ADHD Diet Recommendation Overview

ADHD Diet Recommendations
ADHD diet recommendations are extremely important to the management of ADHD symptoms. Before you begin an Inattentive ADHD medication or Inattentive ADHD supplement regimen, you should make certain that your diet is adequate.

There are several posts on this website devoted to ADHD diet recommendations. In this post I will give you an overview and a summary of the research information available regarding ADHD diets and I will point you to the posts on this website where those recommendations are discussed in greater detail.

I will, in this post, discuss the diet supplements that help ADHD as they have been covered extensively in another post. There are, however, five subtopics that you should be aware of regarding research based ADHD diet recommendations. Those topics include:

  1. Protein and Amino Acid Concerns and ADHD
  2. Adequate Vegetable Consumption and ADHD
  3. The Affects of Sugar on ADHD symptoms
  4. The Affects of Food Coloring and food Additives on ADHD symptoms
  5. Elimination Diets and ADHD Symptoms

Protein/Amino Acids and ADHD

The neurotransmitters in our brain are made from amino acids in the foods that we eat. Amino acids in our food are moved into our brains by a highly complex process that involves many other chemicals and molecules, which must in our body, all be in place, and in the correct amount. The best way to achieve this perfect balance of amino acids and helper transporter molecules is to eat a diet rich in proteins.

Taking supplemental amino acids can help but our bodies are programmed to use food, not supplements as neurotransmitter building blocks so whenever possible we should be getting our amino acid supplementation from food not pills. The complex building process is not completed with the use of supplements, which is why studies have been inconsistent regarding their utility in the treatment of ADHD.

Tyrosine is the main amino acid used by neurons to produce norepinephrine and dopamine but studies have not found that there are benefits to taking supplemental tyrosine.  This is thought to be because of the blood brain barrier limiting the use of tyrosine taken in supplement form.

Amino acids such as acetyl L-carnitine and Phosphatidylserine have been found to help ADHD and proteins such as meat, milk, eggs, cheese, fish and other seafood contain these amino acids. The amino acids have been found to help by improving neurotransmitter function and by neutralizing free radical damage caused by various brain toxins or injuries.

Kids with ADHD often have coexisting diagnoses such as sensory integration problems that make them prone to be picky eaters. Feeding an ADHD kid protein is often not easy. Coming up with creative diet ideas that focus on protein should be a goal for any family with an ADHD child.

Vegetable Consumption and ADHD

Eating vegetables is important for ADHD because of the benefits that vegetables provide to ensure that adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are available to complete a variety of bodily processes. In addition to these benefits, all vegetables have polyphenols. The polyphenols are a huge class of natural supplements that have been used of late to treat everything from cancer to ADHD.

Polyphenols occur in all plant food and are known to be powerful antioxidants but recent studies have found that the polyphenols act to normalize vitamin, mineral and hormone levels in the brain and in other organs in our bodies.

Environmental toxins do not cause ADHD. ADHD is caused by a cluster of factors but toxins such as cigarette smoke, sugar, poor sleep, and stress easily deplete dopamine and norepinephrine levels. The neurons that use Dopamine are easily damaged by oxidization. One ADHD study found that people with ADHD had oxidant levels that were abnormally high.

It is thought that antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, E and other vitamins 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 is necessary for the manufacture of brain dopamine and norepinephrine. Eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals is important because the most efficient and effective way to get these nutrients into an ADHD body is though the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The Affects of Sugar on ADHD symptoms

Sugar consumption can affect the way our brain metabolizes and uses neurotransmitters and can worsen the symptoms of ADHD. In a normally functioning brain, brain dopamine and norepinephrine allow us to feel alert, allow our memory to function properly, and allow us to better focus and concentrate.

Diets high in sugar are terrible for ADHD. These low protein diets cause the body to secrete insulin. Insulin tells our cells to pull out the dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters in cells and put them in storage for later use. This message causes the amino acids to leave the cells giving the brain an inadequate amount of these neurotransmitters and diminishes the brain's ability to function properly.

The Affect of Food Coloring/Food Additives on ADHD symptoms

Food additives can worsen ADHD symptoms. A well done study published in Lancet in 2007 reported that kids fed a diet with artificial colors and the preservative sodium benzoate were more inattentive and hyperactive than children fed a diet that did not include these substances. The food additives thought to cause these problems included: U.S. certified color Red #40, Blue #2, Yellow #5 (Tartrazine), Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow), as well as sodium benzoate.

Research studies looking into the mechanisms by which these additives cause these behavioral problems have determined that it is possible that the adverse effect of food additives on ADHD symptoms is related to genetics.

They have found that ADHD genes can affect the behavioral responses to these additives. Scientists believe that the reason for this response has to do with something called histamine degradation. Researchers believe that people with specific ADHD genes are the ones most likely to have bad reactions to these food additives.

Prior to these recent studies there were many studies that showed that food additives had not effect on behavior or attention. The researchers of the more recent studies have concluded that the inconsistencies in previous studies, regarding the role of food additives and hyperactive and inattention symptoms, might be explained by gene variations influencing the action of histamine in sensitive individuals.

These findings point to the message that the Dr. Feingold camp has been proposing for years and that is that certain kids are especially sensitive to food additives. In these children, food additives will worsen ADHD symptoms. The DAT1 gene is one of several genes that have been linked with ADHD symptoms. We do not yet know if other genes may also affect symptom response to food additives but it seems advisable, based on what we know so far, to avoid giving these dyes and additives to adults and kids diagnosed with ADHD.

Elimination Diets and ADHD Symptoms

Elimination diets can help ADHD. These diets have been proposed as a treatment measure for ADHD for many years and are controversial. The way they are supposed to work is by eliminating potentially "allergenic" foods from the diet of adults and children with ADHD. It has been proposed that these allergens are the cause of the ADHD behavior.

In the past the use of elimination diets for ADHD was looked upon by much of the established ADHD experts as a huge waste of time. The experts believed that elimination diets would help, at best, a very small fraction of people with ADHD. New studies however are pointing to a wider benefit from the use of elimination diets.

A study performed in England, the 'Impact of Nutrition on Children with ADHD (INCA)' study was designed to answer some of the questions surrounding the utility of elimination diets for the treatment of ADHD. The results of the INCA study were published this year.

The INCA researchers found that a strict elimination diet improved symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, oppositional behavior and inattention and that these behavioral improvements could not have been predicted using IgG levels. IgG levels usually tell us who may have an allergic reaction to certain exposures but in this case the IgG levels did not help us determine which kids would have worse behavior and attention when given potentially allergenic foods.

Elimination diets appear to improve ADHD behavior but they are notoriously difficult to stick with and they can be a huge burden for an ADHD family. Identifying foods that may cause or worsen ADHD behaviors and minimizing the consumption of those foods is, however, an ADHD goal worth pursuing.


What we eat affects our health and can affect symptoms such as inattention and the impulsive behavior of ADHD. A diet that is rich in protein and vegetables may minimize the attention and behavioral problems seen in ADHD. Diets that are high in sugar are unhealthy for all adults and children and may worsen the behavioral and attention problems of people with all types of ADHD.

Recent studies are indicating that the genes and gene variations seen in people with ADHD may interact with food additives and food allergens such as wheat, milk, tree nuts and other allergens. These interactions may contribute to the presence or worsening of ADHD type behaviors. Elimination diets and diets that are free of food additives may help the symptoms of ADHD by minimizing the allergen/gene interactions that may be at the foundation of our ADHD behavioral and attention problems.


  1. Excellent article! Thank you! I totally agree that diet is a key factor in both mental and physical endurance!

    how about cocoa and green tea? I did research about how the two together (without sugar and fat) have a profound positive impact on our brains. I have been on vavalert for about 8 months and it's helped me dramatically in my ability to focus. I just didn't want to take "meds".

    Any thoughts?

  2. Yes, I agree with you!! I need to do another post where I go into diet related supplements such as green tea, cocoa and coffee for instance. All of those are kind of in a gray zone between diet and supplements. Thanks for your comments!!

  3. Diets for ADHD should be rich in protein like eggs, meat, beans, nuts might assist in enhancing concentration levels. By substituting simple carbohydrates such as sweets and white bread to complex carbohydrates like fruits, whole-grain bread would be very beneficial.
    ADHD in children

  4. Yes, diet is one of the key ingredients in a good ADD treatment plan.

  5. My 12-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with Inattentive Type ADD. Trying to sort through all the opinions and options has been a bit frustrating. I appreciate the clear and honest posts on your websites. It makes me feel calm and hopeful.


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