5 ADHD Nutrition Myths To Ignore, According to a Dietitian

Photo: Getty Images/ vgajic
The internet is full of ways to “hack your health” with food, most of which are rooted in wellness culture (cough, diet culture). Examples include the “need” to detox (fake), the benefits of chlorophyll water (not as clear-cut as it’s portrayed on TikTok), skipping out on dairy for your gut health (myth!), and more. These “trends,” so to speak, get us further and further away from knowing what our body is actually telling us it needs and wants…but I’ll get on my soapbox about that another day.

For now, let’s talk about the intersection of diet and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and the  ADHD nutrition myths to stop believing. Hint: If you’ve heard the old misconception that sugar makes kids hyper, you already have an idea of what we’re talking about here.

Experts In This Article

The most common ADHD nutrition myths to stop believing

Myth 1: Processed food makes ADHD symptoms worse

In short, research simply doesn’t back this up1. “The research we do have available is a case study, which only looked at children and their consumption of processed foods, and whether or not these children displayed ADHD symptoms,” says Madelyn Larouche, RD, a non-diet, ADHD dietitian. “The study did not look at cause and effect.”

Part of busting this myth requires busting another: Food being processed isn't always a "bad" thing.  (Yep, processed foods can be nutrient-dense and good for your body.)

Myth 2: Refined sugars make ADHD symptoms worse

Similarly, the (little) research on sugar and ADHD1 didn’t find any links. What's more, sugars (and the carbs that break down into them) are crucial for our bodies. “Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient that humans need to function, and are also the body’s preferred fuel source,” Larouche says.

A quick fun fact: The brain of an average-sized adult needs 130 grams of carbs per day for healthy brain function, which is the equivalent of about nine slices of multigrain bread. In other words, you need more carbs than you probably realize. Without enough carbs in your system, you may experience low energy, difficulty focusing, and more.

Larouche makes another helpful, validating, point about this in a pinned Instagram post, in which she writes: “There is nothing wrong with using food as a source of stimulation! Pair the carb with a protein or a fat for a more satisfying snack that will help you feel satiated and to promote stable blood sugars.” This doesn’t mean you're “addicted to sugar,” either, as she types in the reel.

Along those lines, it’s important to avoid demonizing any foods. “There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ carbohydrate,” Larouche adds.

Myth 3: Gluten makes ADHD symptoms worse

Larouche says there are currently no studies that look at the correlation between ADHD and a gluten-free diet. “The only reason anyone should be limiting or completely excluding gluten is if they have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten,” she says.

In fact, cutting out food groups like these when you don’t need to can cause problems. In particular, Larouche points to nutrient deficiencies and a leaky gut.

Myth 4: Dairy makes ADHD symptoms worse

Just like gluten, Larouche says no research has looked at the link between dairy and ADHD, so there’s no need to limit your intake unless you have an allergy or intolerance.

Plus, by cutting out dairy if you don't have to, you're missing out on its major benefits: “Dairy is a great source of calcium and vitamin D, which support bone health,” Larouche adds. “Excluding dairy for no known reason—especially when you’re not supplementing with calcium and vitamin D—can lead to rickets in children and/or osteoporosis in adults.”

Myth 5: Intermittent fasting reduces ADHD symptoms

According to Larouche: "Folks with ADHD who are eating every three to four hours will experience more focused energy than those who are fasting and going long periods of time without eating." She recommends that you instead eat a balanced breakfast within one to two hours of waking up, and eat every three to four hours after.

And that makes sense, as not eating enough can lead to persistent thoughts about food, low energy, mood changes, and other undesirable side effects.

Further, Larouche recommends eating a variety of foods. Doing so can support energy levels, attention span, focus, and overall wellness, she says.

Don’t have much time or energy for cooking? That’s okay—don’t let it be a roadblock, if at all possible. “Choose quick, easy options to help reduce the time, steps, and overwhelm you may experience when it comes to meal prep," Larouche recommends. ADHD-friendly dinners are a thing that can make adequate meals more accessible and maybe even…exciting.

When your goal is to become better informed about your food choices and how they affect your overall health, it's important to educate yourself about the facts about your dietary choices, which can look like busting some ADHD nutrition myths or other lies diet culture would have you believe are true.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Lange, Klaus W., et al. “Diet and Food in Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Journal of Future Foods, vol. 2, no. 2, 2020, pp. 112-118, https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1016/j.jfutfo.2022.03.008.
  2. Lange, Klaus W., et al. “Diet and Food in Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Journal of Future Foods, vol. 2, no. 2, 2020, pp. 112-118, https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1016/j.jfutfo.2022.03.008.

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...