Five Foods to Avoid for Children with ADHD

Five Foods to Avoid for Children with ADHD (Part 2)
The removal of milk products, specifically casein, from the diet has been found to help decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity in children with ADHD. Getty Images

Research has found a correlation between making specific diet changes and a decrease in ADHD symptoms. Foods that are recommended to be avoided include foods with artificial colors and preservatives, high mercury, sugar, caffeine, dairy, gluten and non-organic produce. Below are ten popular foods that children eat that fall into these categories. Try eliminating these foods one at a time for about two weeks to see how your child responds.

Unfortunately, children may respond differently to diet changes, so it may require some trial and error. To get your child on board with a diet change, make a fun game out of it by exploring the grocery store aisles for foods your family has never tried.

Cake Mix and Pre-Made Frosting

Highly processed pre-made foods are full of food additives such as preservatives and dyes. Yellow cake mix contains Red 40 and Yellow 5. Research has found that dyes in food can trigger hyperactivity or ADHD symptoms in sensitive children. Elimination of artificial colors has been found to be an effective treatment option for reducing symptoms of ADHD.


While there have been no official links made between sugar consumption and increased activity, many parents still feel that sugar causes their children to be more active. This may be because of the rapid change in blood sugar levels that sugar produces. Besides sugar, candy is usually made with artificial colors and preservatives, which may also affect behavior.

Replacing candy with more healthful dessert option such as fruit is the best bet.


The same children who are sensitive to food dyes may also be more sensitive to the caffeine and preservatives in chocolate. Limiting your child’s consumption of chocolate may reduce hyper activity.

Wheat Bread and Pasta

Multiple studies have shown that a gluten-free diet significantly improves ADHD symptoms.

Furthermore, untreated celiac disease may predispose people to behavioral disturbances such as ADHD. A gluten-free diet means removing foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley.


The removal of milk products, specifically casein, from the diet has been found to help decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity in children with ADHD. To discover if your child has a milk sensitivity, try eliminating all milk products from their diet for 5 to 7 days. Then slowly re-introduce them and watch for any symptoms.

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. Niederhofer, Helmut (2011). Association of Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder and Celiac Disease: a Brief Report. Retrieved from:

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

5. Smith, Barbara (2015). Milk and Attention Deficit Disorder. Retrieved from:

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