ADHD Diet: Nutrition tips from a Dietitian

As an ADHDer and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in the ADHD space, I know how challenging it can be to find foods that you enjoy that also make you feel good. In this article, we’ll discuss the link between ADHD and food and bust some myths along the way. I hope you find these ADHD Diet tips useful!

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The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute medical advice or to diagnose or treat specific medical conditions. Consult with your healthcare provider before implementing any dietary changes or buying any product(s).

The link between diet and ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that includes symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms may impact your food habits in a variety of ways. 

Someone with ADHD may find it challenging to plan and prepare foods due to executive dysfunction. This is a limitation in how the brain manages thoughts, tasks, time and decisions.

It is important to note that ADHD is not caused by diet and diet cannot cure ADHD. In fact, the most common and best understood link to ADHD is genetics. This means that you are more likely to inherit ADHD if a family member also has it.

With that being said, nutrition in combination with other ADHD treatments, such as therapy and/or medication, can be effective ways to manage ADHD symptoms and their severity.

The best management strategy is the one that works best for you. Knowing what foods to focus on and what foods should be avoided with ADHD can help.

Research around ADHD and food is still new and there is a lot of work to be done. While there is no general ADHD Diet (since all diets should be individualized), there are strategies and nutrients that may help in managing symptoms. 

This article is based on the existing medically reviewed evidence at the time of publishing.

How does ADHD impact nutrition 

There is no arguing that ADHD can affect the nutrition and overall health of those living with it. I won’t go into much detail on each item in this article, but here is a general list of the ways ADHD can impact nutrition:

  • Forgetting to eat
  • Low motivation to cook
  • Decision overwhelm
  • Sensory sensitivities to certain smells, sights, or textures
  • Food boredom
  • Binge eating
  • Ignoring hunger cues
  • Eating for stimulation aka stimm eating
  • Suppressed appetite from certain ADHD medications
Infographic titled: How ADHD impacts nutrition. With images and text that say forgetting to eat, low motivation to cook, decision overwhelm, food boredom, binge eating, ignoring hunger cues, stimm eating, suppressed appetite.

How does nutrition impact ADHD symptoms

In turn, consistent and balanced nutrition can have a positive effect on certain ADHD symptoms. These include:

  • More energy
  • Less jittery
  • Fewer headaches
  • Stimulation
  • Less likely to binge
  • Improved focus
  • Release of dopamine
  • Less irritable
Infographic titled: How nutrition impacts ADHD. With images and text that say more energy, less jittery, fewer headaches, stimulation, less likely to binge, improved focus, release of dopamine, less irritable.

Traditional ADHD diets

Now that we’ve established that ADHD and nutrition go hand-in-hand, let’s talk about some more structured ADHD diets.

Elimination diets

An elimination diet may be suggested by a healthcare professional to help identify trigger foods if an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance is suspected.

It requires the removal of certain foods or food additives from the diet, usually for a number of weeks. Observations and improvements in symptoms are recorded during this time. 

This is followed by a period of reintroduction, where the individual gradually begins eating the food(s) again. They record any changes in symptoms, behaviour and mood. If changes are significant, a medical professional may confirm that a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance exists.

Some of the most common elimination diets for ADHD include:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Added sugar
  • Certain food coloring, flavoring or sweeteners

This does not mean that everyone with ADHD should cut out foods with these items. Rather, if you are experiencing a sensitivity to something, a medical professional would likely start with this list of common triggers.

Female refusing a plate of peanuts with hand up.

Elimination diets can be effective in identifying trigger foods if properly implemented and medically supervised. HOWEVER, conducting your own elimination diet or simply eliminating foods or food additives based on what someone said on the internet can do more harm than good. 

The following diets in this section are types of elimination diets. Unfortunately, many of these diets are highly restrictive and do not have solid evidence to back up their claims.

Feingold diet

The Feingold diet was created in the 1970’s by allergist Dr. Benjamin Feingold. He found that some symptoms of ADHD and autism spectrum disorder could seemingly be managed by following certain food rules.

This diet is a specific elimination diet that removes certain food additives and one naturally occurring food substance called salicylate. By removing foods with these things, he claimed that it improved the behaviour of neurodivergent children.

If improvements occurred after a few weeks, the child could reintroduce the restricted substances back into the diet one at a time.

Even though salicylate sensitivities do exist, the unnecessary elimination of foods that contain them would make your diet extremely restrictive. 

Foods that contain salicylates

Foods that contain salicylates include: mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, apples, avocado, berries, grapes, peaches and herbs like paprika, thyme and curry powder…to name a few. Certain alcoholic beverages and fruit juices also have high levels of salicylate.

Bird's eye view of healthy foods like fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Avoiding these substances with an intolerance may be helpful in reducing certain physical symptoms. But attempting to follow this diet without a need or without professional guidance from a registered dietitian, allergist or physician could lead to nutrient deficiencies and the development of food aversions, especially in children. 

Nutrient deficiencies may worsen ADHD symptoms. So following this diet without proper precautions has the potential to produce the opposite intended effect on symptoms.

Today, many medical professionals and dietitians advise against the Feingold diet for its restrictive nature and increased risk of deficiencies. Further research has found inconsistent results indicating that a possible placebo effect may take place among families who try it. 

When following the Feingold diet, it is recommended that food is prepared at home with the appropriate ingredients. The increased attention that the child receives during and after meal times may contribute to improvements in behavior, rather than the food itself.

Few Foods diet

As the name suggests, this is another highly restrictive diet that only allows for a “few foods” to be consumed. The first step in the Few Foods Diet, also called the Oligoantigenic diet, is to eliminate common allergen or trigger foods from the diet. 

In fact, you may only be advised to eat foods with low allergy potential during this time. This includes foods like rice, quinoa, venison, lamb and produce like lettuce, beets and pears. 

Foods are then slowly reintroduced. This is a lengthy process, where the reaction to the elimination and reintroduction of the foods is recorded. If food reactions are identified, a dietary protocol will be suggested in the treatment phase.

ADHD diet plan journal that says "nutrition plan" on blue background with food around it.

While the Few Foods diet can be effective in identifying trigger foods – with the most common triggers being cow’s milk and wheat – it is often used as a last resort option. And it should only be done when prescribed by a physician or allergist and followed by a dietitian. 

As mentioned, this diet can be nutritionally restrictive, as well as financially and neurologically inaccessible for some. Planning for this type of diet takes a lot of executive functioning skills including high levels of preparation. This makes it prohibitive for many people with ADHD.

Low carb diets

Unless necessary, avoid these diets.

To start, your brain needs carbs. Whether or not you are eating carbohydrates, your body will create glucose aka blood sugar, which is the energy in the blood. Your body first tries to convert carbohydrates into glucose. If there are no carbohydrates available, it resorts to fats and proteins.

With that being said, carbohydrates provide the most efficient source of energy for every single cell in your body, including your brain cells. So why would you want to make your body work harder for that?

Restriction of carbohydrates may cause dips in blood sugar, and if severe, may lead to the breakdown of fat and muscle in the body. Rather than avoid carbohydrates, a better approach is to manage the dips and spikes in blood sugar.

This can be done by eating more complex carbs or by adding things like protein and fibre to your meals to slow down the absorption of glucose. We’ll discuss this more below.

Sugar-free diet 

Research around refined or added sugars is a bit controversial. Some studies show that children who consume more refined sugar display more ADHD symptoms like inattention and hyperactivity. However, many other studies do not show this association. 

Instead, other factors may make the ADHD symptoms worse. First off, the environment in which sugar is often given (ie. birthday parties, halloween, weekends and other events) may contribute to increases in hyperactivity. 

Birthday cake with candle, candies, hat and gift.

Secondly, if you are consistently eating more refined sugar in your diet, you may be displacing or missing other nutrients, like those found in fruit, veggies or lean protein. This may lead to deficiencies in some nutrients that may also worsen ADHD symptoms. 

So while refined sugar consumption may play a role, it has not been directly linked to ADHD behaviors. 

Gluten free diet

I often see the gluten free diet being promoted for ADHD on social media. But unless you are gluten intolerant/sensitive or have celiac disease, there can be pretty serious downfalls to following this trend.

Unnecessarily following a gluten free diet puts you at a higher risk for nutrient deficiencies. Specifically deficiencies in fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.

These deficiencies and other factors have the potential to change the gut microbiome and put you at a higher risk for chronic disease. So unless advised and guided by a medical professional or dietitian, it’s best to stick to your gluten-full foods.

What diet is best for ADHD?

The best diet for ADHD is one that is personalized to you and your symptoms.

Some general nutrition tips for ADHDers:

  • Find your trigger foods, if relevant
  • Avoid the foods you are intolerant, sensitive or allergic to
  • Eat consistently throughout the day to manage blood sugar, energy and focus
  • Eat enough protein
  • Add to your safe foods if they are not nutritionally balanced
  • Stay hydrated

Nutrients to focus on 


The macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates and fat. A healthy diet consists of a balance of these three things.

Canada's food guide plate with half the plate filled with fruit and veggies, one quarter of the plate filled with protein foods and the remaining one quarter filled with whole grain foods.


Protein is important for a variety of reasons. It provides the body with amino acids, which are used to make the chemicals in the brain (aka the neurotransmitters). These include things like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters help communicate messages from your brain to the rest of your body.

Protein can also help you feel full longer and maintain blood sugar levels. 

Foods high in protein:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and lentils
  • Soy products like tofu
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Meat like poultry, beef and pork
  • Fish
  • Shellfish


Carbohydrates are the most efficient source of energy for your body. They provide all your cells with fuel in the form of glucose or blood sugar. This helps maintain all the functions of your body and organs, as well as any physical activity that you do.

Avoiding dips and peaks in blood sugar can help manage certain ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity and concentration. 

This can be done by eating consistently throughout the day, by focusing on complex carbohydrates and by having protein with carbohydrate-containing meals and snacks. 

Complex carbohydrates contain starch and fiber, which can slow down blood sugar, help you feel full longer and alleviate constipation (yay!). Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are usually made up of more simple or refined sugars. If eaten on their own, simple carbohydrates are more likely to lead to imbalances in blood sugar.

Foods high in complex carbohydrates:

  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables
  • Beans and lentils
  • Whole grains products like bread and pasta
  • Oats, quinoa and rice


Fat helps protect your organs and absorb fat-soluble vitamins from your diet. Your brain is also made of fatty tissues. To best maintain its processes, you need healthy fats every day. 

Foods high in healthy fat:

  • Fatty fish like tuna, salmon and sardines
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Avocados
  • Seeds like hemp, chia and flax seeds
  • Oils like olive oil

Some foods contain essential fatty acids, which means they cannot be made by your body like certain other nutrients. You need to get these from your diet or a supplement. One of these essential fatty acids is omega 3, which provides some benefits to people with ADHD.


Nutrient deficiencies have been linked to an increase in ADHD symptoms. Certain micronutrients are more important than others when it comes to ADHD nutrition. 

Brain figure on pink background.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids help create hormones that assist with blood circulation in the brain and body. They are essential fatty acids, meaning that they are not made by your body. You therefore need to get these fats from food or supplementation. 

One study found that increased intake of omega-3 could improve ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and inattention.

Foods high in omega-3:

  • Fatty fish like tuna, salmon and sardines
  • Seeds like chia and flax seeds
  • Walnuts


Iron helps carry the oxygen in our blood to all areas of the body. Cognitive deficits and other ADHD symptoms have been linked to low levels of iron. Unfortunately, iron deficiencies are common in the ADHD population.

Foods high in iron:

  • Meat like poultry, beef and pork
  • Beans and tofu
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Iron-fortified products like bread, cereal and pasta


Zinc helps enzymes in the body carry out their functions. It helps with the development of DNA, other cells and protein. It also plays a role in your metabolism and immunity.

For ADHDers, zinc is important since it improves the brain’s response to dopamine. Deficiencies often result in symptoms of inattention. 

Foods high in zinc:

  • Meat like beef and pork
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Whole grains
  • Zinc-fortified products 


Magnesium is essential for energy production and it helps enzymes within the nerves and muscles carry out their function. It allows for muscles to relax, increasing blood flow and providing a sense of calm.

Magnesium deficiency is linked to more hyperactivity and impulsivity. 

Foods high in magnesium:

  • Seafood
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans
  • Dark leafy greens

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for brain and bone development as it helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus. Children with ADHD often have lower levels of vitamin D in their blood.

Foods high in vitamin D:

  • Fish like salmon, tuna and sardines
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Not a food, but sunshine
  • Vitamin D-fortified foods like dairy, orange juice an cereal

Should I take a supplement?

Deficiencies in nutrients can be harmful and may impact normal body processes. A supplement can act almost like an insurance policy. This is especially important to consider if someone with ADHD becomes pregnant since there are critical developmental stages during pregnancy that require proper nutrition.

However, overconsumption of nutrients can also be harmful to your health. And certain ADHD medications (and non-ADHD medications) may interact with some micronutrients. For instance, large amounts of vitamin C can decrease the effectiveness of certain stimulant medications.

You should only consider nutrient supplementation under the direction and supervision of your physician.

Four supplement bottles on their side with pills coming out of them.

Foods to avoid with ADHD

Your diet for ADHD will look different than it does for someone else. Here is a list of items you may want to consider avoiding if they impact you:

  • Foods and ingredients you are allergic or intolerant to. These might include:
    • Specific foods
    • Caffeine
    • Artificial sweeteners
    • Food coloring or flavoring 
    • Food preservatives like nitrates, sulfates or MSG
  • Foods that spike blood sugar. Avoiding spikes and dips in blood sugar can help with focus, energy and behavioral symptoms. Pairing foods higher in sugar with protein and fiber can help.
  • Foods that trigger sensory issues. If you don’t like the texture of something, that’s okay. No need to force it. There are a lot of edible options out there.
  • Foods you don’t like.

Bottom line: follow the diet that works best for you! Take time to identify your preferences and find meals that fit your lifestyle. If you need help with this, working with a registered dietitian might be the next best step.

Question sources that demonize one food or nutrient for all ADHDers. This shows that they do not understand the individualization of how ADHD presents itself in people.

Key takeaways for following an ADHD Diet

What does an ADHD Diet entail?

  • Consistent and adequate energy – try not to skip meals!
  • Balanced meals and snacks
  • Incorporating priority macronutrients and micronutrients into your diet
  • Discussing supplements with physician
  • Avoiding trigger foods

Questions? Comments? Leave your thoughts below!
If you’re interested in learning more about meal planning with ADHD, check out my meal plan guide. It includes a FREE weekly meal planner.

Pinterest pin titled "ADHD Diet: Foods to eat and avoid" with image of sweet potato fries and @thenutritionjunky tag.

Join the Conversation

  1. nikki block says:

    Hi I am currently trying to research how to help my daughter learn how to eat to help her ADHD. I was thinking of printing out a plate for her to color in to keep track of her eating enough fruits, veggies meats and carbs. How many servings would you stay of each does she need?

    1. This is such a cute idea! It is generally suggested that 1/2 the plate be filled with fruit/veg, 1/4 protein and 1/4 whole grains. BUT with ADHD, eating something is always better than nothing. Teaching her how to balance a plate…and also not to feel bad if she doesn’t always have a balanced plate could help remove some of the guilt I often see associated with adult ADHD eating. I’m sure she will love trying to make that plate as colorful as possible. Let me know how it goes!

  2. I’m currently working on a post about ADHD and I’ve linked to your blog. Outstanding work! Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much, Jessica!

  3. Excellent & informative article! A lot of great details, yet put in a way easy to understand. I appreciate the emphasis on everyone having different needs and using the approach to best suit their situation and health.

    1. Thank you, Cathy 🙂

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