If your child suffers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, he likely has difficulty paying attention or controlling impulsive behavior. For some children, symptoms can be managed through dietary restrictions, although there are no definitive links between specific foods and lessening the effects of ADHD. Experiment with menus, in collaboration with your health-care provider, to see whether diet changes make a difference for your child.
Some ADHD sufferers may respond positively to an elimination diet. The Feingold Diet, a food-elimination program used since the 1970s as an ADHD treatment, is based on the concept that artificial ingredients in foods trigger sensitivities that result in hyperactive behavior. The value of the diet as a treatment for ADHD remains open to debate. The Feingold program restricts aspartame, synthetic food coloring, artificial flavorings and preservatives, and salicylates – foods such as almonds, raisins, tangerines, tea, apples, berries and peppers that contain an aspirin-like substance. Under the diet, you may use any foods that are free of all restricted substances to construct a menu.
Healthy Brain Food
Children with ADHD have shown deficiencies of zinc, iron, B-6 and magnesium, according to Harvard Medical School. In addition, Harvard notes that omega-3 fats from cold water fish such as salmon and omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils help neurotransmitters in the brain to function. Include at least two servings a week of low-mercury seafood, including salmon, shrimp and canned light tuna. Make the fish taste more kid-friendly by mixing some ranch seasoning mix with a touch of olive oil or bread crumbs and coat the fish before baking. Be sure your child’s diet has the full complement of recommended vitamins and minerals. Zinc is present in nuts, grains and legumes as well as in meats. Fish, meats, beans, egg yolks and dark greens such as kale and spinach are iron-rich. Check with your child’s doctor before adding a vitamin supplement.
Both the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the American Dietetic Association, or ADA, report that no link exists between the consumption of sugar and hyperactive behavior. The ADA does recommend limiting sugar to avoid spikes in blood glucose, cavities and unhealthy weight gain. An occasional sugary dessert is fine, but substitute fresh fruits when it’s time for sweets. The ADA suggests trading cookies and milk for a healthier banana and low-fat chocolate milk or adding berries to vanilla low-fat yogurt.
Most treatment for hyperactivity involves medication. Diet becomes extremely important when taking prescription medicine for hyperactive behavior. Some of the medications may suppress appetite, and a child who isn’t eating well can develop other health problems, fail to grow properly, become listless and inattentive, or receive reduced benefits from the medication. Follow the USDA MyPlate recommendations to create nutritious menus for breakfast and dinner, and work with your child’s school to ensure that lunch is nutritionally sound. Try whole grains and fruits for morning meals, fresh vegetables in wraps and soups plus nuts, soy nuts, raisins or other fruit snacks for lunch and a lean protein with more vegetables and whole grains for dinner.
- American Dietetic Association; Sugar: Does It Really Cause Hyperactivity?; Karen Ansel
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Alternative Approaches to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- National Institute of Mental Health: Medications
- National Institute of Mental Health: What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
- Harvard Medical School Health Publications: Diet and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Every Diet: Feingold Diet
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