Children With ADHD: Foods to Consider Cutting Out

Five Foods to Avoid for Children with ADHD
Many sodas have artificial colors, sugar, and caffeine all of which have been found to exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Getty Images

It is estimated, as of 2011, that 12% of children ages 5-17 years old have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is a 43% increase from 2003. With such an increase in prevalence, more research than ever is being done to investigate treatment options. One option that many parents have found helpful is making diet changes for their children. 


Tuna is the largest source of mercury in most Americans’ diets.

Mercury has been found to lead to attention deficits and learning disabilities. One study found that children exposed to higher amounts of mercury or lead were three to five times more likely to be identified as having behavioral problems associated with ADHD by teachers.

Non-Organic Apples

Organophosphates are a type of pesticide commonly used on fresh, non-organically grown produce. These pesticides disrupt one of the neurotransmitters that ensures nerve impulses are halted at the appropriate time. When these nerve signals get interrupted, it may cause ADHD symptoms. In one study, the urine of a sample of US children was tested for organophosphate metabolites. Those with higher levels were more likely to have ADHD then those with lower levels. Choosing organic produce can help decrease exposure to pesticides.


Many sodas have artificial colors, sugar, and caffeine all of which have been found to exacerbate ADHD symptoms.

Furthermore, sodas often contain high fructose corn syrup, which can contain measurable amounts of mercury.

Deli Meat

One of the more surprising sources of gluten is deli meat. Gluten is often used as a binding agent or in malt flavoring in deli meat. A 2011 study found that one out of seven subjects with ADHD also had celiac disease, which was significantly higher than the one out of 100 in the general population.

The study further showed that subjects who followed a gluten-free diet for six months had vastly improved ADHD symptoms.

Nutrigrain Bars

Because there is “grain” in the title, it seems that these bars should be on the healthy list. But hidden inside are food dyes such as Red 40. A 2012 Meta-analysis study found that a diet that excluded certain foods from the diet, including food dyes, reduced ADHD symptoms in about 33% of children with the disorder.

Author Byline:

Margaret Burke is a Registered Dietitian, Certified English as a Second Language Instructor, and is currently completing her 200 hour yoga teach training. She works in private practice helping clients achieve their nutritional goals. When she is not working, she enjoys photography, traveling abroad, and baking delicious treats.


1. Cone, Marla (2012). Kids Exposed to Mercury or Lead more likely to have ADHD Symptoms, Canadian study finds. Retrieved from:

2. Muñoz, Heather (2015). ADHD and a Gluten Free Diet. Retrieved from:

3. Natural Resources Defense Council (2011) Higher Organophosphate Pesticide Levels Linked to ADHD. Retrieved from:

4. Perkins, Sharon (n.d). Food Containing Mercury. Retrieved from:

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