adhd-dietAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood mental conditions. Most symptoms generally occur before 7 years of age.

Symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. The condition can continue into adulthood – however adults exhibit a better ability to control impulsive responses.

Causes of ADHD

ADHD has no known cause – although many feel that it is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain caused either by environmental or genetic factors.

Some environmental factors include; toxin exposure during pregnancy, food additives and allergies, sugar, caffeine, and food coloring – however much of this is theory.

Too Much Sugar

There is considerable difference of opinion has to how refined sugar affects a child’s behavior. Many studies have found no evidence that refined sugar affects behavior of children.

Some feel that a typical celebration (such as a child’s birthday party) is linked to high sugar intake and therefore excitable behavior can be linked to the celebration.

Allergies, Additives, and Food Coloring

The Feingold diet was proposed in the 1970s and linked behavior with diet. However, once again, a number of scientists feel that there has not been enough objective research to concluded that additives are linked with ADHD.


Caffeine is a stimulant and it’s effect is different for different people. Some develop more of a tolerance for caffeine than others.

It is not advisable for a child to consume caffeinated drinks (such as Coke or Pepsi, or other “energy” drinks). Especially if a Caffeine Allergy is suspected.

Processed Foods

However, anecdotally, there is evidence that processed foods can be linked with hyperactive behavior.

As a parent you can try to remove as many high-sugar, and colored foods as possible. Juices should be diluted, and sodas, candy, and cookies should be avoided altogether.

Omega-3 and ADHD

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid (i.e. a form of polyunsaturated fat) found in certain fish, and in vegetable sources (such as flax, hemp, and walnuts). There has been a considerable body of research showing that omega-3 (or more specifically the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats) is essential for correct brain function.

There is even evidence showing that a pregnant mother who is low in omega-3 can affect the brain develop of the baby during the 3rd trimester.

Sources of Omega-3

  • 100g Salmon (provides 230mg omega-3)
  • 100g Sardines (provides 220mg omega-3)
  • 100g Herring (provides 160mg omega-3)
  • 100g Tuna (provides 160mg omega-3). The tuna must be fresh or frozen – as canned tuna usually has the oil drained (and is often replaced with omega-6 oils).

ADHD Children and Omega-3

If your child will not eat fish, try mixing in flaxseed oil into certain foods, or look for “enriched” products (such as milks or breads) that have omega-3 added.

Can Diet Make a Difference to ADHD?

Most current scientific research indicates that only a small percentage of children will respond to a diet free of additives. However don’t let this stop you from experimenting with dietary changes.

At the very minimum an ADHD child should be eating 2 fish meals per week.

See Also:

Feingold Diet – A comprehensive outline of Dr Ben Feingold’s program.
Healing ADD Diet

 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
  • Howard, A. L., Robinson, M., Smith, G. J., Ambrosini, G. L., Piek, J. P., & Oddy, W. H. (2011). ADHD is associated with a “Western” dietary pattern in adolescents. Journal of attention disorders, 15(5), 403-411. link
  • Schnoll, R., Burshteyn, D., & Cea-Aravena, J. (2003). Nutrition in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a neglected but important aspect. Applied Psychophysiology and biofeedback, 28(1), 63-75. link
  • Walker, L. R., Abraham, A. A., & Tercyak, K. P. (2010). Adolescent caffeine use, ADHD, and cigarette smoking. Children’s Health Care, 39(1), 73-90. link
  • Stevens, L. J., Kuczek, T., Burgess, J. R., Hurt, E., & Arnold, L. E. (2010). Dietary sensitivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five years of research. Clinical pediatrics, 0009922810384728. link

26 Comments or Reviews

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  1. Josie Diez

    I have been diagnosed with ADHD since i was about 9 or 10 years old. I believe that this diet is fake. I know many people that have ADD or ADHD and they are not on a diet. I believe that this diet is fake because many people that have been diagnosed with this disorder seem to be fine, with just their medicine and not a diet that can cause future health problems and risks.

  2. Nanette

    My son was diagnosed at age 4, tried medication but changed his personality completely so he was spaced out. After much research, instead tried behavioral therapy. Helped a bit, but worked the most with the change in diet. Turns out he had food allergies, not in the sense that he broke out in rashes or couldn’t breathe, but instead made him hyper. Now I try to remove all sugar and wheat from his diet and no preservatives such as red and yellow dyes. Basically a gluten free diet with minimal dairy. Supplemented with vitamins, namely Omega 3 and probiotics (to rid of all the toxins from the food he’s allergic to). It has been a God send, since now his therapist has rediagnosed his as having been cured of ADHD. I personally think it’s all about the diet and the vitamins. Forget the drugs and watch consumption instead. I am thrilled since I have my loving son back who is doing great in school. Good luck!

  3. Christie

    What should a adhd child eat and not eat ??? What is best for there diet. To me kids are kids and they are going to be hyper at times. Teachers mostly need to be the ones specially trained to deal with this behavior and support kids not punish them. We have lots of issues at school, but better positive teacher attitude helps the situation.

  4. shyamala

    Hi Anna,
    Have you tried Straterra? It is especially suitable for children who have not responded to stimulant meds and the bonus is that it also reduces anxiety in ADHD suffers. I would also give the elimination diet a go.

  5. anna

    my son was dignosed at 31/2 but we had symptoms at one yr old . He is 7 now and we are out of control with him . he has been on every stimulant and is now on anxiety meds too . they only last a short time. we are isolated to just our close family the rest of our friends and family dont want to be around him. Does anyone have advice? we are now working on a new diet to see if that helps.

  6. badfo

    What kind of stupid crap is it when a 2 year old gets diagnosed with ADHD?? They are all hyperactive at that age!! Seriously let’s drug all the kids with stimulants but we’ll keep marijuana illegal-makes sense!

  7. Krista

    Our son took two hours to do one page of homework with our help. He had trouble focusing in school and was getting in trouble for moving, talking and not paying attention. He had trouble completing any task before moving on to the next. We started this diet and his reading test went from 40/50% to getting 80/100% within the first week. His hand writting improved and so did his focus. The difference is amazing.

  8. samantha

    hi my daughter is 3 years old and she shows more than alot of signs of adhd her brother and her dad both have adhd but not as bad as she is she runs in front of buses and cars she has no sence of danger what so ever i am terrified to take her out of my house incase she seriously hurts herself she has broke all her reins and straps because she pulls that hard when we are out and she runs out on the roads 3 times a car has been inches away from her i am a nervous wreck when i have to take her out i have had to hide all my knives because she has been cutting the tops of her fingers she has tried to stab her big sister and she dosen’t listen well its not she dosen’t listen its more like she forgets seconds after being told so you have to keep repeating yourself she cant sit still for any length of time even when programs are on for her i haven’t took her to my doctor yet but my health visitor has seen her everytime she comes out to see my little girl she tries to hit her or nip her face she has done it with alot of people or she’ll start screaming or shouting for no reason at all i’m trying to find out some of the diets that work i dont believe on just throwing the kids on tablets i just want to try something its a shame she should’nt have to be confined to the house alot of the time if anyone can give me a few suggestions it would be mostly appreciated thanks

  9. Dani

    Has anyone ever heard of Attend? It’s a herbal supplement made to help with ADD/ADHD. I haven’t had my daughter (7 yrs old) tested yet but she shows some of the signs.

  10. Nrgbetty

    I am the mother of two. I tried the elimatation (Feingold has a good program.) I found that this helped along with the fact that my son needed glasses.The schools test children but it was not enough to pinpoint the problem. Find a therapeutic Optometrist. As parent/caretaker you must try to find every thing you can to help the child. Maybe the change in what is eaten and meds help some. All I know is that I found what worked for my children without haviung to take meds and it has help me identified why I also had some of the systoms. Become a label reader and/or get back into the kitchen for some great cooking. Find other Organizations/Support Groups for support.

  11. cayla

    im 16 and have been diagnosed with adhd at 2{i no i shouldnt have been dignosed at that age but it has withheld that i am adhd} and from exsperiance wheat can make an adhd kid act more “hyper”. i went on an elimination diet when i was 9 and didnt have anything of a certin thing for a week then at the end of the week had some and my mom observed my behaver{shes a lvn} uhmm im not sure about the caffien kus ive had major kidney problems and cant have much of it so i wouldnt no what to say there.. but im doing more reserch into this to see if it helps kus i have very bad impuls control… anyway what i was sayign was that u can go to ur alergie dr and talk to them about the elimination diet to see what makes it “act up” and what doesnt.

  12. sondra

    well im a single mom of a 7 year old and he has adhd. the diet has done wonders for us i do not belive a child should be put on meds at such a young age in life.

  13. una kearney

    I have experience of adhd,i agree that diet is a big part for “any growing child” particualarly children who are hyper active or sensitive to additives, with proper management and keeping the child stimulated,correct meds and dosage,as well as being consistent in daily routines,life can be fine,2 years is far to young to diagnose a child the child’s brain is only developing,ever hear of terrible twos.

  14. Mother of2

    You people shouldn’t be so fast to accept an ADHD diagnosis! Especially that ridiculous mother whom has had her son diagnosed supposedly by the age of 2yrs old?????? What doctor was this Dr.Stupid? He is too young to know for certain that it is ADHD and not something else.

  15. nicole burns

    im a single mum of 2 kids under the age of 3yrs old my eldest son is 2yrs 6months old hes just been diagnosed with adhd. im new to this id like to know where i can find out more about eating the right foods .

  16. Darkeyes78

    Well my nephew has severe ADHD, and yes i agree with HM
    it’s a wiring in the brain problem, however some foods do enhance some of the behavioural problems

    the worst for us are such things as citrus juice orange squash is a nightmare, coffee large amounts of high sugar content foods and anything brightly coloured

  17. HM

    This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard…and you fools fall for it??

    ADD and ADHD are caused by mis-wiring in the brain. Not sugar, not food. I will grant that food or additives or sugars may in fact enhance certain behaviors…these are NOT the cause of this disorder.

    Oh, I live with ADD and ADHD people and they have done a LOT of research about this….I’m 100% confident of what I’m saying!

    If you don’t like it….don’t reply.

  18. ns

    i have add.i dont want 22.
    what exactly i should’t eat

  19. elizabeth

    i have ADHD and it’s hard to live your life with but you if you keep trying you will get the hang of it yes people will make fun of you becouse you can’t stay words but you will get use to it.

  20. Star

    I have a 23 year old son who is ADHD. His diet is simple. Nothing processed, no white bread, pasta, rice or anything else made with white flour and no carrots or potatoes. Absolutely NO apples in any form.(there is a chemical in the apple that nuteralizes any medication and makes control extrerely difficult for those not on medication.)
    And suppliments of Calcium, Magnesium and Ginko aids with concentration.
    Any changes in his diet have an effect on him with in 6 hours.

  21. Tonia

    I have ADD and I know that with ADD and ADHD there is little that you can do. I had to be put on a med. in order to consintrate. I finaly learned to control myself and took myself off the medication. I have been off for 3 years and no diet helped. If it were not the fact that I hated the medication, wanting to go into the military, and no beeing able to eat I would probebly still be on it. My parents helped my through school and work on slowy wening my of the medication. I was also woried that once I was older I would not beable to get a job if my emplorer knew that I was on a medication. So if you think it is a diet that can help. You and your family can help and the right doctor. So if you have eny doughts contact your family doctor and ack him/her what can be done because I was never on a diet to help me. I a want to go on a diet so I can loose weight. A diet is for those that want to loose weight, diebedes, and serten disorders. NOT for ADD/ADHD.

  22. Donna

    very important drink Kangen water daily, it has helped my child, big improvement and I will not serve food with additives or preservatives very sensitive. I have to buy all my food now from health food stores and did lots of research.

  23. Hope this helps

    We have a 7yo ADHD child, doing an elimination diet did wonders, found out that milk, eggs and 282 are triggers. Its not always the preservatives, some kids are just really sensitive to some things. It isn’t the lactose in the milk either, we think its the caseine. Hope this helps someone else.

  24. Aimee

    this is very general… if you have clicked on this page then you obviously are dealing or know someone who is dealing with a child with this problem.. i suffered as a child from it as does my son.. if you need info you need to buy E- is for additives it is a fantastic ref book…

  25. clj

    this did not give enough specific information on which additives or other food ingrediants affect these children

  26. JIm

    This was worthless.

Last Reviewed: March 28, 2021