There is some consensus that diet and nutrition can affect people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some foods appear to worsen symptoms while others relieve symptoms. Unfortunately, most research is currently inconclusive or incomplete although there are many sound medical reasons why nutrition could affect ADHD. Anyone dealing with ADHD could benefit from a number of common dietary changes although the effects could be different for each person.
Eliminating Processed Foods
Processed foods include nearly anything that has been packaged or changed to make the item more stable on store shelves. This includes canned foods, frozen foods and prepared restaurant foods. Many of these foods contain high levels of sodium, preservatives, artificial colorings and artificial sweeteners. Some research suggests this can increase feelings of irritability and hyperactivity. There is some evidence that eliminating all processed foods helps to relieve symptoms especially in children. The effectiveness is not known although the similar Feingold Diet was thought to help 5 percent or more of children.
Increasing Protein Intake
Protein is known to affect neurotransmitters in the brain. A high-protein diet could help a person with ADHD who is currently taking medications for the condition. The neurotransmitters allow for better focus and concentration while also increasing the effectiveness of common ADHD medications. High protein intake must be balanced by reducing simple carbohydrate intake. Children should have roughly 25 grams of protein each day. Adults with ADHD should eat around 50 to 60 grams every day spaced across two to three meals.
Eliminating Refined Sugars
There is only anecdotal evidence that eliminating refined and simple sugars has any effect on ADHD symptoms. Most researchers do not feel eliminating refined sugars will help beyond preventing very short-term hyperactivity. Some theories suggest that the presence of high levels of refined sugars in a diet could be affecting ADHD symptoms indirectly by preventing absorption of nutrients or by replacing healthier items in meals.
Increasing Vitamin and Nutrient Intake
There is some belief and a few studies that suggest increasing vitamin and nutrient intake through supplements could help with certain ADHD symptoms. Elevated doses of vitamins C and B6 seem to help improve concentration and lower irritability. Omega-3 fatty acids seem to improve cognitive functioning especially in children. Supplements like melatonin can help with the insomnia that frequently accompanies ADHD.
Elimination Diets for Food Sensitivity
There is some hard research showing that elimination diets can help with ADHD symptoms more than many other treatments. The diet involves removing all foods that could cause a reaction due to sensitivities or allergies in the body. Food is slowly reintroduced and reactions are studies to see whether ADHD symptoms are affected. This can help to detect food sensitivities. There is research showing that food sensitivities do make some ADHD symptoms worse.
Adding Complex Carbohydrates
A dietary treatment that seems effective for some people is to add complex carbohydrates like whole grains to daily meals. Complex carbohydrates affect neurotransmitters and can improve concentration. They also help the body regulate many biological processes so that the brain functions more efficiently. It is best to include complex carbohydrates that are minimally processed.