If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, whether as an adult or as a child, you might find that you struggle to keep your eating habits in check. Whether you just forget to eat sometimes and end up grabbing convenience foods, or you overeat without realizing it, what you’re putting in your body (or what you aren’t) could be exacerbating your symptoms.
While there is no official scientific evidence that ADHD is actually caused by diet or nutritional problems, certain foods and food additives can play a role in affecting symptoms in several people, as some research suggests.
What is ADHD?
ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a neurological condition that can affect every area of your life. According to the CDC, it is one of the most common issues found in children. If you have ADHD, you might have trouble “paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.”
While ADHD is often first diagnosed in childhood and lasts into adulthood, it is being diagnosed in adults more and more often. This is probably because, in the case of people in Generation X and older, ADHD was only usually diagnosed in very extreme and obvious cases.
Of course, as scientific research continued over the years, we learned more about the condition. This helped doctors to recognize that a lot of ADHD-affected people suffered in silence for a number of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that not everyone with ADHD presents with obvious symptoms.
What Research Tells Us on Food and ADHD
There is a ton of published research on ADHD and how it is affected by your diet. Let’s break this down.
Is ADHD affected by what you eat?
While there appears to be no conclusive evidence that ADHD is affected by diet, researchers have said that the underlying causes of ADHD include genetic as well as environmental factors. The cause of ADHD may vary between people who are affected by ADHD, according to research published in 2017 which tested the effects of dietary treatments in three different studies.
Researchers reported that since there were “divergent and confusing conclusions based on heterogeneous studies and subjects,” they had conducted “a systematic review of meta-analyses of double-blind placebo-controlled trials evaluating the effect of diet interventions (elimination and supplementation) on ADHD” in order to address these differences.
Research on ADHD and Food Additives
In the 1970s, an allergist reportedly found that food might affect behavior. The allergist, Dr. Feingold, prescribed a certain diet to his patience and some of the patients found an improvement in their behavioral problems. The diet was, according to Healthline, “free of salicylates, which are compounds found in many foods, medications, and food additives.”
A 2010 study found that food additives may affect people with ADHD by essentially causing an allergic reaction in some people.
“Histamine may mediate the effects of food additives on ADHD symptoms, and variations in genes influencing the action of histamine may explain the inconsistency between previous studies,” researchers noted, adding that your genetics may also influence “a range of neurotransmitter systems and their interplay with environmental factors, such as diet, need to be examined to understand genetic influences on ADHD symptoms.”
That being said, a report published by Harvard Medical School notes that diet alone isn’t necessarily the only thing that causes the various cognitive and behavioral symptoms of ADHD, “several studies have renewed interest in whether certain foods and additives might affect particular symptoms in a subset of children with ADHD.”
The report ultimately concluded that a healthy diet would be good for anyone with ADHD, and it might also reduce the symptoms of the condition by limiting your exposure to unhealthy food additives and improve your intake of healthy omega-3 fats and micronutrients. This would lead to an overall healthy life as well.
Which Foods to Eat (and Which Foods to Avoid) When You Have ADHD
In any case, as the research suggests, carefully cultivating your menus could potentially help with your ADHD symptoms – and doing so certainly would not hurt you as you’d still be contributing to better overall health by avoiding unhealthy food choices. Here is a list of some of the things to eat or avoid.
Food To Avoid With ADHD
- Corn syrup
- Products made from white flour
- White rice
- Potatoes without the skins
Food such as the ones listed above are believed to worsen some of the symptoms of ADHD, and it is suggested that you consider cutting down on any food with sugar and carbs as much as possible. As mentioned, this will certainly not hurt you and will contribute to your overall health and wellbeing, even if there are not neurological effects.
Foods You Should Eat With ADHD
- Cheese, eggs, beans, meat, nuts can all be good sources of protein and can help improve concentration and possibly make ADHD medication last longer when eaten at the right time.
- Vegetables, oranges, tangerines, pears, apples, grapefruit can improve sleep when eaten in the evening.
- Tuna, salmon, Walnuts, Brazil nuts, Olive, and Canola oils are all foods that have Omega 3 fatty acids.
It should be noted that the FDA approved an Omega compound called Varayin as part of an ADHD management strategy. You can also take an Omega 3 Fatty acid supplement.
You Are What You Eat, So Choose Wisely
It is true that you are what you eat, and why not choose to eat the healthier options of food? Not only will eating healthier help you to manage your ADHD better, but it will help you to stay healthy and functional overall. And, since this is one thing you can control in this situation, it is a healthy thing to focus on here.
Here are a few ADHD-specific tips to help you stay on track with your new healthier eating plan.
- Go and create shopping lists consisting of healthy foods to bring to your table.
- Fresh cooking is always best, but if you live alone, you probably won’t do it on any kind of regular basis. So, buy some pre-cooked foods at your local supermarket. Many now have full meals that you can just pop into the oven in a wide variety.
- Be sure to keep your freezer stocked with healthy alternatives for dinner, too.
- Get some of the healthier frozen dinners and keep them on hand. It’s easy to toss something in the microwave, and it won’t be terribly boring (which might cause someone with ADHD to avoid it). Some people just hate to cook, and these shortcuts can be a perfect alternative.
- Please remember that freshly cooked meals are always your best bet. So, maybe you choose to buy some stuffed cabbages at the deli counter and warm them in the microwave.
- There’s always the food delivery option, via services like DoorDash, PostMates, and even Instacart – each of which may be far less expensive than you’d expect.
Ultimately, remember that while your health is a gift, it is also something that requires your attention and active maintenance. As frustrating as it can feel for someone with ADHD, it is also absolutely necessary, especially when you consider the potential outcome of avoiding it.
Try to find more creative ways to ensure that your adult ADHD brain remembers to eat (and to eat properly). And, if possible, try to train yourself to get to the supermarket at least once a week and to stock your cupboards and refrigerator with healthy foods – or at least to have nutritious foods delivered where you can. Trust me, your body (and your brain) will love you for it.