What foods to avoid with ADHD

Picture of jelly beans in foods to avoid with ADHD
Several friends of mine have ADHD. And if truth be told, one of my friends thinks I might have it as well (no wonder I get easily distracted…).

I got to thinking about it, and when I researched it, I discovered that like other neurological conditions, the food that we eat can make a big difference to what goes on in our brains, and therefore can influence how we feel.

So I wanted to share with you what foods to avoid so that you or anyone you know with ADHD can have an easier time of it.

And guess what? Almost all of the foods to avoid are foods that you’d want to avoid anyway to live a vibrantly healthy lifestyle (except for one of them, but I’ll get to that!)

What to avoid with ADHD

Additives, flavor enhancers and artificial sweeteners

Artificial flavors, sweeteners, enumbers, chemical flavor enhancers and other nasties have no place on our plate (including MSG, which has been known to trigger headaches and other allergic reactions, and the preservative sodium benzoate). We’re talking foods like ready meals (especially frozen ones like pizza), chips and crisps, candy, soda and many processed meats. No surprises there, right?

If you must buy processed meat, at least check to see that there aren’t any additives apart from water.

You might also want to check the label of any fruit juices you buy, as a lot of those have artificial flavorings and/or colorings that we’re all better off without. In fact, fruit juices have loads of sugar anyway, so you’re better off with green juices (and I’ve got a great recipe for you right here).

In fact the flavor enhancers in a lot of these foods can cause hyperactivity (go into a school where the children have been given lots of cake and candy, and you’ll see what I mean).

These foods aren’t good for anyone, let alone those with ADHD.

Dairy products

Dairy products are said to be a possible trigger of ADHD in some people (read about a relevant study done in 2012 here). If you feel tired after eating them, then this may be you – so best to avoid them.

What to use instead

Soak nuts and make your own milks, creams and cheeses! It’s very easy – I’ve got lots of recipes for you here.

If you really find it hard to do without dairy products, see if you can at least avoid those made with cow’s milk, which is the biggest culprit.


Some experts believe that sugar strips the body of vitamins, enzymes and minerals that help to stabilize mood (there is a long article with all kinds of studies cited to support this, which you’ll find here).

We all know how grouchy we can get when we’re hungry, right? Our blood sugar drops, and we feel like we need to eat NOW.

Sugar wreaks havoc with our blood sugar levels, so let’s avoid this particular roller coaster!

What to use instead

Use dates, coconut palm sugar, maple syrup or honey. And use them sparingly – the best choice being dates.

If you need a liquid sweetener, soak the dates until soft (an hour or so in warm water should do the trick) and blend them with some water to make your own date syrup. Store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator and use as needed. It should keep for up to three weeks.


Sorry coffee lovers! But the high levels of caffeine in coffee are thought to trigger ADHD symptoms.

What to use instead

The good news is, you can make my coffee substitute – the recipe’s right here.


Mercury is poisonous for everyone’s brain, ADHD or not. It is said to be the second most toxic metal on earth!

You would think this was a relatively easy one to avoid, and if you don’t eat fish, that’s certainly true – mercury thermometers and fillings notwithstanding.

(Note: when I was in Thailand I had my mercury fillings removed by a specialist dentist. They were replaced by ceramic fillings, which unfortunately have BPA! So it’s a bit like choosing the lesser of two evils. But I’m still glad I did it).

If you’re a fish eater, you may want to avoid swordfish and tuna, which have high levels of mercury. Generally speaking, the bigger the fish on the predator scale, the more mercury – but that’s a big generalization. I’ve found a complete guide for you here.

Transfats and saturated fats

What do we mean by transfats? I think of them as fats that have been ‘transformed’ – so fried oils, that kind of thing. These are prevalent in fast food, and once again aren’t good for anyone, whether you’ve got ADHD or not.

Some sources also recommend cutting back on red meat (beef, pork) because of its high content in saturated fats.

What to use instead

Coconut oil, nuts, seeds (including flaxseed and chia seeds), seaweeds, olives, avocados, olive oils and other cold-pressed oils are all healthy fats that the brain needs to work efficiently. This is the only kind of fat you want in your brain.

And as for meat substitutes, I’ve got a great recipe for you here.

Corn and yellow squash

What’s wrong with these foods that are naturally yellow, you ask? No idea. I looked everywhere and have yet to find why these yellow foods aren’t recommended. Several articles recommend you eliminate them though, so be on the safe side – and I’ll update you when I find out more! In the meantime, if you find a study that explains this, please let me know so I can reference it here.

What to use instead

Use squash that’s green or orange instead, like zucchini (courgette). Instead of corn, try sprouted beans.


OK I can hear you now.


No, I don’t. But chocolate, like coffee, has enough caffeine to trigger ADHD symptoms.

What to use instead

I have a solution for you: carob!

If you think carob isn’t tasty, think again. Get yourself some raw, unroasted carob powder (you’ll find it on Amazon. Roasted carob tastes more like mocha than chocolate – it’s tasty, but different).

Then head to my blog and make one of my gorgeous chocolate recipes, using 100% carob in place of the raw cacao powder.

And finally…be careful what you read!

On a funny side note (well actually not so funny, more like ridiculous), when I was researching this article, I came across a site that listed chocolate, dairy and sugar as foods to avoid. They followed that up with this fascinating tip:

“If you notice your symptoms become worse after eating chocolate or drinking hot chocolate, you may want to opt for white chocolate products instead”.

Clearly no-one has told these unfortunate people that white chocolate is cocoa butter (from the cacao plant, aka CHOCOLATE), milk solids (DAIRY) and SUGAR.

How such people be making dietary recommendations on the internet is beyond me (well actually it isn’t beyond me, I suppose it’s a question of copy and paste, but that’s probably another story. Thank goodness I had my cat to help me research this article properly).

And very lastly, if you found this article helpful, or if you try any of the recipes I mention above, let me know in the comments!

Tired of struggling with different meals for the whole family?