DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.

Food As Medicine: How Food Can Help Treat ADHD Naturally

In addition to giving your child nutritional supplements to ensure that their body and brain are getting adequate amounts of some very specific and vital nutrients, some parents may want to also consider planning meals that are rich in these nutrients, too. For example, if your child goes to school and you pack them a lunch, planning a packed lunch that incorporates foods that are higher in one or some of these nutrients may help them stay balanced during the day. 

 

You may also use this as a kind of guide to identify the nutrients that your child may need more of at a given time. For example, if they’re craving bananas, perhaps their body needs more magnesium or potassium. This isn’t necessarily your cue to change their supplementation protocol, but rather, note your child’s craving for later. If your child is craving healthy foods (like bananas, homemade roast chicken, or a homemade, sugar-free cacao smoothie), it’s usually best to allow them to eat these foods when they need them, since it’s likely that your child is trying to satisfy some nutritional need in that moment (especially if they’re really craving a specific kind of food that they haven’t paid much attention to before). 

Magnesium

Magnesium is present in a number of different foods. Those that I’ve chosen to include here are only some of the sources with the highest amounts of magnesium that are most likely to be accessible for most parents:

 

  • Chocolate (NOT chocolate bars; in particular, I’m talking about raw cacao.) 
  • Legumes (all kinds of beans)
  • Nuts and seeds (cashew nuts, almonds, etc)
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Whole grains (whole, unrefined wheat, brown rice, etc)
  • Avocados
  • Bananas (these are also high in potassium, another important nutrient for children with ADHD symptoms)

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is one of the most important B-complex vitamins for children with ADHD, so I’ve included a section dedicated to it apart from the other B-complex vitamins. Later I’ll review the foods that contain high levels of all or some of the other B-complex vitamins (which are also important for ADHD children). 

 

Here are the foods that are particularly high in vitamin B6: 

 

  • Poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • Bananas
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans; this is one of the best sources of vitamin B6. Not sure how to use chickpeas? Consider hummus or Chana Masala.)
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Potatoes

Zinc

Zinc is found naturally in many foods, of course, but there are also some foods that may be fortified with zinc as well. Here are some of the natural sources of zinc: 

 

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Avocados
  • Berries
  • Shiitake mushrooms (add a dried shiitake mushroom to stews to extract some of the nutrients from the mushroom into the soup liquid AND add extra flavor)
  • Lima beans
  • Broccoli
  • Green peas
  • Spinach
  • Sweet corn

 

L-Dopa

As mentioned before, if you pack your child’s lunch, this may be a good time to incorporate in a mid-day dose of Mucuna pruriens or another bean (like fava beans) that are high in L-Dopa. Bean soups (or soups of any kind), smoothies/fun drinks (if using toasted mucuna), and baked goods are perfect “carriers” for Mucuna. Here are some sources of L-Dopa to consider: 

 

 

  • Mucuna pruriens beans (available in raw and toasted powder forms, and possibly in whole-bean form in some places; they taste similar to garbanzo beans)
  • Fava beans
  • Immature/mature green beans

L-Tyrosine

The best sources of tyrosine are found in animal products, however there are also some plant based sources (though there isn’t as much tyrosine in the plant sources). I’ve included some of the plant sources in this list, too, but note that the animal products are better for children with ADHD since they have more of the essential nutrients required to convert L-tyrosine to dopamine and other neurotransmitters: 

 

  • Poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • Fish
  • Sesame seeds (these also contain relatively high levels of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6, so they’re a good choice if your child will eat them)
  • Red meats
  • Eggs
  • Tofu and some other soy products
  • Dairy products (ideally, choose goat’s milk products or certified organic, free-range cow’s milk products)
  • Beans
  • Seeds and nuts (cashew nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc)

L-Phenylalanine

Parents with children who also have PKU will of course avoid foods that contain high levels of phenylalanine. For parents whose children do not have PKU, however, this list can also be used as a guide to ensure a balanced recovery diet for ADHD treatment: 

 

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • Soybeans
  • Fish
  • Beans and other legumes
  • Red meats
  • Nuts and some seeds

Iron

Iron is another important nutrient for children with ADHD. Though we recommend that parents give their child a daily iron supplement or a multivitamin that contains iron, incorporating one or two iron-rich foods into your child’s diet each day can also be valuable: 

 

  • All meats and other animal products (milks, eggs, etc)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc)
  • Most nuts and seeds (specifically, pumpkin seeds are a good source)
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Quinoa
  • Olives
  • Prune juice
  • Mulberries

Vitamin C

A lot of people reading this are more likely to be more familiar with the sources of vitamin C than the sources of other nutrients. However, I’m still going to list some good sources here, since some of them might surprise you: 

 

  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits, etc)
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Bell peppers (specifically the red and green varieties)
  • Kiwifruit
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cantaloupe
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries (and other berries too)

L-Tryptophan 

Have you ever wondered about why the old remedy of drinking a glass of warm milk before bed works to help you sleep? The answer is the amino acid tryptophan. This amino acid is released from milk when the milk is warmed, and after you drink the milk, the tryptophan is then converted into serotonin and melatonin. Both of these hormones increase mental and physical relaxation, encourage healthy sleep, and improve mood during the daytime hours. Tryptophan is also found in particularly high quantities in turkey, which explains why a lot of people get sleepy after eating a large Thanksgiving Dinner. 

 

For children with ADHD, sleep and general relaxation can often be a problem. For this reason, adequate levels of tryptophan in the diet (or in supplement form in some cases) can help regulate sleep patterns and improve focus during the day. And, after all, lack of sleep alone without any other factors can exacerbate ADHD symptoms in a lot of kids. 

 

Here are some other sources of L-tryptophan: 

 

  • Whole milk (make sure that you choose organic, free-range milk from a reputable company that doesn’t inject the cows with antibiotics and treats the animals well)
  • Turkey (chicken contains tryptophan too, though is somewhat lesser amounts)
  • Whole oats
  • Nuts and seeds (pumpkins seeds and sunflower seeds are particularly good sources)
  • Mushrooms
  • Soybeans
  • Leafy green vegetables

 

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are often deficient in children who display ADHD symptoms. Therefore, incorporating in a cod liver oil supplement (as discussed in this book) or another omega supplement can be helpful. If you child won’t take cod liver oil (either due to an allergy or preference), there are some other good sources of these fatty acids too: 

 

  • Evening primrose oil (usually sold in gel-capsule form)
  • Borage oil
  • Flaxseed oil (read about the Budwig smoothie below; this is a good, simple breakfast choice that tastes good and is highly customizable)

 

The Budwig Smoothie

The Budwig Smoothie is easy to make. Start by incorporating the following ingredients in a blender until they’re well-combined and fluffy (there should be no separation). 

 

  • 1 tablespoon cold-pressed flaxseed oil
  • 2 tablespoons cottage cheese (you may also use full-fat coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk, goat’s milk, or another similar alternative)

 

You can increase the amounts to make more than one serving, just keep the ratio at 1:2 of flaxseed oil to cottage cheese. After combining these ingredients, add a banana, some berries, or both, with or without raw honey, and blend again. The result will be a creamy, fruity smoothie. For best results, have your child eat the Budwig Smoothie while sitting in the sun (but even if they don’t sit in the sun, this smoothie will still provide valuable health benefits and give them an adequate daily dose of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. 

 

Other Amino Acids

For this section, I’m going to list some of the most common “complete” protein sources. A “complete protein” is a single, whole food that contains all of the essential amino acids. It may or may not contain the amino acids that are considered nonessential or conditionally essential (nonessential amino acids are manufactured in the body when the proper nutrients are present, while conditionally essential amino acids are only usually necessary in times of extreme stress or illness). 

 

  • Capomo (this is a decaf coffee substitute popular in Mexico and Central America; it has a somewhat chocolate-y flavor and can be made into a drink or baked into cakes and cookies or other desserts)
  • Any animal products (poultry, red meat, dairy products, eggs, and others are all considered complete proteins)
  • Whole soy foods (this includes tofu, edamame, miso, and tempeh, to name a few)

 

The B-Complex Vitamins

The B-complex vitamins all work together, so I’ve included this section along with the section on vitamin B6 discussed above. Without ALL of the B vitamins, the body may not be able to perform all of the necessary functions or to produce dopamine or other neurotransmitters. Thus, eating a diet rich in B vitamins can help support recovery for a child with ADHD. Here are some good sources of all or most of the B vitamins: 

 

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc)
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Nutritional yeast (note, however, that contrary to popular belief, nutritional yeast does NOT contain vitamin B12; you can only get vitamin B12 from animal sources)
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Red meats
  • Avocado
  • Brown rice

 

Cure ADHD Now: The No-Nonsense Guide to Plants, Vitamins, and Minerals
That Are Scientifically and Anecdotally Proven to Cure ADHD

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