Children With ADHD: Foods to Avoid

If your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), chances are you’ve heard all kinds of differing advice about what foods he should avoid. The truth is, while certain foods reduce symptoms for some kids, every child reacts differently. Because of that, you may need to experiment a bit. Fortunately, avoiding many of the foods that have been found to impact hyperactivity in kids will result in a healthier diet all around. Eliminating one group of food at a time and monitoring the effect it has on your child will let you know what to avoid in the future.

Packaged and Processed Foods

Feeding your child wholesome, natural foods instead of packaged or processed foods eliminates additives, such as preservatives, artificial flavorings and colorings, which have been shown to impact children with ADHD negatively. Even better, organic foods take pesticides and other toxins out of the equation. Neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D., author of “Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten,” says on that these additives affect some kids by increasing hyperactivity and reducing their ability to concentrate. Pediatrician Benjamin Feingold, M.D., creator of the Feingold Diet, also recommends that children with ADHD avoid artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives found in packaged foods. The Feingold Association continues his work posthumously and claims that members have a 90-percent success rate at reducing symptoms of ADHD.

Sugar and Carbs

Sugar has never been proven to affect children’s level of hyperactivity, but some parents swear that removing sugar from their child’s diet reduces their symptoms of ADHD. It’s possible that the high-sugar foods are also high in artificial additives and that it’s not actually the sugar their kids are sensitive to. However, both natural health authority Dr. David Williams (according to Home School Math) and naturopathic doctor John M. Dye of The Healing Center On-Line say some children respond well to a sugar-free diet low in refined carbohydrates, such as white flour. Anthony Kane, M.D., a father of children with ADHD and founder of ADD ADHD Advances, agrees, saying that even though studies haven’t proven sugar to have a negative effect, they also haven’t shown a positive effect.


Dr. Perlmutter has found that a higher-than-normal proportion of his patients with ADHD are sensitive to gluten, which can be determined by a simple blood test. If that’s true for your child, he’ll need to avoid all foods made with wheat, rye or barley, as well as packaged foods that may have gluten as a hidden additive. To be safe, look for labels that say “gluten-free.”


Glenn Hefley, another father of an ADHD child and creator of 4 ADHD, says that his son reacts badly to dairy products, so he’s replaced them with soy. ADHD Child Parenting Guides, a website for parents of kids with ADHD, agrees and recommends that you remove dairy from your child’s diet for two weeks to see what kind of effect it has. This includes milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream.


Dr. Perlmutter says that children are sensitive to toxins, such as mercury, which affect our ability to concentrate. These contaminate some varieties of fish. He recommends that kids with ADHD avoid high-mercury fish, such as shark, swordfish, mackerel and tilefish.