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How Your Diet Can Affect Your Focus: Foods to Avoid When You Have ADD or ADHD

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide.

When I started college, I discovered that I had ADD. It was probably something I had been dealing with for a while, considering how difficult it was for me to concentrate on subjects that didn't captivate me. I remember struggling to complete projects when they became challenging. In class, I would often feel overwhelmed and my shyness didn't help either. I had trouble staying focused and would even doze off at times. Looking back, it's astonishing how we grew up being taught that sugar was a crucial part of a healthy breakfast, providing us with energy throughout the day. We were raised on Mountain Dew, Go-Gurt, and Pop Tarts. Now, we can understand better that these types of foods can actually worsen symptoms of ADD or ADHD.

When I was first diagnosed with ADD, I was prescribed Ritalin. While in college, I managed quite well, even taking less than the prescribed dosage. However, after finishing college, I didn't take it consistently anymore. I noticed that on days when I didn't take it, I would feel down, irritable, and unlike myself. This wasn't something I was comfortable with, so I decided to stop taking it altogether. Now, at the age of 34, I'm embarking on a journey to overcome anxiety and come to terms with how ADD and anxiety have hindered my professional growth. I'm exploring natural approaches to improve my focus and prevent feeling overwhelmed. Food plays a substantial role in our overall well-being, often underestimated in its impact on our mood, focus, and mental health. However, it can be a challenge because we are all unique, and it takes some trial and error. While discovering how different foods affect you, it's crucial to listen to your body and keep track of your experiences. Maintaining a journal and recording what you eat (or don't eat) and how you feel can be immensely helpful. Remember, this process doesn't happen overnight, and some things may require time to show improvement before trying other approaches.

For many, receiving an ADD or ADHD diagnosis is a label that defines them and affects their self-esteem, performance, relationships, and quality of life. However, the truth is that ADD and ADHD is not a condition that needs to define you or hold you back. Although medication is often prescribed to help manage the symptoms of ADD or ADHD, diet also plays a vital role in managing these conditions. In this blog post, we’ll discuss foods you should avoid to help you focus and function at your best. Before we hope in, I want to make sure you are aware this content is only for informational purposes and should not be used in place of an actual doctor's visit. Now, let's talk about foods to avoid!


1) Sugar & Processed Foods:

Foods that are high in sugar content such as candy, soft drinks, and processed food items are some of the leading culprits of distraction in someone with ADHD. These foods can cause your blood sugar to spike, leading to a crash in energy levels, loss of focus, and mood swings. Try swapping out candy and sugary snacks for fresh fruit and vegetables such as apples, carrots, or celery.

2) Dairy Products:

Some studies suggest that dairy products may flare up symptoms of ADD or ADHD in some individuals. This might be due to the protein in dairy called casein, which can cause inflammation in certain individuals. However, not everyone with ADD or ADHD is sensitive to dairy, so it’s important to observe your symptoms after consuming dairy products. You might want to consider swapping out dairy milk with plant-based milk or reducing the amount of dairy in your diet to see if it makes a difference.

3) Artificial Food Coloring:

Artificial food coloring such as Tartrazine, Sunset yellow FCF, and Carmoisine have been linked to hyperactivity and lack of focus in children. According to an article on Medical News Today, Red dye 40 is a synthetic food dye made from petroleum where research has shown that it is linked to certain ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity, and may also cause other neurobehavioral effects. You can check for red dye 40 on food labels and it is important to note that it may go by other names, including Allura Red AC, Red 40, Red 40 Lake, FD&C Red no. 40 Aluminium Lake, and FD&C Red no. 40. These additives are commonly found in processed foods, sugary drinks, and junk food. It can be confusing but pretty much an food coloring or additive you don't recognize should be avoided. If your ADD or ADHD symptoms flare up after consuming these foods, try avoiding them altogether or look for natural alternatives.

4) Caffeine:

Although caffeine can help you focus and provide a temporary boost in energy, it’s not recommended for individuals with ADD or ADHD. Caffeine can cause sleep disturbances, irritability, and increased anxiety which can interfere with focus and productivity. Try non-caffeinated options such as decaf coffee, herbal tea, smoothies or one of the many adaptogenic mushroom drinks out there today. Remember not to quit caffeine cold turkey, you should wing yourself off slowly.

5) Gluten:

Similar to dairy, some studies suggest that gluten can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye and is commonly found in bread, pasta, and cereal. If you notice that your symptoms flare up after consuming gluten, try swapping out these items for gluten-free alternatives such as brown rice or quinoa.


While these foods are not necessarily harmful, they can affect the focus and productivity of someone with ADD or ADHD. By avoiding foods such as sugar, dairy, artificial food coloring, caffeine, and gluten, you can help reduce your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. If you suspect that any of these items are exacerbating your symptoms, it might be helpful to keep a food diary and observe your reactions to specific foods. Simple changes to your diet can make a big difference in managing your ADD or ADHD symptoms and helping you lead a more fulfilling life.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with a qualified and licensed physician or other medical care provider, and follow their advice without delay regardless of anything read in this blog.

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