I see a lot of children in my clinic whose parents are at their wits end. Kids will be kids, sure, and we should let them be kids for as long as possible. Where is the line between being a child and having behavioural issues?

Since the very first national survey on ADHD in 1997 there has been a very steady incline in parent-reported ADHD diagnoses. It would appear that ADHD and behavioural disorders are on the rise. As a naturopath, clinical nutritionist and medical herbalist I see a lot of fantastic results with children through diet and lifestyle modification and temporary nutritional and/or herbal supplementation.

ADHD – Compliments of packaged food

It’s hard to know what to feed kids nowadays – the companies who bring us all of these packaged foods and snacks are so convincing that their product is healthy and contributes to your child’s nutritional status.

What they don’t advertise is the cocktail of additives and preservatives, the huge wad of sugar and salt, the artificial sweeteners or the chemicals in that ‘food’ which is contributing (or causing) your child’s behavioural issues.

Packaged foods such as muesli bars, fruit straps, fruit juices, flavoured milks, chocolates, crackers and chips should all be considered “sometimes foods”.

Next time you go shopping for your child, take the table below with you. If the food item falls within the “good” column – great! If it is within the “okay” section, I generally allow this sometimes, depending on what it is.

If the product falls within the “bad” column, put it back on the shelf!

Be Mindful

Many parents aren’t even aware that their child’s diet may need a bit of tweaking.

For one whole week, fill in a food diary for your child. Write down everything they put in their mouth including fluids and read back through it at the end of the week.

If you suspect your child may have behavioural issues, avoid:

  • Muesli bars, fruit straps
  • Most breakfast cereals
  • Fruit juices, flavoured milks
  • Chips, cookies, candy bars, chocolates, ice-cream (the obvious)
  • Flavoured crackers (even the plain ones tend to have awful preservatives and additives)
  • Take away and fast food
  • White breads and pastas. Choose wholemeal (even try gluten free)

Your child’s diet should contain plenty of:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Healthy fats such as fish, avocado, nuts and seeds (if they’re not allergic, of course)
  • Water! (No cordial!)
  • Lean proteins


The Fun Police

Now, I’m all for treating your child. I treat my daughter every so often – usually with homemade, healthier versions of her favourite treats and every now and then, I’ll get her something while we’re out.

We’re only human and we can’t expect to live a life without a little fun, right?

I do want to make a few points, however. Firstly, ensure the treats your child gets are usually homemade, healthier versions. Our taste buds are funny little things, the more crappy food and sugar we expose them to, the duller they become to flavours. When you lower your intake, of sugar especially, your taste for healthier foods comes back. In clinic I get a lot of parents tell me that their child’s behaviour is amazing when they follow my modifications and they at some stage fall back into old habits and they are amazed at the change once again in their behaviour.

The second point I want to make is frequency of ‘treats’. I treat my daughter once or twice a week, sometimes three times but I’ll always have healthy snacks on hand because snacking is good for you and important to health!

Healthy treats and snacks that you can make at home and have on hand are:

  • Healthy versions of muesli bars
  • Bliss balls
  • Dark chocolate coated strawberries
  • ‘Nice-cream’
  • Good quality dark chocolate, like Loving Earth brand
  • Smoothie pops
  • Air popped popcorn

Other healthy snacks include fruit, veggie sticks, nuts and seeds, smoothies, and even a bit of good quality cheese (the less ingredients on the label, the better).

ADHD deficiencies

Many children with behavioural issues are lacking certain vitamins and minerals or can benefit from supplementation in nutrients such as zinc, omega 3 (especially DHA), CoQ10, magnesium, B vitamins, antioxidants and even digestive support supplements.

Many children benefit hugely by simple gut support, but that is another article in itself.

Ask your naturopath or nutritionist for help in these areas and never self-prescribe!

I’m not going to lie; this isn’t going to be an easy transition. Children have such an ability to crumble us with their behaviour. Not only in public but also within the walls of our own home! Remember, discipline never goes astray either but if a child’s diet and nutritional status is lacking, it’s hard for them too.

Start small, make little changes and reward them for their efforts – never reward with treats, but with behaviour charts, small gifts and trips to the park.

For more support, remember that you always have it in naturopaths, nutritionists, open-minded doctors and other health professionals.

Does your child have ADHD; have you tried to amend their diet? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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  • Always a great idea to try and make some dietary changes before turning to medication


  • This is a great mini article. Thanks for posting.


  • Great nutritional article that everyone should read.


  • My nephew grew up with diagnosed but untreated ADHD, my sister in law didn’t want to use drugs for him, but also didn’t look into alternative therapies. So life with him was always……..interesting


  • hans look funny cute


  • That was interesting! A great read!


  • Great read thanks for sharing


  • adhd another


  • yeah you think that diet would be one of the things that might occur to you to change


  • Two of my children are sensitive to extra sugars and preservatives, etc, so there are very few treats in our house ever. Thankfully, we have a large garden and all four children love snacking straight from the garden bed including tomato, capsicum, peas, beans and strawberries. We have concerns about one of our sons because his behaviour is a little erratic, he acts out, and he never stops. We’ve talked to the school and the doctor, but they think he’s high spirited and he could be a lot worse, and recommend we maintain our diet and plenty of outdoor activity (which he also gets), and keep him challenged. It’s interesting your article says about lack of vitamins & minerals, so something I might look into with the doctor again. I know magnesium supplements certainly helped my kids when they were experiencing leg cramps/pains (recommended by our doctor at that time).


  • I have a son with odd and i found that he behaved and concentrated better if i gave hima preservative free diet


  • I have ADHD, my two eldest children have ADHD. No, I was not, nor were they, raised on junk food, preservatives and other such listed triggers.

    My father has ADHD and, working through our family tree, it is widely accepted that so did my grandfather.

    My father grew up very poor 71 years ago and, working from 8yo selling papers to help his widowed mother pay for gas, was lucky to get an ice cream once a month after church- Nanna even made her own bread.

    Articles like these can be helpful if a child actually HAS a food sensitivity or intolerance- but for those of us who have standalone, TRUE ADHD (that is, the disorder which has been widely tested and studied and has shown virtually nil response to dietary management), this sort of thing either makes us
    a) feel like a failure AGAIN or
    b) shake our heads in frustration at the lack of updated and relevant information available to and accepted by society.

    Unfortunately, although I have no doubt that your work helps hundreds of families (I am not disputing the effect that food intolerance can have on children’s behaviours), it would appear that you fail to disclaim (or maybe understand) that actual ADHD itself is generally UNAFFECTED by dietary influence.

    Removing preservatives from my diet will not assist my brain to change the electrical pathways that affect my ability to adequately engage my working process memory (the ability to work through a difficult- 5 or 10 step problem- mathematical equation, and still be able to remember the first few steps… Enabling me to retain confidence that my answer to the equation is correct).

    Nor will digestive support dull down my perceived inability to make friends/ read social cues. Because, although many ADHDers don’t know it, they subconsciously read a persons body language and breath rate at the same time as they hear that persons spoken words- and we can’t help but ‘call bullsh!t’ when we see it, and as a child, that behaviour can be extremely detrimental to our ability to maintain relationships.

    The only things, on your list, that I have ever found or heard from other standard, ‘non-food sensitive’ ADHDers to be effective is the increase in fish oils and a reduction in sugar intake.

    The fish oils do actual work directly on your brain chemicals (apparently affecting learning and comprehension and behaviours), and sugar… Sugar even makes my ‘bomb-proof’ husband a little wigged out!

    I believe that yours is a fantastic article, for those children who may have been ‘misdiagnosed’ with ADHD, (but actually have a food sensitivity which affects behaviours) I just feel that it may benefit from a little clarification (i.e. Remove ADHD from the start of every chapter- ADHD is MORE than simply a behavioral problem, it is a recognised Learning Disability) regarding the limitations that dietary adjustments can actually have on REAL ADHD- because the actual electrical pathways/mental filing systems/unique processing mechanisms, the ‘brain science’ of this disorder if you will, CANNOT be changed with a “more veg, less synthetic crap” attack.

    Trust me, hundreds and thousands of us- all Mums/Dads and many of us sufferers ourselves- have tried everything in the book, as well as some of our own concoctions, and there is no miracle cure :(

    • yes the case would be different for everyone


  • It is true “we are what we eat” and providing plenty of natural food to kids is essential.


  • nother perspective


  • I have ADHD & ODD kids and navigating through the additives in food is hard work and becomes very frustrating, I just wish the companies would give a damn!

    • It is SO frustrating. If you haven’t already, download the chemical maze app, it helps… but again, it’s a pain searching all the different ingredients.

      Your best bet is to buy as much fresh produce as possible and make your own snack foods for the kids =)


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