How Healthy Diets Impact ADHD

All children benefit from a well balanced, healthy diet, however, it may be even more important for your child diagnosed with ADHD.  

A recent study showed that kids who eat a diet high in processed meats, red meats, refined carbohydrates, high-fat foods and foods high in sugar are more likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD. Kids who eat a healthy diet that is abundant in fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat dairy are less likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD. Sugar, alone, does not affect behavior or cognition in children with or without ADHD.

Some research indicates that children with ADHD are more likely to be deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids, Magnesium, Iron, Vitamin D, and Zinc.  Focus on including quality sources of these nutrients in your child’s diet.

Iron:  Iron is most easily absorbed when it comes from an animal.  Liver, lean red meat, shellfish, fish, chicken, and turkey are all good sources.  Plant sources of iron include lentils, legumes/beans such as kidney beans, fortified cereal, pumpkin seeds, spinach, broccoli, dried fruit, whole grains, and tofu.

Zinc:  Zinc is also most easily absorbed when it comes from an animal.   Fish, shellfish, chicken, turkey, lean red meat, and dairy products provide zinc.    Plant sources include whole grains, legumes/beans such as pinto beans, lentils, fortified breakfast cereal sunflower seeds, and nuts.

Magnesium:  Foods high in magnesium are nuts, green leafy vegetables, edamame, soy milk, lentils and legumes such as black beans, and whole grains.

Omega 3  Fatty Acids: Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, lake trout are excellent sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.*   Plant sources are flax seed, chia seed, walnut, flaxseed oil, canola oil – these are not used as efficiently in the body.

Vitamin D:  Very few foods in nature are high in Vitamin D.  Fatty fish such as those mentioned under Omega 3 Fatty Acids are the best source.  There is a minimal amount of Vitamin D in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and mushrooms.  As a result, several foods are fortified to help meet needs.  Milk is fortified; however other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt most often are not.  Ready to eat cereal and some orange juices can also be fortified.

*avoid shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel as higher in mercury; choose light tuna vs. albacore tuna; see fda.gov for additional guidance

Breakfast is especially important when taking medication for ADHD in the morning.   Include lean protein with breakfast on a daily basis.  Limit foods high in fat and Vitamin C at breakfast as these foods can affect the absorption of the medication.