in a way that serves to pull the amino acids necessary for neurotransmitter functioning, out of the blood stream and to put them in storage for later use.  This in turn causes the brain to have an inadequate amount of these neurotransmitters.

Taking supplemental amino acids may help for a few days but they rarely helps with the symptoms of ADHD on any long term basis. The reason for this is that our bodies are programmed to use food, not supplements as neurotransmitter building blocks.  The complex neurotransmitter building and functioning process is not completed with the use of supplements, which is why studies have shown no long term benefits for ADHD symptom control using tyrosine or other amino acid supplements.

The cells in the brain that use the neurotransmitters are easily damaged by oxidization and studies have shown that people with ADHD have higher brain oxidant levels than people without this diagnosis. It is thought that antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and E and the Omega-3 fatty acids not only help protect these neurons from free radical damage but also help with the transmission of amino acids across the blood brain barrier which allows us to fully utilize the amino acids that we consume in our food.  Foods such as blueberries, red grapes and green tea that are known to be powerful antioxidants should be consumed by everyone but may be especially useful in the diet of people with the diagnosis of ADHD.

The dietary interventions helpful in treating ADHD rarely involve remedies such as those contained in expensive supplements.  The most useful dietary interventions can usually be readily and inexpensively purchased at the grocery store.  Because Sensory Integration issues can occur more commonly in these children with ADHD, these children can be pickier eaters than other children.  Getting these children to eat a diet that is full of vitamins, proteins, antioxidants and is low in sugar can sometimes be difficult but insuring that adults and children with ADHD eat a complete and protein rich diet is essential if we are to avoid the symptoms of ADHD that are worsened by an unhealthy diet.


  1. hey-love your blog. It's been helping me finally accept my ADHD Inattentive diagnosis. What healthy foods do you recommend for someone who's in college, poor, and doesn't know how to cook? Lol. I've been living off cereal carbs, but I ALWAYS feel best when I eat healthier/more protein... I just don't know how to really do it without spending buckets of money.

  2. It is so important to get a lean meat of a soy protein or a beans/rice complete protein into your diet. If you eat meat the thing to do is go to the store and buy the cheapest cut of meat that you can get. Ground beef often sells at my stores for as low as 99 cents a pound. Stock up on it when it goes on sale and see if you can't get at least 1/2 pound of a ground beef into your diet daily. Hamburgers are the easiest thing to do as all you do is add salt and pepper and fry in a pan. Chicken is often available at a really good price. Again, salt and pepper and a little honey and soy or duck sauce (get extra packs the next time you go to a chines take out, or you can even get an extra salad dressing the next time you are at a fast food place and use that as a marinade, Italian dressing marinated chicken is easy and delicious, you stick the chicken in the dressing for an hour and then cook it at 375 for 30 minutes).

    Beans and Rice are cheap and are a complete protein as is tofu. Get a can of seasoned black beans and make rice to go with it. Saute an onion in a little oil or butter and eat it along side the beans and rice.

    Slice tofu up and then boil it for 5 minutes. Combine a little onion, soy sauce, chinese mustard, and duck sauce and poor it on the cooked tofu-this sounds kind of gross but believe it or not, it's kind of yummy (get the packets of soy, duck sauce, etc from the chinese take out, they won't care if you take extra)

    Cheese is a complete protein as are nuts but both of those can be expensive.

    Another cheap ground beef dish is Chili. Get a 59 cent pack of McCormick Chili seasoning, add a pound of ground been and a can of seasoned chili beans, cook it all in a big pot with water, add a can of corn and buy a 99 cent box of saltines and you are ready to eat for a week. The seasoning pack will have the exact amount of water that you need.

    You have got me worried about you so write me and let me know that you are eating something other that cereal, OK?

  3. Don't forget eggs! My son refuses all meat and fish and if it wasn't for milk and eggs, I don't know how I would get any protein into the boy.

    any suggestions for soy/tofu cooking for a very picky eater?

  4. Yes, Eggs are really important. My sons both love hard boiled eggs and I put them in their lunch boxes.

    I make a chili with soy 'ground meat' and no one can tell that it is soy. My kids love it with Jiffy corn bread on the side.

  5. Just bought some protein powder.. 56mg per 2 scoops. It made me extremely tired... After a quick nap, I feel slightly better. I don't know how to explain it. I've had ADHD since I was diagnosed at 5. Currently not on any medications. Using ephedrine and epinephrine on occasion to help me focus. My daily diet ever since I started working out is mainly protein. I ate half a jar of peanut butter and had a 16oz glass of chocolate milk with 56mg protein powder. I can't stop the craving.

  6. Chocolate protein powder is disgusting by it's self. Pro tip: mix chocolate protein powder with whole chocolate milk.. SO GOOD...

  7. I know people that fall asleep after a high protein meal. It seems that protein is NOT the answer for improving your focus and perhaps less protein works better for some...


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