6 diet tweaks to help manage ADHD

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly occurring disorders affecting South African children and adolescents, and while it is treated with medication and other interventions, studies show that diet can also influence ADHD symptoms.

To assist in managing these symptoms, Laager Tea4Kidz partner dietitian, Mbali Mapholi, has shared six dietary tips for children with ADHD.

“ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity,” explained Mapholi. “While the exact cause is complex and not fully understood, ongoing research explores the relationship between diet and ADHD symptoms.”

She said that, while no child is the same, some studies are suggesting that nutrient deficiencies, dietary patterns, food sensitivities, and blood sugar levels may influence ADHD symptoms.

“For example, addressing deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, avoiding potential trigger foods, and maintaining stable blood sugar levels through a balanced diet are important. However, it’s crucial to approach dietary changes cautiously and in collaboration with a dietitian, as they should complement, not replace, evidence-based treatments like behavioural interventions or medication when necessary.”

Mbali’s 6 dietary tips for ADHD

Managing the diet of a child with ADHD involves making thoughtful and strategic choices to support their overall well-being. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, here are some practical improvements you can consider, she explained.

Varied diet
Ensure your child receives a diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Tip: Treats should not replace snacks. Limit processed foods, sugary snacks, and carbonated drinks, as these can contribute to rapid energy spikes and crashes if consumed as treats.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish like pilchards and smoked salmon, seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds, and nuts like walnuts.
Tip: Try delicious, quick smoothie recipes that the child will love, incorporating seeds. Alternatively, cook pilchards pasta, a kid-friendly meal that boosts omega-3 intake.

Protein-rich foods
Include protein in each meal from sources like lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, and nuts.
Tip: Add chicken strips/nuggets, boiled eggs, yoghurts, nuts, and nut butter into their diet in small manageable quantities throughout the day.

Avoid caffeine and sugary beverages
Limit caffeine intake as excessive caffeine can contribute to restlessness and affect sleep. There are no clear caffeine recommendations for children and teenagers so it is recommended that they should not consume caffeine. Ensure your child stays hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day as dehydration can affect cognitive function.
Tip: Add Laager Rooibos tea which is caffeine-free and naturally sugar-free, as a versatile beverage served hot or in delicious homemade Rooibos tea. You can add fruits and herbs to the tea. Laager Tea4Kidz has a range of delicious flavours that appeal to children.

Iron-rich foods
Include iron-rich foods like lean meats, beans, lentils, and fortified cereals as iron is important for cognitive function.
Tip: Incorporate canned red kidney beans in wraps, start the day with a bowl of fortified cereal with milk and a side of fruit, or add lentils to pasta dishes like bolognese or sloppy joes. The key is in serving these foods and allowing the child to share how they like their food served & cut.

Regular meals and snacks
Children with ADHD may struggle with getting through large quantities of food, so aim for regular meals and snacks to keep blood sugar levels stable, preventing energy crashes that may affect attention and mood.
Tip: During mealtimes, offer food before a drink; for example, during breakfast, offer breakfast first and then, when the child is satisfied, encourage them to have their Laager Rooibos tea.

Laager Rooibos and Laager Tea4Kidz are available in a range of delicious flavours. For a range of healthy recipes, advice and tips visit their website. For more insightful dietary information, follow Mbali Mapholi @Urbandietitian on Instagram.

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