The Impact of Diet on ADHD in Children

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects many children worldwide and presents significant challenges for children and their families. While medication and therapy are often the first lines of treatment, growing evidence suggests that dietary choices can also play a significant role in managing symptoms. As parents and caregivers navigate the complexities of ADHD, it’s important to understand how certain foods and nutritional strategies can help support a child’s overall well-being.

Understanding ADHD in Children

ADHD is characterized by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interfere with functioning or development. These behaviors go beyond typical childhood energy and curiosity, affecting the child’s performance at school and their relationships. According to the CDC, ADHD affects approximately 6.1 million children in the United States alone.

The Connection Between Diet and ADHD

The exact cause of ADHD remains unknown, but research indicates that genetics, brain structure, and environmental factors may contribute. Among these factors, diet has emerged as a potential area for intervention. Nutritional science acknowledges that what we eat impacts our brain function, and this is particularly poignant for children with ADHD. While no single food can cure ADHD, a well-designed ADHD-friendly diet may contribute to better overall brain function and symptom management. Here, we explore the components of such a diet and its impact on children with ADHD.

Key Dietary Considerations for Children with ADHD

Elimination Diets and ADHD

The concept of an elimination diet involves removing certain foods known to commonly cause sensitivities or allergies, then reintroducing them one at a time to observe potential changes in behavior. Foods often targeted for elimination include:

  • Artificial colors and preservatives
  • Allergens such as nuts, dairy, and gluten

Research on the efficacy of elimination diets for ADHD is mixed, but some studies suggest that a subset of children may benefit from these interventions.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, are vital for brain health. Found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, these nutrients have been linked to improved cognitive function and reduced symptoms in some children with ADHD.

Protein-Rich Foods

Protein is crucial for the production of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, which is often dysregulated in individuals with ADHD. Incorporating lean meats, eggs, beans, and nuts into meals can provide a steady source of protein.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide a steady supply of glucose, the brain’s primary energy source. They also help avoid the spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels that can exacerbate ADHD symptoms.


Certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, and magnesium, are important for cognitive function and may be lower in children with ADHD. A balanced diet with a variety of whole foods can help ensure adequate intake of these micronutrients.

Implementing an ADHD Diet for Kids

Building a Balanced Meal Plan

Creating a balanced meal plan with whole foods at its core is essential. Incorporating ADHD-friendly recipes that are rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains can make the diet enjoyable and nutritious for children.

The Importance of Regular Meal Times

Consistent meal and snack schedules help maintain stable blood sugar levels, which can reduce mood swings and improve attention spans in children with ADHD.

Recognizing Food Sensitivities

Identifying and avoiding foods that a child is sensitive to can be pivotal in managing ADHD symptoms. This requires careful observation and sometimes working with a healthcare provider.

Encouraging Healthy Snacking

Healthy snacking can prevent hunger-induced spikes in hyperactivity. Nutrient-rich snacks like fruits, nuts, and whole grain products are excellent options.

Struggling with picky eaters? Here are some tips to help you deal with fussy mealtimes!

The CircleDNA Approach to an ADHD Diet

CircleDNA offers comprehensive genetic testing that provides personalized insights into a child’s unique nutritional needs and potential food sensitivities. This information can be leveraged to tailor an ADHD diet specifically for your child, with a focus on maximizing their cognitive and physical health.

Personalized Nutrition

With CircleDNA’s detailed reports, parents can understand which nutrients are particularly beneficial for their child and what to include in their ADHD diet for optimal results.

Genetic Testing for Food Sensitivities

CircleDNA tests can reveal genetic predispositions to certain food sensitivities, allowing parents to proactively adjust their child’s diet to minimize ADHD symptoms.


While there is no silver bullet for ADHD, incorporating a strategic ADHD diet for kids can play a supportive role in managing the condition. With the insights provided by CircleDNA, parents have the opportunity to personalize their child’s diet to their genetic needs, potentially reducing the severity of ADHD symptoms and enhancing their child’s quality of life.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “Data and Statistics About ADHD.”
  • Millichap, J. G., & Yee, M. M. (2012). “The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Pediatrics, 129(2), 330-337. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2199
  • Stevenson, J., Buitelaar, J., Cortese, S., et al. (2014). “Research review: The role of diet in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – an appraisal of the evidence on efficacy and recommendations on the design of future studies.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55(5), 416-427. DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12215
  • Hawkey, E., & Nigg, J. T. (2014). “Omega‐3 fatty acid and ADHD: Blood level analysis and meta‐analytic extension of supplementation trials.” Clinical Psychology Review, 34(6), 496# Nourishing the Mind: ADHD Diet Strategies for Children
  • Pelsser, L. M., Frankena, K., Toorman, J., Savelkoul, H. F., Pereira, R. R., & Buitelaar, J. K. (2017). “Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial.” The Lancet, 377(9764), 494-503. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62227-1
  • Sonuga-Barke, E. J., Brandeis, D., Cortese, S., Daley, D., Ferrin, M., Holtmann, M., … & Sergeant, J. (2013). “Nonpharmacological interventions for ADHD: Systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials of dietary and psychological treatments.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(3), 275-289. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12070991
  • Richardson, A. J., & Puri, B. K. (2002). “A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effects of supplementation with highly unsaturated fatty acids on ADHD-related symptoms in children with specific learning difficulties.” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 26(2), 233-239. DOI: 10.1016/S0278-5846(01)00254-8
  • Schwarzenberg, S. J., & Sinaiko, A. R. (2018). “Obesity and inflammation in children.” Pediatrics in Review, 39(10), 500-506. DOI: 10.1542/pir.2017-0103
  • Millichap, J. G., & Yee, M. M. (2012). “The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Pediatrics, 129(2), 330-337. DOI: 10.1542
  • Arnold, L. E., DiSilvestro, R. A. (2005). “Zinc in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 15(4), 619-627. DOI: 10.1089/cap.2005.15.619
  • Rucklidge, J. J., Johnstone, J., Harrison, R., & Boggis, A. (2011). “Micronutrients reduce stress and anxiety in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder following a 7.7 earthquake.” Psychiatry Research, 189(2), 281-287. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2011.06.016
  • Millichap, J. G., & Yee, M. M# Nourishing the Brain: A Dietary Guide for Managing ADHD in Children
  • Pelsser, L. M., Frankena, K., Toorman, J., & Rodrigues Pereira, R. (2017). Diet and ADHD, Reviewing the Evidence: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses of Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials Evaluating the Efficacy of Diet Interventions on the Behavior of Children with ADHD. PLoS ONE, 12(1), e0169277.

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