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Claire Nielsen: Diet and ADHD

I have chosen to feed my family as healthy food as I can, as I have seen the detrimental effects of junk food on the ADD/ADHD brain.
I have chosen to feed my family as healthy food as I can, as I have seen the detrimental effects of junk food on the ADD/ADHD brain, Claire Nielsen writes.

The ADD and ADHD diagnosis seems to be rampant in our society these days and I would like this article to focus on the link between ADHD symptoms and diet. I have a child with this diagnosis and think the symptoms are actually prevalent in my whole family.  I have chosen to feed my family as healthy food as I can, as I have seen the detrimental effects of junk food on the ADD/ADHD brain.

It is important that people (children and adults) have brain-boosting foods such as the following with the most important being first. ADDitude magazine suggests a paleo diet.

Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, seeds, avocados, olive oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts and brazil nuts. Supplementing with an Omega vitamin is a good idea as studies show it may improve attention, focus, motivation, and working memory.

Protein which builds neurotransmitters in the brain, such as meat and shellfish, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, eggs and cheese. Please choose good quality protein sources rather than processed meat and please avoid smoked meats as much as possible (sandwich meats, pepperoni, salami…). Increase good protein in the diet where you can.

All veggies and fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, pears and grapefruit. These are good sources of vitamins and complex carbs (also needed by the brain).

Complex carbohydrates like fruit and veggies, whole grains, brown rice, beans and lentils.

Calcium rich foods like cheese and yogurt, and high fibre foods (lower in gluten if possible).

A good multivitamin also important that contains iron, magnesiumzincvitamin B-6, and vitamin D.  These particular vitamins are often lacking in those with ADHD. Food sources include: beef, liver, kidney beans and tofu (for iron), meat, shellfish, beans and nuts (for zinc), pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach and peanuts (for magnesium), eggs, fish peanuts and potatoes (vit B-6), fatty fish, liver, eggs and fortified milk (for vit D).

A small amount of coffee in the morning has been shown to help with concentration but should be avoided (including all caffeine) if you are on ADHD medication as it can intensify the positive and negative reactions to the meds.

Avoid the following foods: (Worst food alert: Fruit Loops – full of colouring and sugar.) Avoid simple carbs such as candy, sugary cereals, chips, corn syrup, honey, sugar, pop, white flour products (bread, baking, pasta), white rice, fries and skinless potatoes. Always check labels for sugar (carbs) and additives such as coloring & preservatives. High sugar foods and drinks cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, which affect energy, motivation, concentration, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Children can’t help but to become hyper and in the ADHD mind hyperactivity is often followed by agitation and aggression (and we know where that leads…)

Special note: Wash fruits and veggies well (or choose organic).

Healthy Meal Alternatives:

Breakfast:  Replace sugary cereals with protein for breakfast (eggs, cheese on toast, or toast with pate & avocado) which helps with brain function during the day.  Oatmeal is a good option with some seeds added for protein (chia, hemp, seeds). Smoothies are a great option as you can pack all sorts of vitamins in them in the form of veggies, seeds and protein powder.

Lunch:  Try to pack a lunch that doesn’t include sugar snacks, nitrates (smoked meats) or instant food. Instead, pack a couple of pieces of fruit, a small bag of nuts (unless banned at the school), a sandwich or wrap with cheese rather than sandwich meat.  A wrap spread with seed butter wrapped around a banana is delicious and fun to eat. Veggies and dip are also a great option.  Once kids are high school students, they most likely don’t want to pack a lunch anymore – instead choosing a local establishment for a very unhealthy ‘student special’ have the kids order off the menu or choose something healthy from the school canteen.

After school snack:  veggies and dip, apples and nut butter, leftover oatmeal, crackers and cheese, sandwich, salad, fruit.

Dinner: High-quality protein with veggies and go easy on the carbs (potatoes, pasta, rice). We start with a big salad most nights (I make a Caesar with a home recipe) and then the meat and veg. This is a filling meal with minimal carbs.

There are so many excellent resources out there and I encourage everyone to do their own Googling.  Check out the Feingold Diet which eliminates certain damaging foods and replaces them with healthy brain options. Also check out ADDitude Magazine which is full of resources for everything about ADD/ADHD.

Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.