Diet, ADD and ADHD

A plant-based diet reduces the risk of ADD and ADHD and improves attention and focus in students.

Many parents are concerned about the challenges their kids face in maintaining attention and focus these days.  Some kids simply need more time to be physically active or more activities that keep them engaged, while others may have a diagnosable disorder such as ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) and might be prescribed medications.  Whatever the level of concern, and whatever the contributing factors that may be causing this, it turns out that a plant-based diet can help.  

A recent study looked at children around 9-10 years old, comparing their level of attention inhibition (their ability to resist distracting stimuli while performing challenging tasks) to the nature of the foods they ate in a particular 7-day period.  The researchers found that the ability of the children to resist distracting stimuli was related to how closely their diet matched a largely plant-based diet. 

Other studies have looked at children with ADHD specifically. Plant foods are known to have a protective effect against inflammation and oxidative stress which both are involved in psychiatric disorders such as ADHD. A study assessed children’s risk of developing ADHD in relation to the amount of plant-based foods they ate. They found that those children who had the highest intake of plant-based foods had a 68% reduced risk of developing ADHD compared to those who had the lowest intake of plant-based foods.

Another study measured the risk of developing ADHD for each child compared to their intake of phytonutrient-rich foods in particular. Phytonutrients are chemicals naturally occurring in plant foods, that help prevent oxidation, inflammation and cancer in particular. They found that the higher the level of intake of phytonutrient-rich foods, the lower the risk of ADHD.  Another study looked at the risk of ADHD compared to the Mediterranean diet, and similarly found that the school-aged children whose diet most closely matched the Mediterranean diet, a diet high in plant-based foods along with some fish, had the lowest risk of ADHD.   Similarly, another study found that low adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a higher risk of ADHD.  In particular, a lower frequency of consuming fruit, vegetables, pasta, and rice and higher frequency of skipping breakfast and eating at fast-food restaurants, or consuming junk foods were associated with an increased risk of an ADHD diagnosis.  

While more research needs to be done, increasing the quantity of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts in your child’s diet may help them to focus better and reduce the risk of developing a more serious ADHD condition.  At the same time, it can help reduce their risk of asthma, and set them up for a healthier life by reducing the risk of some cancers and avoiding many chronic diseases.