You are here:

The ADHD Diet: What Works, What Doesn’t



  1. Some studies have shown that diet changes can help children with ADHD manage their symptoms.
  2. Diets that are designed to help children with ADHD can be very restrictive and difficult to follow.
  3. Many medical experts are still skeptical about the effectiveness of ADHD diets.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a
condition that affects a person’s ability to concentrate and makes them easily
distracted, impulsive, or excessively energetic. There are medical treatments
available for ADHD, but another approach is to try to control symptoms through
at-home means, such as your diet.

In the 1970s, Dr. Benjamin Feingold, the Chief Emeritus of
the Department of Allergy at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital and Permanente
Medical Group, began advising his patients to make changes in their diets. Dr.
Feingold reported these dietary changes caused noticeable reduction in symptoms
of asthma, hives, and even behavioral problems.

Dr. Feingold’s diet, and variations on it, have since been
researched and used by parents hoping to help their children improve ADHD
symptoms. Research hasn’t conclusively determined the diet helps everyone with
ADHD, but it has been shown to help some people with the condition.

How Does One Follow the ADHD

ADHD diet involves avoiding certain foods believed to contribute to
hyperactivity. They include:

  • artificial colorings,
    such as red 40 and yellow 5
  • artificial flavorings,
    such as synthetic vanilla
  • artificial sweeteners,
    such as:

    • aspartame
    • saccharin
    • sucralose
  • chemicals naturally
    found in some foods, such as salicylates found in:

    • apricots
    • berries
    • tomatoes
  • preservatives,
    such as:

    • butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
    • butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
    • tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)

Foods that Dr. Feingold recommended
eliminating on his recommended ADHD diet include:

  • almonds
  • apples
  • apricots
  • berries
  • cherries
  • cloves
  • coffee
  • cucumbers and
  • currants
  • grapes
  • mint flavoring
  • nectarines
  • oranges
  • peaches
  • peppers
  • plums
  • prunes
  • tangerines
  • tea
  • tomatoes

Though not a complete list, here
are some of the foods that are recommended on the Feingold Diet:

  • bananas
  • beans
  • bean sprouts
  • beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • cantaloupe
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • dates
  • grapefruit
  • honeydew
  • kale
  • kiwi
  • lemons
  • lentils
  • lettuce
  • mangoes
  • mushrooms
  • onion
  • papaya
  • pears
  • peas
  • pineapple
  • potatoes
  • spinach
  • squash
  • sweet corn
  • sweet potato
  • watermelon
  • zucchini

The Feingold Diet is not the only
diet parents may try for children with ADHD. Other examples of diets include:

Ketogenic Diet

This is a high-fat,
low-carbohydrate diet that has been studied for its use in treating epilepsy. Children
with epilepsy often display symptoms of ADHD, and the ketogenic diet has been shown in a study published in the journal Pediatrics to help
control seizures and improve behavior.

Oligoantigenic (Hypoallergenic or Elimination) Diet

This diet focuses on elimination foods known to cause
allergic reactions, such as:

  • cow’s milk
  • cheese
  • wheat cereal
  • eggs
  • chocolate
  • nuts
  • citrus fruits

The diet also emphasizes foods
known not to cause allergic reactions, such as:

  • lamb
  • potatoes
  • tapioca
  • carrots
  • peas
  • pears

The Pediatrics
journal study showed mixed results in proving this diet to be beneficial.

Nutrient-Specific Diets

Other diets you may utilize in an
attempt to reduce ADHD symptoms include those that boost a particular nutrient,
such as:

  • zinc
  • iron
  • fish oil

What Research Supports Following
an ADHD Diet?

study published in the Lancet
Journal reported observing children with ADHD as they followed the
restricted elimination diet for five weeks. The study found that ADHD symptoms
improved during the elimination phase of the diet. However, ADHD symptoms
returned when foods were reintroduced into the diet.

There have been many studies on the affects of food color
additives. However, the studies show mixed results. More research is needed to
link food color additives to ADHD symptoms.

What Research Does Not
Support Following an ADHD Diet?

Many doctors are skeptical about
putting children on strict diets. The Harvard
Mental Health Letter says that it is impossible to tell which children
will benefit from these diets.

The Mayo
Clinic warns that restrictive diets can make it difficult for
children to get all of the nutrients that they need.

It’s also important to remember
that food is a large part of social situations. Asking your child to follow a
restrictive diet can cause them to feel left out. Most of the foods that aren’t
allowed by the suggested diets are easily available at school and at friends’
houses. This can make it difficult to get your child to follow the diet.

What Is the Outlook for Those
Wishing to Eat a Special Diet for ADHD?

The ideal diet for both children
and adults is a diet that consists of:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • lean proteins
  • unsaturated fats

You should avoid:

  • fast food
  • trans fats
  • saturated fats
  • refined carbohydrates

This diet
helps children avoid artificial flavorings and colorings, and it also helps
them maintain a healthy weight and get enough nutrients.

Posted by: Dr.Health

Back to Top