Can Diet Affect ADHD Symptoms?

Sep 08, 2023
Can Diet Affect ADHD Symptoms?
How you choose to fuel your body and brain has a direct impact on how well you function at every level. Your dietary choices also have the power to worsen — or improve — your ADHD symptoms. Here’s what you should know.  

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood neurodevelopmental disorder that typically emerges before adolescence. While its effects emerge in different ways and to varying degrees, inattention, distractibility, restlessness, and forgetfulness are frequent ADHD symptoms. 

Whether it’s discovered soon after the age of onset or its diagnosis is delayed until adulthood, ADHD is a highly treatable condition that usually responds well to a combination of medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and healthy lifestyle habits. 

At Direct Primary Care New Braunfels, our expert team offers a full scope of ADHD services for kids, teens, and adults alike. Here, Dr. Thomas Kay, Dr. Georgina Bustamante, and nurse practitioner Becky Spencer explain how healthy dietary choices can have a positive effect on mood, cognition, memory, and behavior — and make ADHD symptoms easier to manage.     

Diet is an essential part of healthy living 

It’s no secret that a wholesome diet is good for your health and well-being: Just as choosing nutrient-dense natural foods over refined food products is part of an effective lifestyle strategy for health protection and disease prevention, eating well can also help lessen the severity of an existing chronic physical or mental health condition. 

Why? What you put on your plate — or how you choose to fuel your body and brain — has a direct impact on how well you function at every level. Simply put: When you give your body and mind the nutrients they need to thrive, you’re more likely to thrive, too.    

A healthy lifestyle can help you control ADHD 

Impaired executive brain function and emotional dysregulation are the defining features of ADHD that give rise to symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. 

While an evidence-based treatment plan centered around medication and therapy aims to ease ADHD symptoms by improving executive function and emotional regulation, these interventions are all the more effective when they’re supported by healthy lifestyle habits like: 

  • Engaging in physical activity each day 
  • Getting adequate sleep each night 
  • Limiting screen time (children and adults)
  • Establishing healthier eating patterns 

As it turns out, the very same dietary patterns that are considered generally unhealthy also tend to aggravate ADHD symptoms. Specifically, choosing processed junk foods over natural whole foods can make it harder to focus, control impulses, and maintain a balanced mood. 

The wrong diet can worsen ADHD symptoms

Research into how diet may affect ADHD is ongoing, but several studies show a correlation between Western eating patterns (i.e., junk-food diets) and an increased likelihood of ADHD development and symptom severity. ADHD tends to worsen with a diet that features:  

  • Mostly refined grain products
  • Excessive amounts of added sugar
  • Fast foods; fatty or fried meals 
  • Sodium-rich processed foods
  • Many additives and preservatives 

Simply put, when your diet consists of ultra-processed foods that are rich in refined carbs, added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and additives, your body and brain take a hit on two levels: One, they don’t get the vital nutrients they need to function normally, and two, they’re inundated with harmful chemicals and unhealthy nutrients that bog them down. 

Healthy foods can help improve ADHD control 

Luckily, clean eating and wholesome dietary patterns have the opposite effect, boosting your well-being and helping you ease or improve chronic health conditions, including ADHD. That’s right — whether it’s you or your child who’s coping with this common neurodevelopmental disorder, healthier food choices have the power to boost cognition and make symptoms easier to manage. 

To promote optimal neurotransmitter function, balanced blood sugar levels, a stable mood, and diminished ADHD symptoms, we recommend choosing:

  • Fiber-rich, nutrient-dense foods (vegetables, fruits, and whole grains)
  • Lean protein sources (legumes, tofu, eggs, poultry, and white fish)
  • Brain-healthy fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, salmon, and tuna)
  • Water or plain tea or coffee (instead of juice, soda, or sports drinks)  

Knowing which foods to restrict is just as important: A healthy ADHD diet is one that’s low in saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, sodium, and harmful chemical additives. 

If you have questions about healthier living with ADHD, our board-certified providers at Direct Primary Care New Braunfels can help. Call or click online to schedule a visit at our office in New Braunfels, Texas, today.