5 Foods Linked to ADHD

Artificial food coloring has long been suspected of  contributing to diagnoses of ADHD, but a new study from Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research shows an association between ADHD and the broader eating patterns of a ‘Western-style’ diet in some adolescents. The research has just been published online in the international Journal of Attention Disorders.

Leader of Nutrition studies at the Institute, Associate Professor Wendy Oddy, explained that the researchers looked at the dietary patterns of 1800 adolescents from the Raine Study and classified diets into ‘Healthy’ or ‘Western’ patterns. The Raine Study is an ongoing health research project which has followed a large group of mothers and their offspring over the past 18 years.

What researchers found is that a diet high in foods typical of the standard Western diet was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis, compared with a diet low in the Western pattern–even after adjusting for  other social and family influences.

“We looked at the dietary patterns amongst the adolescents and compared the diet information against whether or not the adolescent had received a diagnosis of ADHD by the age of 14 years. In our study, 115 adolescents had been diagnosed with ADHD, 91 boys and 24 girls.”

A ‘healthy pattern’ is a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and fish–it is generally higher in omega-3 fatty acids, folate and fibre. A ‘Western pattern’ is a diet generally higher in total fat, saturated fat, refined sugar and sodium.

When they looked at specific foods, having an ADHD diagnosis was associated with a diet high in these five food categories:

1. Fast foods

2. Processed meats

3. Red meat

4. High fat dairy products

5. Sweets

Oddy says that, “a Western dietary pattern may indicate the adolescent has a less optimal fatty acid profile, whereas a diet higher in omega-3 fatty acids is thought to hold benefits for mental health and optimal brain function. It also may be that the Western dietary pattern doesn’t provide enough essential micronutrients that are needed for brain function, particularly attention and concentration, or that a Western diet might contain more colours, flavours and additives that have been linked to an increase in ADHD symptoms. It may also be that impulsivity, which is a characteristic of ADHD, leads to poor dietary choices such as quick snacks when hungry.”

Dr Oddy said that although this study suggests that diet may be implicated in ADHD, more research is needed to determine the nature of the relationship.

Related: Help Your Child Focus Naturally, Is Nature Deficit Order Real?

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Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle8 months ago

When you eat them all, then you are dead meat.
I have no problem with my ADHD, but I do have a tendency to drive other people nuts.

Laurie Mazzeo
Laurie Mazzeo8 months ago

Thanks for the info will try the diet and see if it helps

Laurie Mazzeo
Laurie Mazzeo8 months ago

Thanks for the info will try the diet and see if it helps

Richard T.
Richard T.8 months ago


N. Jane Walker
N. Jane Walker9 months ago

I am being sarcastic of course, but not long ago red meat was going to save us from every medical evil...who remembers the Atkins craze? Now gluten is the enemy. This article gives good advice to avoid hyperactivity (staying away from processed foods and food colouring is always good advice) but served occaisonally, red meat from organic butchers is good for growing kids.

N. Jane Walker
N. Jane Walker9 months ago

What? not gluten? I thought it was the cause of all evil!

Karen Mulkhan
9 months ago

Very interesting article, thanks for sharing!

Monica Buchanan
Monica Buchanan10 months ago


Lisa King
Lisa K.about a year ago

surprise surprise...its something in the food

Elena P.
Elena Poensgenabout a year ago

Thank you :)