ADHD Diet For Kids: Foods To Eat & Avoid 2023
Many parents today have turned to diet as an extra measure to manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, is there any evidence to support a special diet as a remedy for ADHD?
A balanced diet is essential at any age, but it is especially important for children with ADHD. Although diet is not an ADHD treatment, foods associated with specific brain functions may help manage ADHD symptoms.
Proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, fats, sugars, and dairy foods must all be included in a balanced ADHD diet for kids. Children may also need to supplement with vitamins and minerals and stay hydrated.
Diet can be an effective way to manage ADHD symptoms in the following ways.
Best Foods For ADHD
A balanced ADHD diet for kids should include the following:
- Vegetables and fruits.
- Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Minerals and vitamins.
- Milk and dairy products.
- Healthy snacks.
- Lots of fluids.
The Link Between Diet And ADHD
ADHD is a childhood neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 7% of children and adolescents worldwide. Attention deficit and hyperactivity are the most prevalent ADHD symptoms. They can last into adulthood and impact the victim’s academic performance, self-esteem, and social life.
Many parents and caregivers actively seek professional advice on the connections between ADHD and food to reduce the reliance on costly treatments.
While diet has not yet been proven to cause or offer a cure for ADHD, it can influence your child’s behavior. Feeding kids with ADHD a nutritious diet promotes proper development and behavior. And more recent studies have shown associations between diet and ADHD symptom development, particularly for saturated fats and refined sugar.
A healthy diet for ADHD kids should include lean proteins, fresh and canned fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy or dairy alternatives, and healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil and zinc supplements are also highly recommended.
When designing a diet for kids with ADHD, avoid sugar, saturated fats, additives, and ultra-processed foods.
The Nutritious Diet For ADHD Kids
Good nutrition, proper hydration, and regular exercise can help mitigate ADHD symptoms in kids. An ADHD diet with nutritious and colorful vegetables, fruits, fish, dairy, lean meat, nuts, or seeds benefits both adults and children.
Here’s how to balance your child’s diet with some of the best foods for ADHD:
Protein is required for active growth and can be obtained from natural foods such as fish, meat, eggs, and beans. Children aged 4 to 13 years and 14 to 18 years require 0.95 grams and 0.85 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, respectively.
Carbohydrates should account for one-third of each meal your child consumes. Avoid simple carbohydrates in favor of complex carbohydrates full of satiating fiber. An intake of refined sugar, a simple carbohydrate, has been associated with developing ADHD symptoms.
Complex carbohydrates include unpeeled potatoes, whole-grain bread, whole-grain rice, and whole-grain pasta, whereas simple carbohydrates include sugar, sweets, biscuits, soft drinks, and fruit juices.
Children quickly digest simple carbohydrates, resulting in energy spikes and crashes. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are digested gradually, resulting in sustained energy levels for both the body and the brain.
Choosing complex carbs over simple carbs helps your child’s memory, attention span, bowel habits, gut health, and behavior.
Whole grains are preferred over refined grains. Whole grains contain more fiber and are generally less processed, promote bowel regularity and encourage alertness while suppressing hyperactivity.
Fruit And Vegetables
According to research, eating more fruits and vegetables can help with attention deficit problems.
Fruits and vegetables are excellent replacements for processed snacks and taste delicious, especially in season.
They are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in fat.
According to one study, eating fruits like berries regularly was associated with improved attention span and academic achievement.
Regarding vegetables, eating more of them resulted in improved academic performance in teenage girls ages 15-17.
Feed your child at least three servings of various fruits per day or 1.5 cups to help with overall body and brain development.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve heart health, brain function, and behavioral issues.
Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in oily fish such as kippers, trout, salmon, herring, unprocessed fresh tuna, rainbow trout, and sardines. It is important to be environmentally aware of the fish you choose to eat and the possibility of heavy metal contamination. Look to governmental fish advisories on which fish to choose for the lowest levels of mercury contamination and other heavy metals. This is especially important for pregnant or breastfeeding women who may transfer toxins to a developing fetus or growing infant, thus increasing neurodevelopmental risks such as ADHD.
Although their ability to treat ADHD has not been established, omega-3 fatty acids may help with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and concentration.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the recommended daily servings of omega-3 fatty acids for children aged 1 to 3 years should be 0.7 grams daily. Those aged 4 to 8 should consume 0.9 grams, those aged 9 to 13 should consume 1.2 grams for boys and 1.0 grams for girls, while adolescents from 14-18 years should consume 1.6 grams and 1.1 grams for boys and girls, respectively. Alaskan salmon, for example, has about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 3-ounce serving.
Vitamins And Minerals
ADHD has been linked to iron, zinc, magnesium, and B6 deficiency.
Getting the recommended servings of these vitamins and minerals has been suggested as a symptom management strategy.
A study discovered that supplementing vitamin D and vitamin D + magnesium can help those with ADHD better manage common symptoms. The study also concluded that low zinc and iron levels might impair attention and promote hyperactivity via its effects on dopamine.
Three servings of dairy foods daily can help your child meet their daily calcium requirements and provide essential amino acids (protein-building blocks), which may improve ADHD symptoms.
Some studies have found the primary protein casein found in milk may both improve and worsen ADHD symptoms, depending on the individual. Casein-free diets are currently being used in research studies on alleviating ADHD symptoms in children. Cheese, milk, and yogurt are healthy foods in this category.
You must observe how milk affects your child’s behavior early to detect any negative effects.
Snacks can be included if they are primarily whole, minimally processed foods and do not contain large amounts of artificial sugars. Healthy snack foods for ADHD include cucumber sticks, celery, natural yogurt, fresh fruit, and nut butter.
Lots Of Fluids
Proper hydration can help prevent brain capillary dilation. Prolonged dehydration, on the other hand, can cause brain cells to shrink, impairing some core functions.
Avoid fruit juices and other high-sugar drinks in favor of caffeine-free teas such as lemon balm and chamomile.
Aim for six to eight glasses of water per day. However, because some children may struggle to drink plain water, adding limes, cucumbers, lemons, or berries can give plain water a little taste and flavor.
Foods To Avoid With ADHD
There are foods to avoid with ADHD, just as there are foods to consume more.
ADHD foods to avoid include:
Fats And sugar
Sweets, biscuits, cakes, chocolates, and fried foods contain high levels of sugar and fat, which can harm children with ADHD. And early consumption of saturated fats may impact dopamine metabolism in young children putting them at risk for behavioral problems and the development of ADHD.
Additionally, sugar affects dopamine like saturated fat, which has similar effects to a stimulant drug in children with ADHD. As a result, it elevates ADHD symptoms.
Caffeine is widely used in soft drinks, chocolate, coffee, and tea. It can influence your child’s behavior as a stimulant.
According to scientists, additives can influence the mesolimbic dopamine system, increasing hyperactivity.
Sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame-k, saccharin, and cyclamate can impact your child’s development by causing erratic changes in their appetite and mood.
E-numbers are synthetic dyes and preservatives that give food a pleasing flavor and appearance. However, they have been connected to children’s increased hyperactivity.
They include E102 Tartrazine (yellow), E110 sunset yellow (orange-yellow), E122 Azorubine Carmoisine (red), E133 Brilliant Blue (blue), and E211 Sodium benzoate (preservatives).
These foods also make a risky ADHD diet for adults.
Other Dietary Tips
Your child may struggle to resist the urge to consume sugary foods. As a result, you must monitor their eating habits to avoid overconsumption of sugary or ultra-processed goods, as well as high-fat and sugar-rich foods.
Meal schedules must be created to control food and snack intake and eliminate distractions during meal times.
Keeping an ADHD food diary can help you track the behavioral changes that certain foods cause. It can also assist in implementing dietary elimination with the assistance of professionals.
Develop A Healthy Eating Culture
Even small efforts, such as grocery shopping with your child, can go a long way toward fostering a healthy-eating culture.
Allow your child to participate in cooking and expose them to new foods regularly.
You can also devise a reward system to encourage your child to consume foods they dislike.
Behavior therapy can improve self-esteem, self-control, and overall behavior.
Although maintaining a diet while attending therapy can be difficult, you can choose online therapy and complete treatments at home. Monitoring emerging research on ADHD and eating can also provide crucial information.
The Bottom Line
A balanced diet is always a good place to start when managing physical and mental health issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
While food does not directly treat ADHD, it can support individual mental functions and promote proper development.
It can also suppress hyperactivity, making the condition easier to manage.
A child’s ADHD symptoms can influence their eating habits by encouraging impulsive behavior during mealtime. Therefore, monitoring the effects in both directions is critical.
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