ADHD diet For your Child By Glenn Payne, PH.D., MPH
The first ADHD diet was developed in the 1970s by Benjamin Feingold, who believed that artificial food additives and salicylates, a natural chemical in fruits and vegetables, were primary culprits of ADHD and learning disabilities in children. Since then, a variety of dietary programs have come about that eliminate particular foods, such as added or artificial sugars, and encourage others, such as protein or whole grains. ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is the most common developmental disorder diagnosed among children. ADHD often appears before the age of seven. Its primary symptoms include trouble paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with daily life. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, various diets are available as supplemental or primary treatment for children diagnosed with ADHD, and some doctors have found that food allergies contribute to symptoms. A diet may include the foods you eat and any nutritional supplements you may take. This includes the food you eat daily. The assumption is that some foods you eat may make ADHD symptoms better or worse. You may also be lacking some foods that could help make symptoms better. This includes adding vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients to make up for deficiencies in your diet that may contribute to ADHD symptoms. The assumption is that nutritional component that your body needs is lacking from your diet. This involves removing foods or ingredients that are suspected of contributing to ADHD symptoms. The assumption is that you are eating something unhealthy that triggers certain behaviors or makes them worse. Scientific research on ADHD diets is limited and results are mixed. Many health experts, however, do believe that diet may play a role in relieving ADHD symptoms. Brain researcher and ADHD expert Daniel Amen, MD, recommends these ADHD diet suggestions:
- Eat a high-protein diet, including beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts. Add protein foods in the morning and for after-school snacks, to improve concentration and possibly increase the time ADHD medications work.
- Eat fewer simple carbohydrates, such as candy, corn syrup, honey, sugar, products made from white flour, white rice, and potatoes without the skins.
- Eat more complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and some fruits (including oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples, and kiwi). Eating complex carbs at night may aid sleep.
- Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in tuna, salmon, other cold-water white fish, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and olive and canola oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in supplement form.
Some children do become hyperactive after eating candy or other sugary foods. No evidence indicates, however, that this is a cause of ADHD. For best overall nutrition, sugary foods should be a small part of anyone’s diet, though there is probably not much harm for a child or adult with ADHD to try eliminating sugary foods to see if symptoms improve. Some studies have shown that small amounts of caffeine may help with some ADHD symptoms in children. However, the side effects of caffeine may outweigh any potential benefit. Most ADHD experts recommend avoiding caffeine.
So how do you put together an ADHD diet for your child? The first step is to be sure to talk with the doctor who is responsible for treating your ADHD. Why? Here are three good reasons:
- Your doctor is the person best qualified to judge whether the changes you wish to make might be effective for you. Your doctor may request special tests that can help determine how the brain functions, so that together you can decide which diet changes might help the most.
- Your doctor can help you monitor the changes to your diet to make sure they really help.
- Some nutritional supplements are available only through a doctor’s prescription. Dosages of all supplements should be carefully determined and monitored.
Once your doctor is on board, then you’re ready to take your next step. Whether you are changing your food, adding supplements, or eliminating foods from your diet, here are some tips to help make your changes successful:
- Make changes slowly — usually one at a time. That way you can test whether the change helped or not.
- Make sure that you stick to the diet long enough to see changes. This may take a month or more. Don’t give up too soon, but also, don’t stick to a plan that is not working.
- Keep a diary of your changes and the effects, much like you would for taking ADHD medication. Include what you changed, when you did it, and the effects — both positive and negative — you noticed.
- Show the diary to your doctor at each visit.