The link between ADHD and diet

BiogeniQ, ADHD, Nutrition

01 August 2017

While experts may agree on the genetic causes of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), there has been less research on the impact environment can have on this disorder. A number of studies are currently trying to establish a link between ADHD and diet. Let's take a look at the foods these studies are focussing on. 

Essential Fatty Acids

Several recent studies suggest that children who are deficient in essential omega-3 fatty acids are more likely to have ADHD. Because our body cannot synthesize these essential fatty acids, they must be ingested from the foods we eat. Some researchers believe that taking omega-3 supplements might alleviate ADHD symptoms. However, in spite of numerous studies, there is still no real consensus on the effect that these supplements might have.


While many parents are convinced that sugar makes their child hyperactive, studies on the issue found no significant evidence to support that belief. Current thinking suggests that it may be more the situations in which high-sugar foods are eaten, rather than the foods themselves, that may contribute to the child’s excitability.

Food Colouring and Additives

These two categories of substances have also increasingly come under the microscope in recent years. A few years ago, dietitians were quick to prescribe the Feingold diet, which was specifically designed to reduce young people’s dietary exposure to dyes and other food additives. However, follow-up studies showed no significant improvement in children following this diet. While some children were found to be sensitive to these substances, no link was found between this sensitivity and ADHD. 

Minerals: Iron, Zinc and Magnesium

While the blood tests of some ADHD-affected children showed they were deficient in such minerals as zinc and magnesium, taking supplements did not seem to have any direct impact on their hyperactivity symptoms. The same goes for natural plant-based remedies. While some, such as valerian or chamomile tea, are thought to have soothing properties, further research is needed to provide conclusive evidence of a direct connection.


While current evidence seems to indicate that diet is not a very important factor in the treatment of ADHD children, a few simple tricks can alleviate symptoms, especially at mealtimes. Children with ADHD are easily distracted, so meals can either be very fast or very slow if the child gets lost in their thoughts. Parents should try and make meals a peaceful and enjoyable time so their child’s nutritional needs are met.

In conclusion, while the jury is still out on whether or not diet directly affects ADHD symptoms, there is no doubt that all children should eat a healthy, balanced diet for optimal growth and development.

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Ève Godin

With a degree from the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Medicine (Nutrition Department) and a degree in professional cooking from the ITHQ (Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec), Ève Godin has been exposed to many different aspects of the food world. Along the way, she acquired solid expertise in her field that she uses to help her customers prepare their daily meals. Ève also ventured into communications by authoring a book, Et si on commençait par le dessert, writing numerous online and magazine articles and doing a stint as a television reporter.



References :

Bloch MH, Qawasmi A. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;50(10):991-1000.

Gillies D, Sinn JKh, Lad SS, Leach MJ, Ross MJ. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jul 11;7:CD007986.

Yujeong Kim and Hyeja Chang, Correlation between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sugar consumption, quality of diet, and dietary behavior in school children, Nutr Res Pract. 2011 Jun; 5(3): 236–245.

Stevens, L. J., et al. (2013). « Mechanisms of behavioral, atopic, and other reactions to artificial food colors in children. » 71(5): 268-281.

Dr. Michael H. Bloch, MD, MS and Ms. Jilian Mulqueen, Nutritional Supplements for the Treatment of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2015 Oct 1.