Diet & Nutrition

9 Foods to Supercharge Your Brain

Did you know that too much of the wrong foods can actually shrink the decision-making parts of your brain? Use these ADHD diet and nutrition tips, recommended by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, to improve your focus, memory, and mood — naturally.

For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Feed Your Brain

Good, healthy food is brain medicine. For people with all types of ADHD, nutrition can have a powerfully positive effect on cognition, feelings, and behavior. The right nutrients may even allow you to decrease your medication dosage. The wrong ones, on the other hand, can have a very real negative effect on ADHD symptoms.

[Free Download: What to Eat — And Avoid — to Improve ADHD Symptoms]

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The Benefits of Brain-Healthy Food

When I convince my patients to eat a brain-healthy foods, they notice better mood stability, stronger focus, and more stamina. They also report less distractibility, less tiredness in the late morning and mid-afternoon, and fewer cravings for sugary substances. Here, find some food strategies I use at the Amen Clinics to help my ADHD patients achieve these benefits.

Woman weighing on scale. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Quality Over Quantity

Always opt for high-quality food — and be careful with calories. Thanks in part to impulsivity, ADHD is often associated with weight problems1, which are a demonstrated danger to the brain. Swapping a 720-calorie cinnamon roll for a 400-calorie salad made of spinach, salmon, blueberries, apples, walnuts, and red bell peppers will supercharge your energy and perhaps make you smarter. In one study2, monkeys who ate more calories than they needed had significant shrinkage in the important decision-making areas of the brain.

[10 Foods (and Supplements and Vitamins!) to Boost Your ADHD Brain]

Woman drinking water. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Water, Water Everywhere

Your brain is 80 percent water. Anything that dehydrates it, such as too much caffeine or alcohol, decreases your thinking and impairs your judgment. Make sure you get enough water for your brain every day. A good general rule is to consume half your weight in ounces per day unless you are significantly overweight, and then usually not more than 120 ounces a day.

Pencil drawing of foods. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Proactive About Protein

Protein helps balance your blood sugar and focus, and provides the necessary building blocks for brain health. Great sources of protein include fish, skinless turkey or chicken, beans, raw nuts, and high-protein vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Protein powders can also be a good source of protein, but read the label to make sure the product isn’t high in sugar. Start each day with protein to boost your focus and concentration skills.

[Free Guide to a Delicious (and ADHD-Friendly!) Diet]

Fruits and vegetables for low-glycemic diet. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Go with Low-Glycemic, High-Fiber Carbs

This means eat carbohydrates that do not spike your blood sugar, and that are high in fiber, such as vegetables and legumes, and fruits like blueberries and apples. Bad carbohydrates, such as simple sugars, are stripped of any nutritional value. Sugar is the enemy to your brain. The glycemic index rates carbohydrates according to their effects on blood sugar. Eating low-glycemic foods will lower your blood glucose levels, decrease cravings, and help you focus.

Foods with unsaturated fats. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Go with Good Fats

Good fats are essential to your health. The solid weight of your brain is 60 percent fat (after all the water is removed). Bad fats, like anything containing trans fats, should be eliminated. Focus your diet on healthy fats — especially those that contain omega-3 fatty acids — found in foods like salmon, sardines, avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Eat from the Rainbow

Compose your daily meals of natural foods of many different colors, such as blueberries, pomegranates, yellow squash, and red bell peppers. This will boost antioxidant levels in your body and help keep your brain young.

Jars of Herbs. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Spice Up Your Menu

Studies show that some herbs and spices benefit the brain and cognition:

  • Turmeric may decrease the plaque in the brain thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.3
  • Saffron extract was found to be as effective as medication in affecting mood levels in some cases.4
  • Rosemary, thyme, and sage help boost memory.5
  • Cinnamon has been shown to help attention and blood flow.6
  • Garlic and oregano boost blood flow to the brain.7
People shopping for organic foods. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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You Are What You Eat…

…So avoid the bad stuff. Things like pesticides used in commercial farming can accumulate in your brain and body, even though the levels in each food may be low. Eat organically grown or raised food as much as possible. Eat free-range and grass-fed meat that is hormone- and antibiotic-free. In addition, eliminate food additives, preservatives, and artificial dyes and sweeteners. This means you must start reading food labels. If you do not know what is in something, do not eat it.

Eating gluten-free. For some people with adhd, diet and nutrition are key components of managing their symptoms.
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Throw Out the Problem Foods

There are scientific reports of people whose brains and stomachs get better when they eliminate wheat and other gluten sources (such as barley, rye, spelt, imitation meats, soy sauce) from their meals. Children with ADHD and/or autism may do better8 on an elimination regimen that's free of wheat, dairy, processed foods, all forms of sugar and sugar alternatives, food dyes, and additives.

Hands of person with ADHD flip through textbook at table
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Footnotes

1 Fleming, John. “ADHD and Disordered Eating.” Dr. John Fleming, drjohnfleming.com/adhd-and-disordered-eating.
2 Colman, Ricki J., and Rozalyn M. Anderson. “Nonhuman Primate Calorie Restriction.” Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, vol. 14, no. 2, 15 Jan. 2011, pp. 229–239.
3 Mishra, Shrikant, and Kalpana Palanivelu. “The Effect of Curcumin (Turmeric) on Alzheimer's Disease: An Overview.” Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, vol. 11, no. 1, 2008, p. 13., doi:10.4103/0972-2327.40220.
4 Hausenblas, Heather Ann, et al. “Saffron (Crocus Sativus L.) and Major Depressive Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Journal of Integrative Medicine, vol. 11, no. 6, 2013, pp. 377–383., doi:10.3736/jintegrmed2013056.
5 “Herbs That Can Boost Your Mood and Memory.” Northumbria University Newcastle News, Northumbria University Newcastle, 29 Apr. 2016, www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/news-events/news/2016/04/herbs-that-can-boost-your-mood-and-memory/.
6 Rao, Pasupuleti Visweswara, and Siew Hua Gan. “Cinnamon: A Multifaceted Medicinal Plant.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2014, 2014, pp. 1–12., doi:10.1155/2014/642942.
7 Mathew, B, and R Biju. “Neuroprotective Effects of Garlic: A Review.” Libyan Journal of Medicine, vol. 3, no. 1, 2008, pp. 23–33., doi:10.4176/071110.

12 Related Links

  1. LOVE this! Dr. Amen is my hero — his book on the 6 (later revised to 7) types of ADHD made a profound difference in how I approach my own ADD (type 2, a bit of type 5). With multiple diagnoses in my family (2 kids on the autism spectrum, husband with Parkinson’s, and my ADD compounded by recently-discovered leukemia), trying to find dietary approaches that help us all can be confusing. These general, not-too-complicated recommendations are a super starting point for all of us.
    One side note — I took gluten and dairy products out of my family’s diet several years ago, reasoning that I would always wonder (and that we could always revert to regular diet if it didn’t help). I saw significant improvement, particularly with my more-affected son, and have stayed the course since then … difficult with a husband and neuro-typical child who crave & demand off-diet foods! Although we’re currently on hiatus from the GFCF diet (since I can’t steer everything right now), we’re using enzymes to counter some of the effects, and will hopefully be able to get back on track as I get stronger. If you’re considering a special diet, I’d say give it a real chance (at least 6 months of strict adherence). If you decide it’s not worth the trouble, at least you know you tried!

  2. What is the difference between how adults with ADHD and children with ADHD should eat? Are there certain foods that don’t need to be avoided once you reach adulthood? I’ve been researching the topic of what I should eat as an adult with ADHD, and have found that most of the articles are about children. This one seems to bridge the gap well. The only thing I would like would be some sort of information on how adult and child brain needs may differ (or if they differ at all!)

    1. A healthy lifestyle is ideal for children and adults alike, especially when you have ADHD. Any nutrition recommendations made for kids would also apply to adults. What may differ is the dosage of supplements, and that’s something you would discuss with your physician.

      Penny
      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

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