Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD, is a neurological syndrome associated with poor concentration and organisational skills.  It is, however, poorly understood with many people dismissing it as a ‘fad’ with no foundation in truth.

There are medications available to help manage the symptoms, and behavioural therapy can be helpful.  Elimination diets have been shown to have limited efficacy in the treatment of ADHD.  More recently, artificial food colourants and the preservative sodium benzoate have been shown to increase hyperactivity in some children.

While dietary causes for the illness remains difficult to prove, there is no question that a balanced and healthy diet should be a priority.

Dietary guidelines for children with ADHD:

  1. Plan regular, varied meals and make them small and frequent.  Do not allow your child to go for long stretches of time (more than 3-4 hours) without food.
  2. Include foods with a low Glycemic Index (GI) at every meal.  These foods provide a slow, sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream.
  3. Avoid refined carbohydrates with a high GI as these may exacerbate ADHD.
  4. Include protein-rich foods (chicken, meat, fish, eggs or diary) at all meals, as protein helps stabilise blood sugar levels.
  5. Encourage consumption of vegetables and fruits.  Children should eat at least five portions of a variety of different vegetables and/or fruit every day.
  6. If your child is a fuss eater, consider giving him a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.  The supplement should provide approximately 100% of the DRI for each vitamin and mineral.  Don’t give mega doses of individual vitamins or minerals without first consulting a healthcare practitioner.
  7. Plan a serving of oily fish (pilchards, sardines, salmon etc.) two to three times a week.  Or consider giving your child a daily supplement of fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids).

Useful contacts:

To find a private dietician in your area with a special interest in ADHD:  Association Dietetics South Africa –

There is more detailed information on children’s nutrition and useful kids recipes in “Your Special Diet” section on


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