Diet, ADHD & Autism.

I Can Help You Figure Out How To Help Your Child.

There is no one-size-fit-all when it comes to nutrition, there is no "ADHD diet", there is no "autism diet".

But there are many things parents can try relating to diet and lifestyle that have been shown in some cases to turn around ADHD behaviour in children and lessen the symptoms of autism.

My approach to helping families dealing with ADHD and autism is rooted in the idea that when you improve the health of the body you can help resolve neurological issues.

In my book, Raising Resilience, I go though a two pronged approach to building a healthier body so we can build a healthier brain.

Prong one is to remove irritation;

Prong two is to improve nourishment and feed in a way that promotes a child's ability to self regulate.

Better nutrition builds a healthier body which builds a healthier brain. That's what I can help you with.

Curious about what an integrative approach to AD(H)D, autism, and learning struggles looks like?

Are ADHD and Autism Genetic Conditions?

There are certain genes that, when present and “turned on”, make a body more prone to developing neurological symptoms. There does seem to be a genetic factor for ADHD and there likely is one for true autism as well. We know, however, from Epigenetic research that, to quote Dr Kenneth Bock, “genes might load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger”. That is, even if someone inherits a gene that predisposes them to a particular condition such as ADHD, environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle determine if that gene will be switched on. In utero and early childhood are critical times for genetic expression and nutrition plays a key role.

There are also nutrition and lifestyle-related issues that can exacerbate or even mimic symptoms of ADHD and autism. These factors are independent of, but might be related to, autism or ADHD genes.

Some of the nutrition/lifestyle-related issues that can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD & autism:


Nutrient deficiencies

People with ADHD and autism seem to share some typical nutrient deficiencies.  These deficiencies can be the result of poor intake or they can also result from metabolic imbalances that render the nutrients unusable for the cells. This is called a “functional deficiency”.

Toxin overload and impaired detoxification capacity.

For a variety of reasons, that differ from person to person, people with behavioural or mental health symptoms tend to have high levels of toxins in their blood. These include metals and environmental contaminants, but also internally generated chemicals that are generated by pathogenic organisms in the gut and the process of metabolism. Children with ADHD and autism might have a reduced ability to neutralize and flush these. Additives in food are another type of chemical that children with ADHD and autism tend to be sensitive to.

Imbalances in the gut microbiome (“dysbiosis”).

There is now a vast body of research suggesting that what is going on in the digestive tract, in the gut, profoundly affects the brain. When the probiotic gut flora are not healthy, pathogenic bacteria and fungi are allowed to proliferate which cause damage to the gut lining and create neurotoxins that can affect brain function. Imbalances in the gut flora also interfere with the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and GABA.

Food Intolerances/Food Reactions.

When food is not broken down properly through the process of digestion, the immune system can be activated and food intolerances can develop. These immune responses release a number of inflammatory chemicals which can lead to extremely diverse symptoms. Also, if certain foods are not absorbed well they can initiate nervous system irritation which can cause further symptoms. Over 200 symptoms have been associated with adverse food reactions. Some of the these symptoms overlap with symptoms of ADHD and autism.

Blood Sugar Instability.

A diet high in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates like flour and sugar, along with impaired glucose metabolism, can cause blood sugar swings that ultimately cause metabolic and hormonal shifts that can result in ADHD-like behaviour and exacerbate autistic symptoms. Some children (and adults) are more sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations.


All that to say…. there are a number of social and dietary interventions that can relieve the symptoms of ADHD and autism and help your child function at their very best.


The process for figuring out how this all plays out for YOUR child begins with following the 2-pronged approach: reduce irritation and improve nourishment.


What I stress over and over to my clients, is that a successful dietary strategy is as much about what goes in the diet as it is about what comes out of the diet. If we just focus on food restriction we can not build a healthier body.

Dietary Interventions for ASD and ADHD

There is no one-size fits all.  No magic cure.  The key is to develop a nutritional strategy that optimizes function by removing irritation and feeding in a way that supports the body's ability to self regulate and function well.

Here are a few of the dietary intervention I have used to pin point food triggers while at the same time ensuring the diet is nutritionally dense, that blood sugar is stable and that absorption is optimized.


Gluten free / Casein Free / Soy Free

Emerging research on the gut-brain connection, food intolerance and non-celiac gluten sensitivity supports this diet as a viable place to start.  Coaching around what to add in place of gluten, casein and soy rich foods along with careful attention to nutrient density are critical.

Elimination Diet

While an elimination diet has proven to be the most effective way to determine food sensitivity, care must be taken to monitor nutritional status during the process.  Once foods have been identified, coaching around incorporating new food ideas to ensure the diet remains nutritionally balanced, along with digestive support and a systematic plan for the reintroduction of offending foods can be helpful.


This group of carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that ferment easily when they come in contact with bacteria has been well researched for use in the treatment of GI conditions.  As with the elimination diet, simply removing foods for an extended period of time is not the objective - improving digestive capacity so that the foods may be tolerated is the goal.

Low Oxalate

The low oxalate diet is most well known for the prevention of kidney stones in those susceptible, however I have also found it helpful for some cases of inflammation, chronic pain, autism, asthma, recurrent urinary tract infections and yeast infections.  As with the other diets, the goal with the LOD is to relive irritation and symptoms while we focus on digestive regeneration.


The Specific Carbohydrate Diet and The Gut And Psychology/Physiology Syndrome Diet restrict disaccharides and polysaccharides while focusing on monosaccharides, proteins, healthy fat, and non-starchy vegetables with the overall goal of regenerating digestive and detoxification functions. Because these diets transition families away from common foods like whole grains and starches and emphasize foods such as broth, ferments, and fats, support ensuring new foods are well tolerated and that the diet remains  nutritionally balanced is an important part of making these approaches successful. In 2013 I trained under Dr Campbell-Mcbride (creator of the GAPS diet) and continue to receive mentoring from her on GAPS principles.

Low Phenol / Low Salicylate

A reduced ability to process phenols can result in self injurious behaviour, bed wetting, aggression, dark circles under the eyes, headaches, inattention, night waking, speech difficulties, dyslexia and impulsivity.  Avoiding phenolic additives and high phenol foods while adding in enzymes and support for sulfation can help relieve these reactions.

Low Glutamate

While the amino acid glutamate is crucial for proper brain and neurotransmitter function, it can act as an excitatory neurotransmitter in people who do not process it well and can lead to reduced glutathione production and subsequent neural damage.  Removing glutamate-rich foods can help reduce symptoms of ASD, headaches and ADHD in some people.


Combining these dietary principles according to individual needs helps reduce irritation and inflammation while maximizing supportive nutrients, so that medical treatment can be more effective and function can be optimized.

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Copyright 2017 - Jess Sherman RHN - All Rights Reserved