Guide to Nutrition and ADHD
When it comes to managing your ADHD symptoms, don’t overlook your kitchen cupboards. While dietary habits don’t necessarily “cause” ADHD, they may play a role in the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
In the following article, we’ll explore the relationship between nutrition and ADHD, including which foods you should add to your ADHD diet to better manage symptoms like inattention and impulsivity, and which foods you should avoid. We’ll also discuss the role that food sensitivities play in the severity of your symptoms. If you have any allergies or intolerances, we recommend you check in with your doctor first before implementing any of the dietary changes we suggest below.
The Impact of Diet on ADHD Symptoms
While it’s a stretch to say poor nutrition causes ADHD, studies do show that there’s a correlation.1 Children with ADHD show less adherence to healthy eating patterns than children without this disorder. And patterns described as junk-food”, “processed”, and “Western-like” have all been positively associated with an ADHD diagnosis.
On the flipside, healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, or a diet based on whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, have been inversely associated with the risk of ADHD. Even more, specific nutrients like vitamin D, zinc, iron, and omega 3s have been proposed as potential treatment opportunities for ADHD.2
While eliminating or cutting back on certain foods and drinks, especially those high in sugar and saturated fat, is important for your overall health, we now know that making dietary adjustments can also help reduce symptoms of ADHD. But just as important as minimizing specific foods is increasing the intake of others.
Foods to Incorporate for Better ADHD Management
From fruits and vegetables to whole grains, there are a number of foods teeming with nutrients that support cognitive function. Incorporate the following foods into your diet to reduce the severity of your ADHD symptoms.
A diet rich in essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, can support brain health and reduce ADHD symptoms. Studies have found that children with ADHD have lower levels of vitamins B1, B2, and C, as well as zinc and calcium.3 They also tend to have lower levels of iron, which is crucial in neurotransmitter metabolism, particularly dopamine production, an important factor in ADHD pathology. Low levels of iron and zinc are associated with the aggravation and progression of ADHD.4
Other essential nutrients in controlling ADHD symptoms include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, visual learning, and working memory.5 And probiotic-rich foods have been found to help reduce anxiety, which often co-occurs with ADHD, by controlling the vagus nerve.6
To incorporate these and other key nutrients into your diet, look for the following foods:
- B-vitamins: Eggs, salmon, nuts, milk, whole grains, mushrooms
- Zinc: Oysters, red meat, poultry, whole grains, nuts, legumes
- Calcium: Dairy, cheese, edamame, sardines, almonds, leafy greens
- Iron: Spinach, dark chocolate, tofu, pumpkin seeds, lentils, liver
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Walnuts, flaxseed, mackerel, salmon, anchovies, chia seeds, soybeans
- Omega-6 fatty acids: Walnuts, tofu, hemp seeds, peanut butter, avocado, eggs
- Probiotics: Yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, pickles, kombucha
- Vitamin D: Fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, canned tuna
- Vitamin C: Kiwi, broccoli, oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower
Fruits are not only delicious, but they are also a valuable source of vitamins and natural sugars that provide steady energy levels. Opt for a variety of colorful fruits to ensure a wide range of nutrients. After all, some research indicates that the symptoms of inattention associated with ADHD may improve with a high intake of fruits and vegetables.7 When possible opt for whole fruits over fruit juices because they have more dietary fiber and keep you full longer.
All types of fruit are healthy when eaten in moderation, but some powerhouses include:8
- Berries, which are a good source of polyphenols, which have neuroprotective properties9
- Kiwi, oranges, and strawberries to load up on vitamin C
- Mangoes, for folate
- Bananas, which are high in vitamin B6
- Watermelon, figs, and prunes for their iron content
Vegetables, especially those rich in antioxidants like broccoli and spinach, can promote brain health and reduce inflammation, potentially helping manage ADHD symptoms. As stated above, people who eat fewer fruits and vegetables tend to have more severe inattention symptoms.10
Like fruit, there’s no such thing as a “bad” veggie, but be sure to integrate these superstars into your diet:
- Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, which are high in omega-3s, calcium, zinc, and magnesium
- Collards and peas, for their high amounts of protein
- Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower to load up on iron
Whole grains are teeming with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, as well as complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy unsaturated fats. From oatmeal and quinoa to brown rice and barley, these foods provide a sustained release of energy and support stable blood sugar levels, which can be beneficial for people with ADHD. Studies show that a greater intake of whole grains is associated with improved metabolic markers linked to cognitive function.11
Some whole grains to add to your diet include:
- Brown rice
Lean proteins, such as poultry, fish, and legumes, help the body produce neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, which play a crucial role in mood and focus.12 Protein also helps to keep blood sugar levels steady, which avoids the brain fog that comes from eating a meal containing too many simple carbs. Consider starting your day with a protein-rich breakfast to feel fuller and more satisfied after your morning meal with top-notch mental function.
Some healthy proteins to add to your diet include:
- Animal proteins: Lean beef, poultry, fish
- Beans and legumes: Soybeans, lentils, white beans, split peas, kidney beans, black beans, lima beans
- Dairy: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, milk
- Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
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The Importance of Hydration
Maintaining hydration is important for our physical health, but it can also support your mental health and help control ADHD symptoms. Studies suggest water facilitates signaling pathways and the delivery of nutrients to the brain, while removing toxins and inflammatory markers.13 It also provides energy to the brain, thereby improving brain function.
Dehydration is also known to cause shrinkage of brain tissue. In one study of 10 healthy adolescents, those who did not drink enough water during exercise found it more challenging to complete executive function tasks. The researchers concluded that prolonged states of dehydration adversely impacts executive functions such as planning and visuo-spatial processing.14
Here are some easy ways to remember to drink water throughout the day:
- Drink water first thing in the morning, before you have a cup of coffee or other morning drink
- Buy a refillable water bottle you can take with you wherever you go
- Make water more appealing by infusing it with fruit
- Set a daily goal to drink a certain amount of water
- Drink a glass of water before each meal
Foods to Limit
Now that you know which foods can reduce ADHD symptoms, find out which foods can exacerbate them. From processed foods to saturated fats, here are the foods you should limit to better control your symptoms and avoid mid-day energy crashes.
Sugar & Processed Foods
When you consume too much sugar, especially in the form of added sugars like those found in processed foods, it can wreak havoc on our cognitive function and mood. Such foods are notorious for exacerbating hyperactivity due to blood sugar spikes, which are typically followed by crashes, in which it’s difficult to feel motivated to complete tasks.15 High intake of processed foods is also associated with impulsivity.16
While minimizing your intake of obvious sugar-laden treats, like candy and soda, may be easy, it’s harder to stay away from foods in which sugar is conveniently hidden. Here are some culprits you should limit:
- Pasta sauces
- Salad dressings
- Flavored yogurts
- Granola bars
- Breakfast cereals and instant oatmeal
- Fruit juice
- Energy drinks
- Ice tea
- Canned fruit
- Canned soup
- Premade smoothies
- Baked goods
Like sugar, refined carbs also trigger rapid blood sugar spikes followed by crashes that can leave you feeling distracted, foggy, tired, and inattentive. This is a drastic difference from the steady energy source you get from complex carbs. Also known as “simple carbs,” refined carbs give you a pleasant dopamine hit, which keeps you wanting more, but they hold little nutritional value.
Some refined carbs to limit include:
- White bread (including bagels, buns, rolls, and English muffins)
- White rice
- White flour (including crackers and pretzels made with white flour)
- White pasta
- Packaged cereals
- Pizza dough
Foods high in saturated fats, such as fried and fatty foods, are associated with inflammation and cognitive impairment, and their consumption should be minimized.17 Even more, some evidence suggests that a diet high in saturated fat can actually increase your chances of having ADHD.18 In one animal study, rats fed a Western diet high in saturated fats showed more signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity after 10 weeks than those fed a diet low in saturated fats.19
Some saturated fats to limit include:
- Fried foods
- Lard and cream
- Fatty cuts of meat like pork belly and short-ribs
- Sausage and bacon
- Cured meats
- Ice cream
- Baked goods
- Palm oil
Exploring Food Sensitivities: Gluten and Dairy
Some individuals with ADHD may experience worsened symptoms due to food sensitivities or allergies. Gluten and dairy are common culprits. Consider exploring an elimination diet to identify if these foods worsen your symptoms and, if so, make necessary dietary adjustments. These days, it’s easy to find suitable replacements for foods containing gluten and dairy. These include foods and drinks like nut milks and gluten-free grains like amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice flour, and rice bran.
Customizing a Diet Plan for ADHD
Each person with ADHD is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Customizing an ADHD diet plan may involve some experimentation and observation. Consider keeping a food journal to track how different foods affect your symptoms, and consult with your doctor or a professional nutritionist for personalized guidance on how to develop an effective dietary strategy tailored to your specific needs.
Powerful Additions for ADHD Symptom Management
Eating a variety of foods in a variety of colors is one way to ensure you get all the macro and micro nutrients you need to support healthy cognitive function and reduce the severity of your ADHD symptoms. But if you need more support, taking dietary supplements can help fill the gaps. Though you can easily find specific vitamins and minerals online or at a local pharmacy, including those mentioned above like omega-3s, zinc, iron, and magnesium, you can also get these nutrients and more from a multivitamin. Just be cautious with some formulations (especially gummies), which are typically laden with sugar, dyes, and artificial flavors.
Taking a look at your overall lifestyle is also an important step to take when managing your symptoms. While proper nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle, you should also make sure you’re getting adequate sleep, controlling your screen time, and incorporating mindfulness and relaxation techniques into your day. Each of these lifestyle habits has been proven to reduce the frequency and intensity of ADHD and anxiety symptoms to help you feel more balanced.
Another action to consider is taking medication for your symptoms. At Brillia, we recognize the value in prescription drugs for ADHD and know that pharmaceuticals are the best choice for some individuals, but we also prefer to see these drugs as the last resort, not the first and only option. By exploring gentler options first, you may be able to avoid some of the side effects associated with these drugs, such as drowsiness, loss of appetite, headaches, and dependency.
One alternative to pharmaceutical drugs is Brillia, a non-prescription homeopathic medication clinically proven to reduce symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, restlessness, impulsivity, and anxiety. Consisting of antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, Brillia addresses symptoms at their root cause and levels out the neurotransmitters that impact executive function and mood without affecting any other systems in the body or altering blood chemistry. Brillia will not affect the appetite, mask your personality, cause drowsiness, or interact with any other medications or supplements you are taking. Even more, the medication’s success is maximized by behavioral changes like following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness. Learn more about how this holistic plan works.
Please note: Brillia does not contain artiﬁcial colors or artificial ﬂavors and it is nut-free and gluten-free. However, the medication does contain lactose, which may not be suitable for those who cannot tolerate lactose enzymes. Keep in mind that lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk or dairy allergy. Some individuals use a lactose enzyme to control reactions, such as gas or stomach issues. You can always try Brillia first to see if there are any undesirable reactions, and if so, we offer full refunds for first-time buyers.
Find more tips on managing ADHD at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.
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