ADHD Diet For Adults: Foods to Eat and Avoid – ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association

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There are no official dietary guidelines or recommendations for adults with ADHD. So, the best ADHD diet is the one that doctors recommend for many others to maintain ideal health, nutrition, and well-being.

A good ADHD diet is well-balanced, with a generous portion of fruits and vegetables paired with whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins. This diet ensures your nutritional needs are met and helps keep your mind and body in their best state.

Keep in mind that research is ongoing in relation to ADHD and diet. Current studies show that various nutrients can help improve your ADHD symptoms. Conversely, a lack of certain nutrients may worsen your symptoms and affect your ability to manage them effectively.

Of course, a good diet shouldn’t be your only priority. If you’d like to learn about other healthy ADHD habits, check out ADDA’s resource hub for adults with ADHD.

Continue reading to find out what foods to include and what foods to avoid in an ADHD diet for adults.

What Should an ADHD Diet Include?

To experience the best benefits, an optimal ADHD diet consists of the following:

Fruits and Vegetables

Some research suggests that the symptoms of inattention associated with ADHD may improve with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.[1]

According to the CDC, adults should have at least 1.5 to 2 cups of fruits and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.[2]

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are found in many foods, including:

  • Fruits like apples, kiwis, and berries
  • Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, barley, and whole-wheat bread or pasta
  • Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils

These types of complex carbohydrates are less likely to spike your blood sugar levels and help keep you feeling fuller for longer, which may help improve your focus and attention.

By avoiding simple carbohydrates, like sugar and white flour, you may reduce specific ADHD symptoms.

Protein-rich Foods

Protein-rich foods include eggs, lean meat, milk, cheese, nuts, soy, and low-fat yogurt. These foods can help maintain a feeling of fullness and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels.

Some research also found that having a protein-rich breakfast can help enhance mood, attention, and alertness.[3]

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, may help support your heart health, memory, and immune function.

Foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Fatty fish – such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Soybean
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Tofu
  • Chia seeds
  • Avocados

Some research also suggests that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may help improve hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention symptoms in ADHD.[4]

Foods You Should Avoid with ADHD

In general, limiting the intake of foods high in sugar, unhealthy (saturated) fats, and simple carbohydrates is best.

Let’s explore this further below.

Sugary Foods

Currently, the association between sugar consumption and ADHD symptoms is still a controversial topic. While some studies note no correlation, other research suggests that high sugar consumption is linked to inattention and impulsivity in adults.[5]

However, too much sugar can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) generally recommends a limit of 2 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar per day for adults.[6]

Simple Carbohydrates

Not all foods containing simple carbs are bad — it depends on the source. For example, fruits are a source of simple carbs, but they’re important to include in your diet.

The simple carbs to limit in your diet include high-sugar foods, such as:

  • Soda or carbonated beverages
  • Candies and sweets
  • Cakes and cookies
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Kid’s breakfast cereals
  • Processed foods, such as granola bars and potato chips

Unhealthy Fats

A high-fat diet may be associated with symptoms of inattention in ADHD.[1] Additionally, overconsumption of unhealthy saturated fats may increase your risk of heart conditions and memory problems.[7]

Sources of fat that are best avoided include fried foods, processed meat, butter, high-fat dairy products, and heavy cream.

Caffeine

Caffeine affects everyone differently. Some adults with ADHD may have to limit their caffeine consumption, as it may bring about side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, irritability, stomach discomfort, and anxiety.

Your risk of experiencing these side effects may also increase if you take stimulant medications for your ADHD.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or experiencing anxiety and nausea, it may be best to cut down or avoid caffeine altogether.

Vitamins and Minerals for Your ADHD Diet

Nutritional supplements, vitamins, and minerals are unnecessary if you have a balanced diet.

beetroot and apple smoothie

However, it can be difficult to make sudden changes to your diet or consistently stick to a healthy one, even more so if you’re trying to cope with symptoms of ADHD.

If so, you can consult your healthcare professional to find out if the following supplements may be helpful for you.

Iron

Some research shows that iron supplements may improve symptoms of ADHD, though more studies are needed to confirm these findings in adults.[8]

Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. In this case, iron supplements may help reduce such symptoms.

The benefit of iron supplementation in the absence of a deficiency has not been established.

Zinc

Zinc is an important mineral that helps regulate the normal pathways of chemical messengers in your brain. Zinc supplements may be helpful if you have a known zinc deficiency.

Beyond a deficiency, zinc supplementation has no known benefits for those with ADHD.[8]

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help with improving symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity, inattention, restlessness, and impulsiveness.[4]

Omega-3 fatty acids may also aid in maintaining the optimal transmission of chemical messengers in the brain and reducing oxidative stress, which is shown to be increased in ADHD.[8]

Omega-3 supplements should not replace your usual ADHD medications.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements may help tackle symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity in people with ADHD.[9]

Vitamin D deficiency is a prevalent global problem affecting around 40% of U.S. adults. Vitamin D supplements ensure you get enough each day, which helps enhance your muscle, teeth, and bone health.

Magnesium

Some research has found that people with ADHD tend to have lower levels of magnesium in the body compared to those who don’t have ADHD.

Therefore, magnesium supplementation may help improve symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in those with a magnesium deficiency.[10]

Magnesium may also help with symptoms of insomnia and anxiety, both of which may present in ADHD.[11] 

An ADHD Diet Is a Healthy Diet

Because there is no definitive ADHD diet, adopting healthy eating habits is the best way to elevate your mental and physical wellness.

family cooking healthy dinner

Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins while limiting sugar, refined carbs, and saturated fats.

Of course, you should consult your healthcare professional before you make any drastic changes to your diet. And it’s essential to remember that small and consistent changes are more likely to be sustainable and helpful in the long run.

By taking care of your body’s nutritional needs, you set your brain and mind up for success!

If you’d like support on your journey of healthy living with ADHD, check out ADDA’s virtual support groups or professional directory.

References

[1] Li, L., Taylor, M. J., Bälter, K., Kuja-Halkola, R., Chen, Q., Hegvik, T. A., Tate, A. E., Chang, Z., Arias-Vásquez, A., Hartman, C. A., & Larsson, H. (2020). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and dietary habits in adulthood: A large population-based twin study in Sweden. American journal of medical genetics. Part B, Neuropsychiatric genetics: the official publication of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics, 183(8), 475–485. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajmg.b.32825

[2] CDC Newsroom. (2016, January 1). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1116-fruit-vegetable-consumption.html

[3] Zeng, Y. C., Li, S. M., Xiong, G. L., Su, H. M., & Wan, J. C. (2011). Influences of protein to energy ratios in breakfast on mood, alertness and attention in the healthy undergraduate students. Health, 03(06), 383–393. https://doi.org/10.4236/health.2011.36065

[4] Derbyshire E. (2017). Do Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids Have a Therapeutic Role in Children and Young People with ADHD? Journal of lipids, 2017, 6285218. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/6285218

[5] Beecher, K., Alvarez Cooper, I., Wang, J., Walters, S. B., Chehrehasa, F., Bartlett, S. E., & Belmer, A. (2021). Long-Term Overconsumption of Sugar Starting at Adolescence Produces Persistent Hyperactivity and Neurocognitive Deficits in Adulthood. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2021.670430

[6] Sugar. (n.d.). Natural, Added, Health Risks, Cutting Intake, Substitutes | Healthdirect. Retrieved 31 October 2022, from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sugar

[7] Gibson, E. L., Barr, S., & Jeanes, Y. M. (2013). Habitual fat intake predicts memory function in younger women. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00838

[8] Bloch, M. H., & Mulqueen, J. (2014). Nutritional supplements for the treatment of ADHD. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 23(4), 883–897. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2014.05.002

[9] Gan, J., Galer, P., Ma, D., Chen, C., & Xiong, T. (2019). The Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of child and adolescent psychopharmacology, 29(9), 670–687. https://doi.org/10.1089/cap.2019.0059

[10] Effatpanah, M., Rezaei, M., Effatpanah, H., Effatpanah, Z., Varkaneh, H. K., Mousavi, S. M., Fatahi, S., Rinaldi, G., & Hashemi, R. (2019). Magnesium status and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analysis. Psychiatry research, 274, 228–234. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.02.043

[11] Zhang, Y., Chen, C., Lu, L., Knutson, K. L., Carnethon, M. R., Fly, A. D., Luo, J., Haas, D. M., Shikany, J. M., & Kahe, K. (2022). Association of magnesium intake with sleep duration and sleep quality: findings from the CARDIA study. Sleep, 45(4), zsab276. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsab276

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