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The issue of the diet of a child with ADHD in the classic approach to disease treatment is marginalized. However, the observations of parents and nutritionists working with children with ADHD are different. A growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of the diet is provided by new, large-scale scientific research. Eliminating sugar, dyes, preservatives and enriching the diet with omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron can bring very good results in alleviating aggressive behavior and improving concentration. Read what the diet of a child with ADHD should consist of.

The diet of a child with ADHDmay have an impact on the behavior of the sick person. ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is usually diagnosed in young children between the ages of 3 and 5, but it can also develop in adolescence. ADHD has a genetic, environmental and metabolic background. Brain function is closely related to the levels of neurotransmitters, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, and their proper amounts or deficiencies are mainly due to diet.

In classical medicine, the treatment of ADHD focuses primarily on pharmacology. Psychological and pedagogical therapy is also included. At the same time, the importance of nutrition is marginalized or completely ignored. At the same time, from the beginning of the 21st century, there are more and more scientific publications which prove that the diet influences the behavior of children, the intensification or the alleviation of the symptoms of hyperactivity. It is true that there is no clear position of the scientific community, and research results often emphasize that changes in children's behavior have been noticed by their parents and the immediate environment, but not by outside observers. However, more and more studies provide evidence that modifying the diet and focusing on its nutritional value can very clearly reduce the symptoms of ADHD, increase concentration in children and improve their academic performance.

The role of nutrition in ADHD - what does science say?

The first theory indicating the importance of nutrition in ADHD was created in the 1970s by Dr. Benjamin F. Feingold, who, based on his own research, stated that the elimination of dyes, flavors, preservatives and sweetenersand salicylates improves the behavior of children with ADHD and reduces the symptoms of this syndrome. Classical medicine states that Feingold's elimination diet works only in 1% of ADHD patients, which results from their genetic predisposition and hypersensitivity to artificial additives. Scientists studying the issue draw different conclusions. There are several new publications which show that the food ingredients indicated by Feingold affect increased arousal and attention deficits in children. Along with deeper research into the issue of influencing the behavior of children with ADHD, other nutrients have also been linked.

In 2007, the results of a randomized (randomized, placebo-controlled, placebo-controlled study to test the effects of dyes and other food additives on children's behavior) were published. The study involved 153 3-year-olds and 144 8-9-year-olds who were given a drink with sodium benzoate and 1 or 2 dyes or a placebo mixture to drink. Based on observations and analyzes, it was found that dyes or sodium benzoate (or both) induce hyperactivity in 3-year-olds and 8-9-year-olds.

A meta-analysis of large, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies published in 2004 in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that many artificial food colors exhibit neurobehavioral toxicity. The need for further research was highlighted before strong clinical recommendations can be made.

Conclusions from the research on the influence of diet on children with ADHD

The following conclusions were drawn from a review of studies from the past 35 years on the effects of diet on ADHD symptoms:

  • Artificial dyes in food were not the main cause of ADHD.

  • A group of children with ADHD respond positively to a dye-free diet.

  • Children sensitive to dyes may simultaneously react with hyperactivity to milk, soy, chocolate, eggs, wheat, corn, pulses and products containing salicylates (mainly grapes, tomatoes and oranges).

  • Simultaneous hypersensitivity to dyes and other food groups is the rule rather than the exception.

  • Artificial dyes and sodium benzoate can induce behavioral changes in both ADHD and he althy children.

  • The elimination diet is a proposal for children who do not respond to pharmacological treatment.

  • Based on a study involving a group of 669 children with ADHD, a small, but statistically significantpositive effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Meta-analyzes show that the best results in reducing symptoms are obtained with EPA acid supplementation. The higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids may have a positive effect, because their presence in cell membranes improves the flow of dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, especially in the anterior cerebral cortex, which is important in the pathogenesis of ADHD. The presence of omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce the oxidative stress to which people with ADHD are more at risk.

  • People with ADHD have lower levels of iron and ferritin than he althy people, while iron is necessary for the production of dopamine and norepinephrine - neurotransmitters. More research is needed to determine how iron supplementation affects ADHD symptoms.

  • Zinc is essential for the stability of cell membranes and the metabolism of neurotransmitters. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include inattention, nervousness, and delayed cognitive development, which are consistent with those of ADHD. In several regions of the world (including Poland), lower levels of zinc have been demonstrated in children suffering from ADHD than in he althy people. Meta-analyzes show a significant relationship between ADHD and low levels of zinc in the body.

What should a child with ADHD not eat?


The first product that should be excluded from the diet of children with hyperactivity is sugar. Products with a high sugar content cause a rapid flow of energy, strongly stimulate and cause the so-called. charge effect. It lasts for about an hour, and then the sugar begins to drop significantly, making you nervous and irritable. The complete discontinuation of sweets and sugar alleviates aggression and hyperactivity not only in children with ADHD, but also in he althy people.

Highly processed foods

Highly processed foods should also be eliminated from the diet of a child with ADHD: sweets, buns, donuts, colorful carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, fruit yoghurts, crisps and other s alty snacks, ready meals, powdered sauces, cold meats and low-quality pâtés. They are often a source of harmful trans fats that can trigger nervousness and aggressive behavior. Make sure that the food you buy has the shortest possible composition, does not contain dyes, artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate and sodium benzoate. Even if the parent is not entirely convinced of the validity of Feingold's theory, his child will certainly benefit from eliminating "junk food" from the menu.


It is worth looking at your child's reactions after consuming products containing salicylates. If symptomsworsen, follow a low-salicylate diet and watch your baby become calmer.

Salicylate content in foods

Low salicylate products

Products with moderate salicylate content

Products with high salicylate content


Red sweet apples








Fresh meat






Dairy products

Pears with peel


Grain products


Alfalfa sprouts



Broad beans

Peeled pears






Bamboo shoots

Green beans


Brussels sprouts













Jacket potatoes











Green peas



Peeled potato




Sesame seeds




All fruit juices



hot pepper




Tomato preparations

Herbs and spices


In the dietary treatment of ADHD, the elimination of gluten and casein usually brings good results. They produce opioid-acting substances that overstimulate the nervous system - gluteomorphine and mofinocasein. Casein is contained in: milk, butter, buttermilk, cheese, cream, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, condensed milk, granulated milk, powdered milk. Milk can be found in crisps and crisps, cakes, biscuits and sponge cakes, pizza dough, pasta, muesli and breakfast cereals, donuts, bread, potato products (e.g. purée), sausages, salami, meat preparations, candies, chocolate, sauces in powder, instant soups.

The presence of milk in the product is evidenced by the following terms in the composition: lactoglobulin, lactose, casein, caseinate, sodium caseinate, casein hydrolyzate, whey, hydrolyzed whey, whey-based sweeteners. When eliminating gluten from your diet, you should exclude any wheat, rye, barley, and oat products. The following foods may contain gluten: savory and sweet cakes, biscuits, pizza dough, pasta, ketchup, mustard, muesli and breakfast cereals, donuts, bread, sausage, salami, processed meats, cream cheese, powdered sauces, instant soups.

Worth knowing

Diet of a child with ADHD - useful research

In the case of ADHD, it is worth doing food intolerance tests and eliminating poorly tolerated products from the diet. Incorrectly digested proteins load the intestines and can penetrate into the bloodstream and brain and have a negative effect on the nervous system, which is felt, among others, by as a decrease in concentration and the so-called eclipse, brain fog. It is also important to test the faeces for parasites and yeast overgrowth in the digestive tract. It is advisable to take proven probiotics that will strengthen the intestinal flora. The condition of the intestines themselves and the bacteria that live in them have a very large influence ongeneral well-being and many body processes. In the case of people with hyperactivity, the saying that the gut is our second brain becomes even more important.

The most important nutrients in the diet of an ADHD child

The diet of people with ADHD should be as nutritious as possible, based on "real food", ie unprocessed or minimally processed products. The basis of the menu should be vegetables, he althy fats, fruit with low sugar content, fatty sea fish, meat from a proven source and gluten-free grains.

The diet should include fatty sea fish, such as mackerel, sardines, herring, salmon and tuna, which are sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids - the most important for the brain. The source of omega-3 is also linseed and linseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts, but in the case of the latter we deal with ALA acid, which is not converted into EPA and DHA in every organism. If your child does not eat fish, they should take fish oil every day, for example in the form of capsules. More than half of the brain is made of fats, most of which is the fatty acid DHA. Its deficiencies lead to disorders of the nervous system, impulsiveness, aggression, sleep problems, and even diseases such as depression and schizophrenia. Gamma-linolenic acid GLA is also important, as it has a documented effect on reducing nervousness in children. It is found in evening primrose oil and borage oil.

Nutrients positively influencing the work of the brain

Omega-3 fatty acids

They are found in large amounts in the brain. They regulate the permeability of cell membranes, improve blood flow to the brain, reduce mental tension and improve concentration, and relieve depression.

Fatty sea fish (herring, mackerel, sardine, salmon, tuna), seafood, eggs from omega-3 fed hens, flaxseed, walnuts


Necessary for the proper functioning and development of the brain of infants and children.

Fish, seafood, iodized s alt, seaweed


Necessary in the process of providing energy and oxygen to cells. It improves mood, cognition and academic performance.

Liver, red meat, fish, poultry, green leafy vegetables


It improves concentration and cognitive functions.

Seafood, red meat, liver, poultry,nuts, whole grains, whole grains

Vitamin B6

Affects the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Meat, poultry, fish, nuts, whole grains, vegetables

Folic acid

Affects the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Peas, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables

Vitamin B12

Affects the synthesis of neurotransmitters. It is involved in the production of nerve cells.

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs


1. McCann D. et al., Food additives and hyperactive behavior in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial, The Lancet, 2007, 370, 1560-1567

2. Pork loin D.W. et al., Do artificial food colors promote hyperactivity in children with hyperactive syndromes? A meta-analysis of double-blind placebo-controlled trials, Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 2004, 25 (6), 423-34.

3. Stevens L.J. et al., Dietary sensivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five yeras of research, Clinical Pediatrics, 2011, 50 (4), 279-293

4. Bloch M.Ch. et al., Nutritional supplements for the treatment of Attention-Defficit Hiperactivity Disorder, Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am, 2014, 23 (4), 883-897

5. Nigg J.T. et al., Restriction and elimination diets in ADHD treatment, Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am, 2014, 23 (4), 937-953



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