Brain food for kids

Better Focus, Attention and Behavior for Kids with AD(H)D?

Better Focus, Attention and Behavior for Children with AD(H)D?

Young boy face

Our brain thrives on healthy food. When given the right nutrients it is able to focus better, improve attention and behavior.

In this article we’ll dive into the benefits of an optimal functioning brain and what foods are ideal for children with attention deficits.

  • Research shows that children with ADHD tend to have a poorer diet than average. The reason is not necessarily bad parenting. Kids with ADHD can be picky eaters. To be sure kids eat, parents are sometimes trying to soothe difficult behavior by offering snacks instead of healthy alternatives;
  • Secondly research showes they often need extra nutrients and;
  • they have different levels of the enzym DPP-IV.

The DPP-IV enzym explained:

Children (and adults) with AD(H)D produce less DPP-IV enzym than average. This proteolytic enzym has over 60 functions in our body. It is mainly produced in our gut and pancreas and is responsible for breaking down food containing proline like gluten (in wheat) and casein (in milk).  When natural opioid foods like milk and wheat are broken down, exorphins appear. The DPP-IV enzym will clear them up. Bread, pasta, cookies, cereals, milk, soy, mushrooms and spinach are classic examples of foods that are broken down with the DPP-IV enzym. Too much exorphins in our body however damage the endorphin system in the long run. This will disrupt the functions of dopamin, serotonin, insulin, cortisol as well as our immune cells.

Food that cannot be broken down due to lack of DPP-IV enzym, causes the endorphin receptors to become resistant. In other words, the DPP-IV enzym protects our endorphin system.

What happens when people don’t have enough DPP-IV enzym? 

  1. Exorphins will not be broken down efficiently and they enter the blood circulation. They behave as fake neurotransmitters. This will cause our body to release endorphins and dopamin and then it will shut of the release of endorphins (the feel good substance). This creates a need to eat some natural opioids like bread or cheese again to keep up the levels of endorphins and dopamin. This causes people with a lack of DPP-IV enzym to eat the food they shouldn’t consume in the first place. rush of endogenous opioids

Food can as such influence behavior, focus and attention.

2. Another reason why food can negatively impact ADHD, is through dynorphins. A dynorphin is an opioid that activates KOR endorphin receptors. However these KOR receptors de-activate other endorphin receptors. Same problem! Dynorphins are activated by exorphins from food but also by Ritalin, Levodopa, certain drugs,  smoking, alcohol, stress, … Dynorphins slow down the production of dopamin and  DPP-IV as well as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which is supposed to protect our brain again neurodegeneration.

A healthy diet can help our children to feel good, get along with others and grow well. It should consist of little to no foods that need to be broken down by the DPP-IV enzym. It takes several months for the body to clear the remaining exorphins if this means you need to switch to a new diet. Don’t switch overnight if your child is already very thin and a picky eater. Especially children on medication can have their hunger suppressed till the medication wears off in the evening. 

How does an ideal diet look like?

  1. Specific nutrients in the diet are found to be low in children and adults with AD(H)D like fiber, magnesium, omega 3, iron and zinc. 
  2. Added sugar, sweeteners, food dyes and additives are no-go’s. 
  3. Regular eating-patterns encourage growth, behavior, focus and satiety.

Why sugar and additives? DPP-IV brakes down the GLP-1 hormone. This hormone stimules the release of insulin when bloodsugar levels become too high. Too little DPP-IV means more activity of the GLP-1 hormone. This can lead to insulin-resistance and ultimately to diabetes.  Research showed that additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate) drop the production of endorphins by a whopping 70%. This impacts the release of dopamin as well. 

Why do children with AD(H)D need a specific diet? 

Research has shown that good nutrition benefits all children, not just with AD(H)D. The brain needs energy to grow and to develop. Childhood is crucial and the foundation for adult health. Carbohydrates (carbs), fats (fatty acids) and proteins (amino acids => neurotransmitters) contain all the energy and nutrients to help the brain focus, pay attention and behave optimally. 

As we have seen, eating for children with AD(H)D, isn’t always easy to make the right choices. The DPP-IV enzym, the gut microbiome and the medication can influence the appetite. Some medication causes stomach pain or nausea, leaving kids uninterested in food. Bad food habits in the family can add an extra challenge to deal with AD(H)D and results in unnecessary stress. 

 Feeding children the right food, can help children feel and function better. And this is our ultimate goal, thriving children.

What are the specific nutrients we should focus on?


Fiber can be found in vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds as well as brown rice. It will also help digestive issues if any as well as enough water.


Magnesium is best know for its soothing effects of nerves and muscles but it has many other functions. It is necessary for healthy bones and an optimal blood flow. It processes nutrients from food and much more. People under stress and children with ADHD have lower levels of magnesium than average. A diet rich in magnesium is beneficial. Magnesium is catabolic as a supplement and best taken in the morning.


ALA (α-Linolenic acid), EPA and DHA are 3 variants of omega 3 fatty acids. They are essential and this means we are unable to make them in our body and we need to incorporate them in our diet. Omega 3’s are turned into resolvines. The name says it all, to resolve. They resolve inflammation and infection but are also responsible for the permeability of the cell membranes (in the brain). If the cell membrane is rigid, the information cannot pass as easily as when the cell membrane is souple and fluid. 

Low levels of omega 3 have been related to difficulty with reading, concentrating and reading.

We need our daily portion of omega 3 like: linseed oil, hemp oil, walnuts, grinded flaxseed, salmon, tuna, mackerel, … A full list can be found in wikipedia here.


Iron is needed to help the brain reach its full capacity to develop. Especially in the early years, a lack of iron may have a negative impact of the development of the brain.

A lack of iron doesn’t only make you feel tired, your brain and organs lack oxygen. This leads to poor learning. Also your immunity suffers. Researchers even say that children with iron defiency show more severe symptoms. It appears 84% of the children had an iron deficiency. “The children with the most severe iron deficiencies were also the most inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive.” 

Good sources of iron can be found in beef, liver, beans, lentils and dark leafy greens. Best is to take some vitamin C at the same time like fruits (oranges, tomatoes, berries, kiwis, …) to absorb more iron.

If necessary, a doctor can propose a supplement or baxter. Supplements are sometimes hard to digest and it can take months to recover from a severe iron deficiency.


Zinc plays a very important role in the brain and central nervous system. It is a co-factor in over 100 enzymes, or catalysts for chemical reactions. 

Without zinc, we have trouble metabolising melatonine, better know as the sleep hormone. However we need melatonin in the regulation of dopamine. Being a nightowl is sometimes just a deficiency of zinc and dopamine.  Too little zinc can lead to jitters, concentration impairment as well as lack of appetite (especially in the morning). Zinc repairs the skin and is ideal for acne and eczema.

Studies have shown that many children with ADHD have lower levels of zinc than healthy ones. 

Zinc can be found in food like : beef patty, lamb, pork, shellfish like Alaska king crab and mussels, lentils, beans, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, hemp seed, cashews, almonds, dark chocolate and if you don’t mind oysters!

If you consider taking a supplement, remember that too much zinc suppresses your immune system. Best is to take max 15 a day to stay safe.

Food and supplementation are just one way to boost dopamine. If you’d like to learn more about AD(H)D and specific lifestyle advise for yourself or your child, you can reach me at

I’m a health educator specialised in chronic conditions through nutritional, natural and lifestyle solutions.

There are lots of comfort foods that can make you feel better when stressed. But let’s be honest with ourselves, not all of them are good for us. There have never been depressed, anxious and unmotived people since World War II. Unsurprisingly these ailments often go together with irritable bowel syndrome and asthma. Our bowels and lungs are the separation between the inside of our bodies and the outside world. After 1944 lots of changes have happened in our food chain. Fluoride has been added to water, animal fats were demonized and replaced with vegetable oils of corn, soy and canola. Meat and eggs were replaced with carbohydrates from refined grains and soy.

Our nutrient-rich and dense food in animal fats that fed our brain and kept mental illness at bay was replaced by sugars and vegetable oils. Let’s face it, comfort foods like cookies and chips are just cheating our brain. Taking in more sugar and unhealthy fat will make us crave more and in the end, leave us feel guilty and sick. They kill our motivation and feed anxiety.

There are lots of nutrient rich foods which contain necessary minerals and vitamins to keep stress and anxiety at bay. What are those healthy comfort foods that are good for fighting off stress and lowering anxiety without taxing our health?

What does our body need to feel relaxed and calm?

It needs animal fats to start but there is more.

Animal fats

Fats provide energy to the body and the brain and are essential to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and K. They are essential parts of the building membranes of the brain cells.

Did you know that 60% of the brain  is made up of fats? There are three kinds of fats required for a healthy mental status:

  1. Saturated fats: butter, coconut, tallow, fat from duck, geese, chicken, lard from pigs
  2. Monounsaturated fats: avocado, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, tree nuts, lamb, beef, wildlife, …
  3. Polyunsaturated fats: fish oil, salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, oils of linseed/flax and walnut

What else does our brain need?

It needs minerals like magnesium and zinc, vitamin B’s, vitamin C, folate,

anti-oxidants, amino acids, probiotics and complex carbs.


It is about the most important mineral in our body. It is best known for its relaxing effect on muscles. A good indication of magnesium deficit, are tensed muscles or restless legs at night. Coffee and alcohol, cookies, pasta and pastries all lower magnesium as well as certain medications. 

Foods: dark chocolade, avocado, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, fatty fish, bananas, leafy greans


It is essential for a healthy skin but is a mood regulator as well. Our bodies don’t store zinc so we need our daily dosage to stay happy and relaxed.

Foods: Meat, shellfish (oysters!), legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs, whole grains

Vitamin B’s

They are essential for nerve functioning and healthy brain cells. They are natural painkillers and mood boosters.

Foods: whole grains, meat and fish, eggs, milk, cheese, legumes, seeds, nuts, dark, leafy vegetables

Vitamin C

Human beings cannot synthesize vitamin C and therefore we are obliged to eat our daily fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C abolishes the release of cortisol when stressed. Therefore it is an essential vitamin in stress management!

Foods: broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, oranges, papaya, peppers, sweet potatoe, tomatoes, …


“Without folate,” says Massachusetts psychiatrist Emily Deans, “you can’t send the signals for regeneration and repair in the brain, which is why one symptom of low folate is depression, and long-term lack of folate can cause dementia.”

We need folate to produce dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrin, all neurotransmitters that regulate our mood.

Foods: spinach, liver, asparagus, brussels sprouts, romain lettuce, dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, …


Each time we breath, oxidative stress is created. Anti-oxidants eliminate this excessive stress and toxic byproduct in our body. Oxidative stress in the brain appears to lead to psychological disturbances and nervous system impairments.

“Several studies have shown that there is a link between psychological stress and intracellular oxidative stress.”, according to Marie-Anne Milesi from Seppic, France. and “Researchers found that the supplement (an antioxidant) decreased the signs and symptoms of perceived stress and fatigue in healthy volunteers.” 

Foods: dark chocolate, pecans, all berries, artichokes, kale, …

Amino Acids, precursors of serotonin and dopamine

Research has shown that tryptophan, the sole precursor of serotonin, is an important factor in mood, cognition and behavior. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and must be supplied by food. 95% of serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract. However we know today that our gut is our second brain, also called the enteric nervous system. This nervous system is not able to calculate or read but it can control your emotions. It suffices to have an irritated gut to trigger this enteric nervous system. This explains the connection between Irritable Bowel Disease and depression and anxiety. Dopamine, another mood booster, increases after ingestion of tryptophan. Without dopamine, we lose focus and tend to procrastinate.

Food: turkey and chicken

Pre- and probiotics

Our gut is colonised with trillions of healthy (and unhealthy) bacteria. The composition changes with your diet. While there is still much to research, gut bacteria affect the immune system, the HPA axis and as a consequence the circulating levels of cytokines. These will send signals via the nervus vagus – the longest nerve of our autonomous nervous system – to the brain. Pre- and probiotics feed these bacteria. 

Food: garlic, onion, leeks, apples, flaxseeds, seaweed, fermented food, yoghurt, kimchi, …

Complex carbs

they boost serotonin levels and give us a calming and soothing feeling. They are an ideal supply of long lasting energy that cut the envy to grab junk food that leave us feel worse after all. Steady blood sugar levels guard us of snacking and emotional rollercoasters.

Foods: whole wheat, brown and wild rice, potatoes, quinoa, legumes, corn


If you struggle with stress and don’t know where to start, we got you. Use this link to schedule a talk with me. Looking forward connecting with you soon.



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