ADHD and diet

From a dietary point of view, the best approach to managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is to follow a healthy, balanced eating plan.

  • Enjoy a variety of foods.  
  • Make high-fibre, starchy foods (e.g. whole-wheat bread, brown rice, butternut, sweet potatoes) part of most meals.
  • Eat fish, chicken (without the skin), lean meat (e.g. steak with fat trimmed, lean mince, ostrich) or eggs daily.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day.
  • Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly.
  • Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day.
  • Use salt and foods high in salt sparingly.  
  • Eat fats sparingly and choose vegetable oils (e.g. avocado, olive oil) rather than hard fats.
  • Use foods and drinks containing sugar sparingly, and not between meals.
  • Drink lots of clean, safe water.

While it’s been suggested that certain colorants and preservatives in food, as well as refined sugar, may have a negative effect on children with ADHD, there hasn’t been sufficient evidence from scientific studies to prove that this is indeed the case. Food colorants may play a role in certain individuals and make their symptoms worse.

In these cases, it may be prudent to avoid foods that contain these substances. Research on sugar and preservatives have not really identified any direct link.

When it comes to managing a child with ADHD, it’s important to stick to regular mealtimes and to provide small portions of healthy, wholesome snacks in between meals. Also make sure there aren’t any distractions during mealtimes: turn of the TV and the radio, and sit together as a family to eat.

Talk to a dietician about possible nutrient deficiencies in your child’s diet, and work out a plan on how to rectify this. Supplementing your child’s diet with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, zinc, iron and/or magnesium may be beneficial.

Reviewed by Prof André Venter, Head: Clinical Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State. MB ChB, MMed, PhD (Canada), DCH, FCP (Paed) SA. July 2018.

Read more:

Can fish oils help boys with ADHD concentrate better?

Could the Banting diet help for ADHD?

ADHD linked to binge eating disorder in kids

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