Fish oil supplements deliver the critical omega-3 fatty acids that boost the body’s synthesis of dopamine, the neurotransmitter lacking in ADHD brains. But pills are not the only omega-3 delivery system available or the only natural remedy for ADHD. Integrate these 12 natural, tasty foods into your ADHD diet and treatment plan.
Fish (particularly cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and anchovies)
Keep reading to learn more about how these 12 natural, tasty foods can boost the body’s synthesis of dopamine, the neurotransmitter lacking in ADHD brains.
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Fish for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
It’s no surprise that fish — particularly cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and anchovies — are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and one of the most popular natural remedies for ADHD. It’s called fish oil for a reason, right? Mackerel, for instance, may have more than 3300 mg of omega-3 per serving — that’s more than 6 times the recommended per day dose for healthy adults.
Not a huge fish connoisseur? Try some of the quick, simple recipes in Cooking with Fish Like a Pro, an accessible collection of fish recipes to suit every palate.
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Walnuts for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Walnuts are chock full of healthy fats — including omega-3s — and also contain a slew of other nutrients like magnesium, biotin, and vitamin E. Some studies even suggest that eating walnuts improves common ADHD symptoms like working memory, learning ability, and motor development.1 Walnuts are versatile, too — try them with fresh or dried fruit, in salads, or baked into desserts.
This under-the-radar grain is a nutritional powerhouse — and one of the most potent sources of the omega-3 alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA). Sprinkle flaxseeds over your morning oatmeal for a pleasant nutty flavor, or blend them into fruit smoothies to satisfy a eater with ADHD. Need more ideas? Check out The Flaxseed Recipe Book, an easy-to-follow guide for adding flaxseeds to your favorite soups, salads, and main courses.
Basil — a flavorful and easy-to-find herb — is a strong source of omega-3 fatty acids. Since basil is used primarily as a seasoning, however, you likely won’t get a full day’s supply of omega-3 from a standard serving. For best results, use whole basil leaves, and add them toward the end of your meal’s cooking time to preserve the plant’s nutrients. In addition to delivering omega-3s, basil teas like Buddha Tea’s Organic Holy Basil Tea also promote calm and reduce cell inflammation.
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Eggs for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If a chicken eats a diet heavy in omega-3s — such as flaxseed and other nutrient-dense grains — its eggs will be fortified with higher levels of those healthy fatty acids. If you can afford a little extra expense, look for omega-3-enriched eggs from humanely raised chickens that roam free and forage for insects and plants, which give the eggs even further nutrients and health benefits.
Many nutritionists recommend protein as a critical component to any ADHD diet — and eggs are an excellent, easy source.
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Brussels Sprouts for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable bursting with vitamin K, vitamin C, and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids. With their strong flavor and smell, however, they’re not always loved (or even tolerated) by children or adults with ADHD. If someone in your house considers sprouts the enemy, try this recipe — honey, cranberries, and parmesan cheese give these Brussels sprouts a sweet and savory flavor that even picky eaters love.
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Seaweed for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most vegan omega-3 supplements are made from seaweed, one of very few plant sources of both EPA and DHA. If you’d rather skip the pills, the real thing provides omega-3s as well as vitamin K, vitamin C, niacin, folate, and choline. Seaweed can be eaten raw (look for it at your local organic or Asian market) or dried — try Annie Chun’s Organic Seaweed Snack, which comes in individual packs and is available in several delicious flavors.
Soy can get a bad rap — and may indeed cause problems for people with certain food sensitivities — but this delicious bean is one of the most powerful (and versatile) ways to add omega-3 to your diet. Whole soybeans (known as edamame) are a favorite protein-packed snack for vegetarians; more processed forms (including tofu, soy milk, and soybean-based cooking oil) make soy infinitely more accessible. For some ideas, check out the 1998 classic, The Whole Soy Cookbook, which outlines how to cook with soy-based products ranging from miso to tempeh and beyond.
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Spinach for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most leafy green vegetables have significant amounts of omega-3, and spinach is no exception. Despite its villainous reputation, raw spinach actually has a mild flavor, making it an ideal base for salads or a crunchy addition to sandwiches. Many people add spinach to eggs, soups, or pasta dishes without impacting flavor. If you’re dealing with a particularly picky eater, though, try some of the recipes in Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious — her spinach and carrot brownies are tasty, healthy, and chocolaty to boot!
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Canola Oil for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Canola oil is full of omega-3s, has less saturated fat than most commonly available oils and is one of the mildest tasting options, making it ideal for everyday use. Other good options include walnut oil, flaxseed oil, and olive oil — each has a healthy serving of omega-3s and is ideal for different recipes and cooking methods.
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Broccoli for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Like its other leafy green counterparts, broccoli is a powerful source of ALA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids your body needs (but can’t make on its own). Broccoli is also high in fiber, zinc, and — surprisingly — protein, a must for any ADHD brain. If you or your child doesn’t like broccoli, try pairing it with a cheesy sauce or baking it into tots — try this simple recipe to get started.
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Cashews for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Cashew nuts are a versatile, creamy nut, eaten on their own as a snack or used as a base for many vegan cheese substitutes. RXBAR, a healthy alternative to the standard sugar-loaded snack bar, uses cashews for several of its flavor varieties. And with delicious (and kid-friendly!) flavors like gingerbread, chocolate chip, or “Berry Blast,” these bars are a tasty way to add more cashews to any diet.
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1 Muthaiyah, Balu, et al. “Dietary Supplementation of Walnuts Improves Memory Deficits and Learning Skills in Transgenic Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease.” Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, vol. 42, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1397–1405.