The best foods for children who have ADHD are the same as those for children who don’t have the condition. All children need lots of healthy unprocessed food and generous amounts of fruits and vegetables.
The right diet — and good nutrition — is especially important for anyone with ADHD. Many children can eat a relatively poor diet and function pretty well at school and at home, at least in the short term. ADHD kids can't.
Eating the wrong foods makes the difference between losing focus at 11 a.m. and succeeding in school. Eating the right foods makes the difference between a successful play date and one that ends in a temper tantrum. It is important for parents to pay attention to the effect that foods have on their child’s behavior and symptoms.
I have conducted nutritional interventions for hundreds of patients with ADHD during the past 24 years. In many cases, dietary changes have not only improved the symptoms of hyperactivity, concentration, and impulsivity, but have also calmed oppositional behavior.
Food Trends vs. Food Facts
Many books and thousands of articles are published every year about which foods you should eat to have the healthiest body and brain. And some of the advice changes from year to year. However, the basics of healthy eating are constant. Children and adults need adequate amounts of high-quality macronutrients — protein, fat, and carbs — and lots of micronutrients — vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables.
Protein should come from meat, fish, beans, nuts, dairy, and grains, depending on your family’s preferences. A child should get half a gram of protein each day for each pound of body weight. If your child weighs 100 pounds, he or she should consume 50 grams of protein a day. If he weighs 80 pounds, 40 grams of protein will do it. Oats and quinoa are two higher-protein grains. Collards, broccoli, and peas have higher amounts of protein than other vegetables.
Carbs should be high in fiber and low on the glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index rates carbohydrates according to their effects on blood sugar. A food that has a low GI rating lowers blood sugar levels, decreases cravings, and increases focus. Whole grains, beans, seeds, and most vegetables are good choices (see “More Carbs? No Thanks. I’ll Pass” in the sidebar).
A child should consume healthy fats, a combination of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fat, avoiding trans fats at all costs. Although most trans fats have been eliminated or reduced in processed foods, they can be found in some items, including baked goods and french fries, in some restaurants. Any food that lists “partially hydrogenated” oil on the ingredients label contains trans fats.