ADHD and Diet

Most of the research on ADHD and diet is on children who have ADHD, although we can generalize from this information. Many people who struggle with ADHD or parents of children who struggle with ADHD will go to great lengths to avoid medication. One of the first questions my clients ask me is whether they can control their symptoms by manipulating their diet. Research can be categorized into three areas. Research is mixed and can be biased. I respect my clients who want to control their symptoms without medication, and I have a family member who does this. However, it's essential to keep in mind that evidence does not suggest diet is the best way to control ADHD symptoms. ADHD is not caused by what you eat.

ADHD and Diet: What's been Studied? Elimination, Consumption and Supplementation

Elimination Diets

Elimination diets consist of eliminating food groups and slowly adding them back to see what symptoms appear. Two such diets used and studied for ADHD are the Feingold Diet and the Few Foods Diet. Diets free from gluten also fall into this category. Essentially these diets have been shown to help ADHD symptoms in a tiny group of children. It makes sense that if these children had a sensitivity or allergy to foods, these diets might have been helpful for them.

Verdict: Elimination diets are challenging and difficult, but a small group of people may yield helpful information about allergies. These issues are not likely to be causing your ADHD symptoms, but maybe they are making you feel bad. If you are a woman with ADHD looking to modify your diet symptoms, you may want to try this, but it's hard and a long shot.

Food additives/dyes. There is mixed evidence as to the effect of food dyes and additives on hyperactive behavior. However, food additives and dyes are not likely good for you or your children. It can be hard to scrutinize all of the food labels and determine whether they are in there.

Verdict: If you can eliminate them, it would be great to; why take a chance? It is important not to set yourself up to feel like you are failing or meeting some super restrictive or stressful requirements when the results likely won't be so remarkable.


ADHD and Diet: What are you consuming?

Consumption diets

Consumption diets have to do with changing what you consume. For example, you may have heard that the Mediterranean diet helps those who have ADHD. This news was based on one study that showed that lower adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with ADHD diagnosis in Spanish children. The problem with many of these studies, and frankly, many of the conclusions we draw is that correlation is not causation. Scrutinize what you read. The Mediterranean diet is healthy and great, but can we conclude that it caused or caused these symptoms in the children? No.

Sugar

Research on sugar and it's contribution to ADHD is controversial. We know that the brain seems to react to sugar, carbohydrates, and salt in the same way it does to drugs. Many of us, including women with ADD seem to be "addicted" to sugar. People who have ADD are more likely to have diabetes and more likely to be overweight, so it's important to kick this habit.

Verdict: Common sense tells us to limit our sugar intake. It's addictive. It will cause spikes and drops in energy and attention. Don't deprive yourself, shame yourself, or criticize yourself into these habits.

Caffeine

Caffeine often helps the person with ADHD concentrate, but it can interact with your stimulant if you are on medication. As you will often see, caffeine is everyone's best friend one day in the news, and awful for you the next.

Verdict: Pay attention to the effect it is having on your body, and adjust it accordingly.

Carbohydrates

Studies show that Carbohydrate cravings seem to boost serotonin. If you have ADHD you are more likely to crave carbs.

Verdict: Simple carbs are likely to change and spike levels in your blood sugar. These consist of things like white bread, white pasta, chips, soda, candy, and fries. Complex carbs will keep your mood, attention, and energy level consistent. Whole grains, vegetables, peas, and beans have complex carbs and are more likely to keep your attention and energy level and focused.


ADHD and Diet: Supplementation

The most common supplement discussed in the literature is Omega, although research continues to be inconsistent. Studies show that people with ADHD have lower Omega 3, and supplementing your diet with a high-quality Omega can increase levels. Omega is associated with inattention, lack of focus, mood swings, and working memory. Please consult with your physician before adding this supplement as it can thin your blood and upset your stomach.

As a woman with ADD you may struggle with planning, impulsivity, and healthy eating. This is understandable. Routine and structure may be hard for you. Keeping healthy pre-prepped food may be essential for you to have a good diet and prevent the cravings that cause you to binge on simple carbs and sugar. You may be prone to more rewarding, less healthy diets and impulsive eating, with a little practice, you can fix your diet. Practicing self-compassion and understanding why you struggle, rather than being self-critical, is a better way to help yourself with these issues. Body image and weight issues are such a concern for all women, as our society's standards are unachievable and our self-worth is so closely tied to our appearance.

Tips for a healthy diet when you have ADHD

  • Keep healthy foods on hand.
  • Block out time to prep meals
  • Replace sugary snacks with high protein ones such as nuts and cheese sticks
  • Do not skip meals
  • Do not have unhealthy foods in the house

References

ADHD diet: Best foods, foods to avoid, and meal plans. (n.d.). Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325352Researchers Consider Role of Maternal Diet in ADHD. (2019, May 30). Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/researchers-consider-role-of-maternal-diet-in-adhd/

Taylor, M. R., P.H.D, Johnstone,, J. M., P.H.D, & Rucklidge, J. J., P.H.D. (2015, September 28). Do Diet and Nutrition Affect ADHD? Facts and Clinical Considerations. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/do-diet-and-nutrition-affect-adhd-facts-and-clinical-considerations

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.