The Role of Nutrition in Managing ADHD Symptoms

Blog, Written by Sophie Corbett

Navigating the wealth of information online about ADHD nutrition can be overwhelming, especially when so much of it is misinformation. In fact, a dietitian colleague recently mentioned that just 2% of the nutrition information online is evidence-based! Yikes! This blog aims to help you cut through the noise and understand the role of nutrition in managing ADHD symptoms effectively.


ADHD and Nutrition: What’s the Connection?


ADHD nutrition survey: Which has the greater impact?

There’s a lot of talk about how diet can impact focus and ADHD symptoms. However, findings from a survey of our community suggest that ADHD has a more significant impact on your eating habits than the other way around. On top of that, dietary restrictions can worsen executive function, making it harder to manage ADHD symptoms. It is important to note that there is no one evidence-based diet for ADHD. ADHD nutrition is a lot more individual than any blanket rules.


So, let’s dive into the key areas where nutrition can have an impact and how you can optimise your diet for better ADHD management.


Energy and Macronutrient Balance


The first priority in nutrition is making sure the individual is eating enough. This is where some ADHDers struggle, especially those on medication. A low energy intake will have the biggest impact out of anything on your executive function. Equally, maintaining a balanced diet is crucial. Ensuring you have a good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats helps keep your energy levels stable. Fluctuating energy levels can affect concentration and mood, both of which are critical for managing ADHD symptoms. If eating regularly is something you struggle with- consider some lifestyle changes and hacks which may nudge you to eat better.


Hydration Status


Hydration plays a significant role in overall brain function. Even mild dehydration can lead to reduced concentration and cognitive performance. Make it a habit to drink water regularly throughout the day. Aim for around 8 glasses of water daily, and remember that tea, squash, and water-rich foods also count towards your fluid intake.



Gut Health


There’s growing evidence that gut health influences brain function. A healthy gut microbiome can improve mood and cognitive function, which are essential for managing ADHD. Incorporate food sources of probiotics and prebiotics into your diet by consuming things like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and whole grains. 



Variety of Diet


The Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, has been shown to support overall brain health. The SMILES trial demonstrated that such a diet could improve mental health outcomes. So, focus on a varied diet full of colourful, nutrient-dense foods.



Medication and Diet


If you’re on medication for ADHD, it’s important to understand how your diet can interact with it. Some medications may affect appetite or nutrient absorption. Discuss any dietary concerns with your dietitian or healthcare provider to ensure your diet complements your treatment plan.



Supplements to Consider


While no supplement can replace a good night’s sleep or proper hydration, some are being researched which may support ADHD management:


  • Caffeine: Studies have shown it can improve attention but might increase impulsivity and affect sleep. This one will be super individual. If you choose to include caffeine, opt for high-quality sources like a cup of filter coffee and avoid energy drinks. Energy drinks have been found to increase risk taking behaviour. Stop consuming caffeine around lunchtime to avoid sleep disturbances.
  • L-Theanine: Found in tea leaves, this amino acid may help with focus and sleep. We always advocate for a food-first approach, but it could be something to consider if you need extra support.
  • Dark Chocolate/Cacao: Some people find dark chocolate a helpful alternative to caffeine. It contains flavonoids which might improve cognitive function. It is also tasty which helps!
  • Herbal Supplements: Supplements like ashwagandha and lion’s mane have limited evidence for their effectiveness. You can explore these on your own, but manage your expectations regarding their impact.


Key Takeaways


  • Ensure you are eating enough food and that you have a balance of macronutrients at each meal
  • Stay Hydrated: Regular water intake is essential for brain function.
  • Eat Fibre-Rich Foods: A diet high in fibre supports gut health and can improve mood and cognition.
  • Consider L-Theanine: It may help with focus and sleep.
  • Caffeine: If used, consume in moderation and choose high-quality sources. Avoid late-day consumption to prevent sleep issues.
  • Dark Chocolate: This can be a beneficial and tasty addition to your diet for some cognitive benefits.
  • Explore Herbal Supplements: They may offer some benefits, but the effects are likely to be small and vary between individuals.


Improving Your Relationship with Food


Managing ADHD involves looking at the bigger picture, including your relationship with food. We know that those with ADHD are also more prone to developing eating disorders. It’s essential to avoid restrictive diets that can worsen your executive function and overall wellbeing. Instead, focus on balanced eating that supports both your physical and mental health.

If you struggle with disordered eating, it’s crucial to seek support from professionals. As an experienced dietitian, I specialise in helping individuals with ADHD and other mental health conditions improve their relationship with food and achieve better health outcomes. I work as part of a team of specialists here at MHD


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Blog written by Sophie

Sophie is a Specialist Eating Disorder Dietitian passionate about delivering great quality care and advocating for her clients. She is naturally curious and driven for continued learning both within the profession and outside of it. Sophie founded Mental Health Dietitians in 2024 to be able to work in a way that is value-aligned and makes a difference to the individuals in her care, as well as the wider profession. She currently supports international clients 1-1 in her online clinic.