Important Nutrients for ADHD and ADD

two kids eating chicken and salad

According to data from the CDC, “the estimated number of children aged 3–17 years ever diagnosed with ADHD, according to a national survey of parents,1 is 6 million (9.8%) using data from 2016-2019. Learn more about the nutrients that are important to eat (and not eat) if you have ADHD.  

Top Foods for ADHD 

Additive-free, Unprocessed Foods

Due to the toxic nature of food additives, it is best to eat unprocessed, whole foods. Additives including artificial sweeteners, preservatives and colorings that exist within processed foods may be especially problematic for those with ADD/ADHD. 

Foods High in B-Vitamins

B vitamins help maintain a healthy nervous system. Make sure to include organic wild animal products and lots of green leafy vegetables in your diet. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Vitamin B-6 is needed for the body to make and use essential brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine! (8) Incorporate wild tuna, bananas, wild salmon, grass-fed beef and other foods rich in vitamin B-6 for the improvement of ADHD. 

Poultry

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body to synthesize proteins and aid in the production of serotonin. Serotonin plays significant roles in sleep, inflammation, emotional moods and much more. (9) Serotonin is related to impulse control and aggression, two of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. (10

Eat Breakfast

 For some people, and especially those with ADHD, breakfast helps the body properly regulate blood sugar and stabilize hormone fluctuations. Eat a breakfast that contains at least 20 grams of protein.  

Wild-Caught Salmon

Not only is it rich with vitamin B-6, it’s also packed with omega 3 fatty acids. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a clinical trial indicated that lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids had more learning and behavioral problems (like those associated with ADHD) than boys with normal levels of omega 3s. (11) Individuals, including children, should consume wild salmon at least twice per week. 

ADHD Foods to Avoid 

Sugar

This is the primary trigger for most children, and some adults with ADHD. Avoid any forms of concentrated sugar including candy, desserts, soda or fruit juices. 

Gluten

Some researchers and parents report worsening behavior when their child eats gluten, which may indicate sensitivity to the protein found in wheat. Avoid all foods made with wheat such as bread, pasta and wheat cereal.  Look for gluten-free or even grain-free alternatives. 

Conventional Dairy

Most cow milk dairy contains A1 casein that can trigger a similar reaction as gluten and therefore should be eliminated. If problematic symptoms arise after eating dairy, discontinue use. Goat’s milk, however, does not contain the protein and is a better option for many individuals with ADD/ADHD. 

Food Coloring and Dyes

Children with ADHD can be sensitive to a variety of food dyes and colorings, therefore all processed foods should be avoided. Coloring and dyes appear in nearly every commercially processed food. Food dyes can be found in sports drinks, candy, cake mixes, chewable vitamins and even toothpaste! 

Caffeine

While some studies have shown that caffeine may help with some ADHD symptoms, it is wise to minimize or avoid caffeine, as these studies have not been validated. In addition, the side effects of caffeine, including loss of loss, anxiety, and nervousness, can contribute to the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.  

MSG and HVP

These two additives are believed to decrease dopamine levels in both children and adults. Dopamine is associated with the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. For individuals suffering with ADD/ADHD, balanced levels of dopamine are essential. 

Nitrites

Commonly found in lunchmeat, canned foods and many processed foods, nitrites are linked to an increase of childhood type 1 diabetes, certain types of cancer and IBS. In addition, it can cause rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing and restlessness that worsen ADHD symptoms. 

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are just bad for your health, but for those living with ADHD, the side effects can be devastating. Artificial sweeteners create biochemical changes in the body, some of which can harm cognitive function and emotional balance. 

Soy

Soy is a common food allergen and can disrupt hormones that cause ADHD. 

Personal Food Sensitivities/Allergens

Eliminate the top seven allergens, including soy, wheat and conventional dairy mentioned above, as well as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and shellfish. In addition, eliminate any foods or beverages that are personal allergens. This might include papaya, avocados, bananas and kiwis (for those with latex allergies) and/or coriander, caraway or fennel (all from the same family) and/or chocolate. 

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