The Influence of Diet and Nutrition on ADHD Symptoms

by | Feb 8, 2023 | ADHD, Nutrition, Well-being | 0 comments

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD, affects 9.4% of children and 4.4% of adults in the United States. The rates of this disorder often decrease with age. Even so, the impact of ADHD on adults tends to be more severe as it inhibits the ability to successfully complete daily activities, including work. 

Fortunately, with intervention techniques, ADHD symptoms have the ability to be controlled. Although prescription medication is often the go-to choice to cope with these symptoms, there is a powerful and vital intervention that is drastically underutilized, which is nutrition. 

Proper nutrition and diet have the ability to minimize the severity of ADHD symptoms and improve the overall quality of life in those affected. Specifically, a diet composed of nutrient-dense, whole foods and avoidance of inflammatory, processed food is a research-based method to achieve these potentially life-changing results.

How Does Diet Impact The Brain and Body

What goes into the body directly impacts its overall ability to function. In essence, food is a source of information for both the brain and body systems. When highly processed or inflammatory foods are consumed, it directly affects the gut bacteria that comprise our microbiome. The microbiome is responsible for immunity, digestion, serotonin production, and drug metabolism. 

Especially when ADHD medication is utilized, it is increasingly important to consume nutritious food so that the medicine is properly metabolized and utilized in the proper way within the body. Certain food allergies can also impact the severity of symptoms. Because of this, it is recommended to try an elimination diet to identify which foods may be having adverse effects on the body. Speaking to a doctor about how to begin this diet is an ideal place to start. Aside from the elimination diet, there are also specific foods and vitamins to both include and avoid to lower the impact of ADHD symptoms for both children and adults.

What To Include
  • Fruits and Vegetables: A diet rich in both fruits and vegetables has been positively associated with improved attention and focus in those affected by ADHD. This is due, in part, to gut microbiome health. Consumption of a diverse array of plants improves gut bacteria and allows for a wide range of healthy strains of bacteria. As a result, the body is overall healthier and more capable of increasing memory, focus, and attention. Similarly, those that consume more fruits and vegetables are most often consuming less processed food as a result. These factors work together to promote a healthier and higher-functioning brain.
  • Omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have therapeutic abilities for those with ADHD. In fact, it is currently being studied as a potential alternative to prescription medication for the disorder. Improvements in areas such as hyperactivity, memory, and impulsivity were recorded during a recent study. In addition, adding foods rich in Omega-3 can have a positive impact on symptoms, and current studies are researching the potential they may have on decreasing the development of the disorder in young children. Some foods that contain high levels of this fatty acid are fish, nuts and seeds, plant-based oils, and eggs.
  • Protein: The benefits of protein are incredible and directly impact ADHD symptoms in both children and adults. Protein has the ability to boost brain activity and increase the number of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Increased dopamine is linked to an increased ability to focus, improved memory, and increased levels of motivation. In this way, protein consumption helps counteract some of the most prevalent and severe symptoms of ADHD. Deficiencies in protein have been linked to not only ADHD but also anxiety, depression, and autism. This demonstrates the vital importance of protein in a healthy diet for proper brain function.
  • Fiber: The inclusion of high amounts of fiber in a daily diet is linked to decreased ADHD symptoms partially because of blood sugar-stabilizing abilities. Fiber is found in foods like fruits and vegetables, which are also significant contributors to lowered symptom severity. Another positive benefit of consuming fiber is the promotion of various strains of gut bacteria. Consuming foods like whole grains, beans, berries, and lentils all have demonstrated powerful abilities to improve the daily functions of those suffering from ADHD. Starting the day off with a high-fiber, high-protein meal is beneficial for a high-functioning, focused day.
  • Caffeine: For adults with ADHD, caffeine has been shown to have positive benefits in regard to the ability to focus. This may seem counterintuitive as caffeine is typically used for acquiring energy, but in those suffering from this disorder, it has an effect comparable to ADHD-specific medicine like Adderall. Specifically, the consumption of caffeinated beverages improved cognitive abilities such as working memory, attention, and alertness. Energy drinks, coffee, and green tea are three beverages that have been shown to have positive associations with ADHD sufferers. Little is known as to why it seems to have such a positive impact on those diagnosed, but it is proven to be an intervention method worth exploring.
What To Avoid
  • Refined Sugar: Even in those not affected by ADHD, refined sugar has the ability to cause hyperactivity due to significant blood sugar spikes. Because of this, it is incredibly important to avoid it when dealing with the true symptoms of the disorder. Natural sugars from fruit tend to have a far less dramatic effect, making them safe to consume. Processed cereals, granola bars, fruit juice from concentrate, and candy are some examples of sugar sources to avoid entirely when possible. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of daily calories consumed come from refined sugars. This statistic is applicable to both children and adults and is not specific to ADHD. For this reason, it is even more important to keep simple sugar intake low when attempting to decrease symptom severity.
  • Alcohol: Though this is only applicable to adults, it is important to avoid alcohol when dealing with moderate or severe ADHD symptoms. Alcohol actually exacerbates certain signs of the disorder, such as the impaired cognitive ability. The brain’s frontal lobe is drastically affected by alcohol consumption and ADHD. Those with the disorder do not often achieve the calming or stress-relief effect that is often desired when drinking alcohol, and it actually appears to have the opposite effect. Alcohol also increases levels of impulsivity, which is one of the more severe symptoms associated with ADHD. Because of this, it is best to avoid alcohol as often as possible.
  • Preservatives: Studies have discovered a link between preservatives, artificial food coloring, and other unhealthy additives in regard to ADHD. Although it has not been shown to contribute to the development of the disorder, it has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms dramatically. Increased hyperactivity, decreased focus, and erratic behavior are some of the recorded effects. Therefore, avoiding processed food, in general, is the best way to ensure that these additives are not consumed.
Elimination Diet

Remaining cognizant of nutrition is one of the most powerful ways to minimize ADHD symptoms in both children and adults. Although there are helpful guidelines on specific diets for those with ADHD, one way to be sure of how the individual body responds to foods is by using an elimination diet. 

The inclusion of foods rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein can drastically improve the ability to function in both children and adults with ADHD. Similarly, avoiding alcohol, preservatives, and refined sugar can alleviate the prevalence of the most challenging symptoms associated with the disorder. These tools provide a guideline for the improvement of symptoms that can cause disruption to daily life and can positively impact focus, motivation, and overall behavior.


Therapy Can Help!

If you are struggling with ADHD or other mental health or substance abuse issues, therapy can help.  To learn more about the services at MHThive, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit our website at  You can also access more intensive treatment services at New Dimensions at


Keywords: ADHD; ADHD and nutrition; Nutrition impact on ADHD; Diet for ADHD; Gut health for ADHD


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