A 2021 study looked at whether a strict diet, called the Few Foods Diet, would benefit children, ages 8-10, who have ADHD. The results were remarkable and indicated that:
-63% of the children did respond in a positive way in terms of lowering their ADHD symptoms by at least 40%.
-ADHD Rating Scale scores decreased an average 73% in those who did respond favorably.
Does this mean that all children should try this diet?
Not necessarily. There are many factors that go into that decision, not least of which is whether your child would be willing to even consider such a drastic change to their diet. It’s a very restrictive diet (see lower down on this page for more details).
The results of the study also may be over exaggerated as this trial was open and, by nature, recruited parents who were willing to try such an intense charge in diet for their children. This implies that these parents may have been more likely to believe that a diet would yield positive changes, which, in turn, means these parents MAY have rated the benefits of the diet on ADHD symptoms higher compared to if this study was done in a blinded fashion, where parents didn’t know what diet their children were getting, or even what the dietary changes were meant to help with. This “blinded approach” to research is always preferred, but in this case is difficult or close to impossible to do.
It should be noted that a much smaller study looking at the Few Foods Diet did use blinded raters and found that 50% of the 8 children in the study showed significant improvement in their ADHD symptoms. Links to both studies are at the bottom of this post.
What is the Few Foods Diet?
It is also referred to as an elimination diet or the Oligoantigenic Diet.
The purpose of this diet is to get rid of any food that MAY be causing either an allergy or any inflammatory response.
Foods that are usually hypoallergenic and therefore considered part of the Few Foods Diet include:
-lamb (and most meats except chicken and veal).
-cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts among many others.
-Other vegetables including carrots & peas.
-Oils such as olive or sunflower oil.
-Starches such as white potatoes or rice.
-a few fruits including apples, bananas or pears.
How long were the children on the Few Foods Diet before they were assessed?
This research had the children on the Few Foods Diet for 5 weeks before they did their final assessment of ADHD symptoms. But the assumption is that children would need to consume only foods that have a low likelihood of inducing allergies or body inflammation.
Does that mean children would have to stay on this extremely stringent diet forever?
Many dietitians suggest that you should go on the Few Foods/ elimination/ Oligoantigenic diet for at least 3-4 weeks and then, once the desired benefits are realized, slowly and systemically start reintroducing select foods back into the diet to see which foods will be safe vs which ones may trigger some level of inflammation, which in turn may trigger ADHD symptoms.
Are there are less stringent dietary approaches that can be helpful in lowering ADHD symptoms?
Yes, something called the DASH diet has been shown in blinded studies to help lower ADHD symptoms. The effects were small to moderate, so not as strong as the Few Foods Diet results. But this research was blinded.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, which essentially sounds like the Mediterranean diet: more fruit/vegetable intake, higher essential fatty acids from fish, and foods rich in vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. It also limits the intake of simple sugars, artificial sweeteners, and processed food additives.
Here is a link to the diet which was initially used to help treat high blood pressure in adults: www.dashdiet.org
Links to relevant Few Foods Diet articles
Link to article on the DASH diet in ADHD: