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The ADHD diet : Food is Energy! Fresh is Best!


A nourishing ADHD diet should include nutrient-packed foods. In recent years, finding “clean”, nutritious food is not as easy as it used to be. For the better part of the last century, the food industry has been undergoing a profound transformation – with profit rather than public health in mind.

The introduction of supermarkets around 1920 has co-created an industry where food is produced on a massive scale. Cheap, convenient and storeable processed foods are now everywhere. Many techniques – which often detract valuable nutrients – are devised to give foods a longer shelf life.

Fruits and vegetables are genetically manipulated. Refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, colorings, soy and flavor enhancers are added to almost all processed food products. This trend has flooded the world’s refrigerators and cupboards with lower quality foods. Numerous studies indicate that the consumption of industrial foods has measurable negative effects on both physical and mental health.

Eating food ‘as close to the source as possible’ is a good strategy for a healthy ADHD diet. Everything is energy, including food. Therefore, organic or unprocessed foods contain the highest amount of energy – think freshly picked berries vs. artificially colored/flavored berry juice. In a nutshell: fresh is best!

Why avoid processed foods in the ADHD diet?

1. They deprive the body of quality nutrients
2. They burden the body with a myriad of chemical substances – causing cellular damage, toxicity and digestive stress


What to Avoid in a Healthy ADHD diet


Artificial Coloring

Food dye production has more than tripled in the last 50 years. Many of the foods on supermarket shelves today contain artificial coloring. Our parents and grandparents may have had an occasional artificially colored treat, but today most people are exposed to artificially colored foods on a daily basis.

Numerous studies have proven that artificial food coloring causes a host of ADHD symptoms, especially problems involving hyperactivity and attention.

In 2009, a study at the University in Southampton, England provided such a clear link between increased hyperactivity and the consumption of artificial colorings that the European Parliament now requires a warning label on artificially colored foods. The warning states that labeled food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.


Effects of Food Colorings on Mind and Body

Quick Tip – If you suspect that you have a zinc deficiency, add more of these foods to your ADHD diet : peanuts, almonds, whole milk, kidney beans, chick peas, garlic, dark chocolate 80%, green peas and chicken.

Some colorings cause the body to lose zinc. Zinc deficiency has the following symptoms:

  1. Poor memory, difficulty retaining learned skills and data
  2. Increased emotionality
  3. Eating disorders
  4. Short attention span
  5. Abnormal stress response
  6. Lower performance in learning situations

Other Effects of Food Coloring:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Reduced cognitive functioning
  • Damaged neurological development
  • Mood swings
  • Impaired signaling between nerve cells
  • Asthma
  • Dyslexia
  • Ear infections
  • Headaches


How Does One Dodge Artificially Colored Food?

Avoiding artificial coloring has already proven to have a tremendously positive effect on people with ADHD symptoms.
Here are some basic tips to avoid them:

  1. Stay clear of any food that does not have its natural color : candy, beverages, cakes, breakfast cereals, desserts, juice, etc.
  2. Check food labels for artificial coloring and/or certified colors
  3. Check food labels for Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Green 3, Blue 1, Blue 2, vanillin (artificial vanilla)
  4. Opt for organic foods that do not permit the use of artificial coloring


Refined Sugar

If you want to create a healthy ADHD diet for yourself or your family, avoid refined sugar when you can. Refined sugar – although cleverly categorized under the food category carbohydrates by the sugar industry – is essentially a non-nutrient.

It is mainly manufactured from natural sources like sugar beets and sugar cane, but after processing, it is completely depleted of its vitamins and minerals.

When you choose to obtain sugar from whole foods, nature has a way of balancing things out. For example, when you eat an apple (containing the natural carbohydrate fructose), the apple itself contains the right amount of minerals and vitamins to help your body digest it. However, when consuming refined sugar, the body has to tap into its own vitamin and mineral reserves (iron, zinc, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium) in order to process it.

Refined sugars affect every cell in the body. Minimizing their consumption will not only improve ADHD symptoms (dramatically!), it will benefit your overall physical and mental health.

IMPORTANT NOTE! Sugar cravings can be caused by a lack of healthy fats in your diet.

Risks of excessive refined sugar consumption:

  • Short-term memory problems
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Mental confusion
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Obesity
  • Immune System dysfunction
  • Liver disease
  • Hyperactivity followed by drowsiness
  • Heart disease
  • Bone and tooth decay
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis


Go Easy on Yourself

When trying to reduce your sugar intake, go easy on yourself. Remember, sugar is an extremely addictive substance. Reducing your intake can and likely will cause withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms often include jittering, sweating, headaches, bloating, crankiness, mood swings, as well as food cravings.

Eliminate sugary foods gradually and replace them with healthy alternatives. If you experience a minor relapse, enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up. It may take a few weeks for withdrawal symptoms to subside and the body to stabilize. Give it time. The more you exclude sugar from your diet, the easier it will become. Eventually, your body WILL stop craving it.


How To Reduce Refined Sugars in the ADHD Diet

  1. Minimize cookies, cakes, pastries, candy, soft drinks and other sugary treats. Consume them occasionally, not daily.
  2. Check food labels and try to avoid foods high in refined sugars, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Many processed foods, like tomato sauce and pre-made dinners, contain high levels of sugar though you would’nt suspect it.
  3. When you get a sugar craving, choose natural alternatives that will provide your body with healthy sugars instead of refined sugar: fruit, vegetables, legumes, rice, etc… Over time your insulin levels will stabilize and cravings will subside.


Also Check Labels For:

  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
  • Artificial Preservatives
  • Artificial Taste Enhancers
  • Anything containing soy (most soy is genetically manipulated and can cause thyroid issues)
  • Vegetable oils (read the section on Fats)



If you are trying to make some changes to your ADHD diet, remember that it’s nearly impossible to dodge ALL food chemicals in today’s nutritional environment. The best way to avoid toxic substances is to eat as organically as possible. Choose whole foods – vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, fowl, eggs, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and avoid any food that has undergone extensive processing before it ends up in your mouth.

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