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4 diet changes that may help ADHD symptoms, according to a dietitian

If you have ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness or hyperactivity, there are some simple hacks you can try to alleviate them.

Fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fats.Shana Novak/Getty Images

One of them is tweaking your diet, according to Andrea Holwegner, a registered dietitian and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting.

Holwegner, who says she works with many clients who have ADHD, said there are two main things you can try to improve your diet: changing what you eat and adding supplements.

"As a dietitian, I'm trained in really looking at food first for just about everything," Holwegner told Insider. "No supplement's going to make up for the fact that people might not have an optimal diet."

She noted that research has shown that some people with ADHD can have vitamin deficiencies that may impact their symptoms. Holwegner shared some dietary changes and supplements that may be helpful for certain people with ADHD.

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Before trying any supplements, Holwegner strongly emphasized making sure that anyone with ADHD is eating enough protein.

Protein in general is essential for everyone's brain to function properly, and research shows that protein and its related amino acids are essential for cognitive performance.

Meal-prepping and prioritizing protein-rich foods with some carbs can help manage hunger levels, reducing the chances someone will fill up on sugary or ultra-processed foods. (Some research has linked sugary foods to an increase in ADHD symptoms in kids, but so far the science is mixed.)

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Holwegner said that meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nut butters, seeds, cheese, yogurt, legumes, tofu, and protein powder are all good sources of protein.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved ADHD symptoms in children, and there are several ways to incorporate them into a diet.

"Ideally, if you can go for a fattier fish 2-3 times a week in your meal planning, this would be awesome," Holwegner said. Fatty fish include salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and herring.

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But if you absolutely hate seafood or don't have access to it, Holwegner recommended taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement that includes both EPA and DHA — two types of fatty acids.

She said this combination is shown "to be pretty helpful not only just for ADHD management but also cardiovascular disease and good overall mental health functioning."

While plant-based alternatives of omega-3 (also known as ALA) are "still very helpful," Holwegner said that when it gets converted into EPA and DHA in the body, it's believed to convert to very low levels of usable fatty acids.

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Limited research has shown that some children with ADHD may be deficient in certain vitamins like iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D.

One easy and safe way to boost levels of all of these is by taking a multivitamin, which can also help with everything from heart health to clearer skin.

"A multivitamin is an extra added assurance for everybody, whether you have ADHD or not," Holwegner said. "It pops up all your levels and I don't see any harm in taking an age-appropriate multivitamin for anybody."

If you have trouble remembering to take pills daily, Holwegner recommended setting timers on your cellphone or taking them at the same time as you take other medications.

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If you want to try more specific supplements such as iron or magnesium, Holwegner said you should get your physician to screen you for vitamin deficiencies before you try them. Many of them can be screened for by a simple blood test.

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