Certain foods can make your child’s ADHD symptoms worse. Here’s what you need to know to create a better ADHD diet.

Avoid Candy on a Diet for ADHD

jars of candy which should be avoided for children with ADHD
Jeff Wasserman/StocksyCandy is loaded with sugar and artificial colors, a bad combination for children with ADHD. Both of these common ingredients have been shown to promote ADHD symptoms — namely hyperactivity — in studies. “With the high content of sugar and artificial coloring, candy is a huge contributor to ADHD,” said Howard Peiper, a naturopath and the author of The ADD and ADHD Diet!  

Sodas, Caffeine, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup Cause ADHD Symptoms

a glass of soda which should be avoided by children with ADHD
\ThinkstockIf you have ADHD, consider eliminating soda. (Even if you don’t have ADHD, saying no to soda is a good idea.) These drinks often have many of the same sugars and sweeteners that make candy a bad idea for kids on the ADHD diet. And soda has other ingredients that worsen ADHD symptoms, such as high-fructose corn syrup and caffeine. “Excessive sugar and caffeine intake both cause symptoms of hyperactivity and easy distractibility,” says Dr. Barnhill. One 2013 study found that 5-year-old children who drank sodas were more likely to show aggression and social withdrawal. 


Frozen Fruits and Vegetables May Exacerbate ADHD Symptoms

frozen vegetables which can potentially increase ADHD symptoms
Jonelle Weaver/Getty ImagesAlthough fruits and vegetables are healthy choices for an ADHD diet, some frozen brands contain artificial colors, so check all labels carefully. Barnhill says some frozen foods can exacerbate ADHD symptoms for another reason: “Foods treated with organophosphates for insect control have been shown to cause neurologic-based behavioral problems that mimic ADHD and many other behavior problems.”


Nix Cake Mixes and Frostings on a Diet for ADHD

a slice of cake which can worsen ADHD in children
ShutterstockCake mix and frosting contain the high amounts of sugar and artificial colors that can lead to hyperactivity and other ADHD symptoms. Naheed Ali, MD, PhD, an expert on ADHD and the author of Diabetes and You: A Comprehensive, Holistic Approach, added that these products are often also loaded with several artificial sweeteners. “When frosting and cake mix contain artificial sweeteners, they increase the risk of ADHD symptoms more than natural sweeteners would,” he says.


Energy Drinks Can Worsen ADHD Symptoms in Teens

energy drinks, which can worsen ADHD symptoms
ThinkstockEnergy drinksare becoming increasingly popular among kids, especially teens. Unfortunately, they also have a veritable treasure trove of ingredients that can worsen ADHD symptoms: sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, caffeine, and other stimulants. “Energy drinks are high on the list of things that cause teens to display behaviors mimicking ADHD,” says Barnhill. They have no place in a healthy ADHD diet.

Ask an ADHD Dietitian About Eating Fish and Other Seafood

fish, which can potentially increase ADHD symptoms
ThinkstockDr. Ali says that eating fish and other seafood with trace amounts of mercury can exacerbate ADHD symptoms in the long term. Some of the worst culprits are shark, king mackerel, swordfish, and tilefish. “Mercury, like cellulose, is extremely hard to digest and can accumulate in the brain over time,” explains Ali. “This can lead to hyperactivity.” Talk to your doctor or ADHD nutritionist about the best types of fish to include in an ADHD diet.


ADHD Symptoms May Be Caused by Food Sensitivities

chocolate, which can cause a food sensitivity
ShutterstockMany children with food sensitivities can exhibit ADHD symptoms after they are exposed to certain foods. Some of the common foods that can cause ADHD reactions include milk, chocolate, soy, wheat, eggs, beans, corn, tomatoes, grapes, and oranges. If you suspect a food sensitivity may be contributing to your child’s ADHD symptoms, talk to your ADHD dietitian or doctor about trying an elimination diet.