ADHD – Can the food your child eats make a difference?

Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) is always of hot topic for debate, and with alarmingly increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with the condition, many questions are being asked about what causes it and what can be done to improve symptoms before resorting to medical treatment.

The commonly used medications, such as Ritalin and Concerta, have many side-effects and with this comes concerns about using such potent drugs in children.

Over the years research has failed to prove that things like food additives, preservatives, sugar and high fat (a typical western diet) can cause or worsen symptoms. However, there are many individual cases where parents have tried strict diet control and found symptoms to improve, and studies that suggest that diet can play a role in certain patients.

So what are the dietary suggestions for children with ADHD? Let’s have a look:

  1. Day to Day diet: The foods eaten on a regular basis should be foods that support the brain. A high protein diet feeds the brain, keeps blood sugar levels constant and results in better concentration. Add protein to breakfast and lunch, not only supper. Cheese, beans, eggs and lean meats (not refined meats such a viennas) are all great options. Avoid simple carbohydrates (baked goods, sugar, white rice, white bread etc) and rather aim to include more complex carbohydrates such as fruit and vegetables.
  2. Supplements: Add an Omega 3 supplement daily and encourage eating fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
  3. Elimination Diets: There is agreement, although no firm proof, that avoiding certain food additives (aspartame, MSG, food colouring and sodium benzoate), as well as keeping clear of sugar and caffeine are all worth a try to see if this improves symptoms. Food allergies (like gluten intolerance) may also contribute to symptoms – you could discuss having allergy testing done for your child with your Paediatrician.
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Treating AHDH needs to be approached holistically and requires the involvement of many people – doctors, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, dieticians, teachers and parents – to be effective and give the child the best chance at success. As parents we can start by ensuring that our children are getting the right nourishment at home- where eating habits and attitudes to food are made!

Written by Lynelle Hoeks