15 Trigger Foods to Avoid if Your Child Is Hyperactive and/or has ADHD

Foods That Cause Hyperactivity

"The best foods for hyperactivity will be low in sugar, packed with essential nutrients, and free from artificial colors, dyes, and other unnecessary ingredients."

Trigger Foods for Kids with ADHD to Avoid


You already know that following a healthy diet is important for your child’s physical health. But diet also plays a critical role in your child’s ability to focus and regulate their emotions. If your child struggles with hyperactivity, certain foods can act as triggers, exacerbating their symptoms and making it even harder to sit still. 

This article will delve into how food impacts hyperactivity, what you should know about ADHD in children, and 15 trigger foods to avoid. 

The Link Between Food and Hyperactivity

Although it’s a stretch to say that a poor diet causes ADHD and symptoms like hyperactivity, studies show that dietary patterns may influence the likelihood of developing ADHD symptoms, and specific dietary interventions have been recommended as potential treatments.1 In some cases, the lack of certain vitamins and minerals can lead to nutritional gaps that exacerbate symptoms. In other cases, specific foods act as triggers.

Food allergies or sensitivities to certain foods can also impact your child’s ability to focus and sit still, so it’s important to keep a close eye out for those too and take your child to an allergist if you’re unsure.

Because every child is different, yours might not be as affected by some foods that may impact others. It might be a matter of trial and error to find which foods are making your child’s symptoms worse. Keep working on it until you find something that works for you and your child.

Understanding Your Child’s ADHD

While genetics do play a significant role in whether or not your child will develop ADHD, environment is also crucial in symptom severity and frequency. Put simply, simple lifestyle habits like following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, controlling your child’s screen time, and employing relaxation tools like mindful breathing and meditation can make a massive difference in your child’s ability to focus and control their impulses.

According to the CDC, children with ADHD have an increased risk for being overweight or developing obesity.2 The best foods for hyperactivity will be low in sugar, packed with essential nutrients, and free from artificial colors, dyes, and other unnecessary ingredients. Here are the top trigger foods to avoid in kids with ADHD:

1. Soda

They may be called “soft” drinks, but soda and other sweet beverages make focusing a lot harder for kids with ADHD. Researchers have found a correlation between increased consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and an increase in ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and distractibility.3

2. High-Sugar Foods

Sugar seems to be in everything nowadays. And consuming too  much of it has serious implications for your health, increasing the risk of tooth decay, diabetes, and obesity. But there’s also some evidence showing that high-sugar foods may contribute to an increase in ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity.4  

3. Energy Drinks

Sometimes you might need a boost to get you through a tough day, but kids should avoid energy drinks completely, especially those who struggle with sitting still. Energy drinks are full of ingredients known to aggravate hyperactivity: sugar, artificial sweeteners and colors, caffeine, and so on. Some experts believe that energy drinks are even more dangerous for kids and teens taking prescription drugs for ADHD, because of the additional stimulants they provide.5 Even more, when the sugar wears off, most kids experience a crash, in which they’ll feel even less motivated to complete tasks.

4. Processed Foods

A good way to identify processed foods is to look at an ingredients label and see if there are words that are hard to pronounce. Most of these foods contain too much saturated fat and sugar and are devoid of essential nutrients. Studies indicate that kids with ADHD eat more processed food than healthy peers and eating processed food is linked to ADHD symptomatology.6 

5. Artificial Sweeteners, Colors, and Flavors

Artificial sweeteners aren’t any better than sugar, and can have just as big an impact on your child’s ability to focus and sit still. Similarly, artificial colors and flavors can aggravate the symptoms of hyperactivity in children as shown in various studies.7

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6. Caffeine

We already cautioned against soda and energy drinks, which are both loaded with sugar and caffeine, but even unsweetened caffeinated drinks and food should be avoided as much as possible. Too much caffeine can make a hyperactive kid feel jittery and send them into a crash. Too much caffeine can also cause symptoms that mimic anxiety and nervousness because of its powerful stimulating effects.8

7. Salicylates 

Salicylates are natural substances found in some healthy foods like almonds, red apples, cranberries, grapes, and tomatoes. They are also found in aspirin and other over-the-counter pain medications. While research is limited on how they affect hyperactivity, studies have found that eliminating them from a child’s diet may improve ADHD symptoms.9

8. Dairy Products

When consumed in moderation, dairy products can be a healthy component to your child’s diet. But for some children, too much dairy can make their symptoms worse, especially if they are allergic to dairy. In one study, 70 percent of children experienced worsened symptoms in reaction to milk products.10

An important note from Brillia: Brillia contains lactose as a binding agent because it has no interaction with the active ingredient. If your child has a sensitivity then you should take the severity of the sensitivity into consideration to see if Brillia is a good choice for you. But lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk or dairy allergy. Some parents are using a lactose enzyme to control any reactions, like gas or stomach reactions. If you are considering trying Brillia, you can always try it first and monitor your child’s response. To put your mind at ease, we offer a 120-day money back guarantee for new customers (subscriptions excluded).

9. Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in foods like wheat, rye, barley, and seitan. While research is mixed on how it relates to ADHD, a gluten-free diet may reduce hyperactivity. In one six-month study, a group of children with ADHD following a gluten-free diet showed a “statistically significant” decrease in hyperactivity symptoms that was maintained while on the diet.11

10. Soy

Soy is considered a common trigger food for people with ADHD, likely due to its high content of the mineral manganese. In one study of soy-based infant formulas, researchers found a correlation between high levels of manganese and the development of ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.12 There was also evidence that high levels of manganese also led to alternations of dopamine receptors, which are critical in the regulation of attention.

11. High-Mercury Fish

Mercury is a heavy metal that is toxic to humans, especially when consumed in large quantities. While fish is typically considered safe and healthy when eaten in moderation, some fish are high in this toxic metal and may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. In one study, children who ate fish several times a week were 4.5 times more likely to develop ADHD than non-fish consumers.13 They were also more likely to report inattention and difficulty sitting still. The correlation was strongest for those who consumed high-mercury fish such as tuna and swordfish.

12. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and for most individuals a healthy addition to their diet. However, a study of elimination diets found that, for some kids with ADHD who have a sensitivity to eggs, removing them from their diet significantly decreased symptom severity.14 

13. Peanuts and Tree Nuts

A study from 2022 found that early childhood allergies were linked to an increased risk of developing ADHD.15 This includes food allergies, and peanuts and tree nuts are some of the most prevalent food allergens in the U.S.16

14. High-Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is a common type of added sugar made from corn starch that is used in packaged foods and beverages. Studies found that due to its ability to lower energy in cells and trigger a “foraging” response, high fructose corn syrup exacerbates ADHD symptoms like risk taking, impulsivity, novelty seeking, and even aggression.17

15. Red Meat

Like some other foods on this list, red meat can be healthy in moderation, but too much of it can cause health and behavioral issues, including an increase in hyperactivity. In one Australian study, researchers found a connection between certain eating patterns and ADHD symptom severity.18 Red meat was considered a trigger food and recommended for elimination. 

What to Do When Changing Diets Isn’t Enough

When your child follows a healthy diet early, they are more likely to continue eating healthily as an adult. This is not only useful in preventing and reducing ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, but also promoting whole-body health. However, it is just one act you should consider taking when addressing your child’s symptoms. 

As we stated earlier, lifestyle plays a crucial role in how your child’s symptoms manifest. This is why Brillia has developed the 5 Pillars, a holistic program that combines behavioral changes around nutrition, sleep, screen time, and mindfulness with targeted medication. Free from harsh chemicals and harmful side effects, this approach allows you to manage your child’s symptoms gently and impactfully without causing side effects associated with pharmaceutical drugs like drowsiness, headaches, or appetite changes.

While prescription medication for ADHD has helped many children gain control of their symptoms, it is not the only path available. We recommend exploring non-pharmaceutical options first and turning to prescription medication as a last resort to avoid the side effects and dependency associated with pharmaceuticals. Brillia employs a novel approach to reducing symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. The medication consists of antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, a key regulator of many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes. By regulating the activity of this protein, Brillia helps to balance various monoamines (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) in the brain, leading to less hyperactivity, and more focus and clarity. These are the same brain chemicals targeted by prescription drugs, but Brillia achieves this balancing effect without changing blood chemistry or affecting any other systems in the body. When combined with the behavioral changes outlined in the 5 Pillars, your child learns how to self-regulate so they eventually need less and less of a medication, although they can continue using Brillia as long as it is offering support.  

Learn more about how Brillia works and explore more resources on managing ADHD and anxiety at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9608000/, 2https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/features/protecting-adhd-children.htm, 3https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33066852/, 4https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7844661/, 5https://theconversation.com/should-teens-taking-adhd-anxiety-and-depression-drugs-consume-energy-drinks-and-coffee-166864, 6https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9464840/, 7https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/food-dye-adhd, 8https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun01/dangersip, 9https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/foods-to-avoid#salicylates, 10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8401786/, 11https://adc.bmj.com/content/99/Suppl_2/A204.3, 12https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22449212/, 13https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/13/11/1069, 14https://www.ucihealth.org/blog/2023/08/adhd-recipes, 15https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9328193, 16https://www.summithealth.com/health-wellness/peanut-and-tree-nut-allergies-are-rise, 17https://news.cuanschutz.edu/news-stories/high-fructose-intake-may-drive-aggressive-behaviors-adhd-bipolar-disorder, 18https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/01/09/144796050/for-kids-with-adhd-the-elimination-diet-falls-short-of-success
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