It is estimated, as of 2011, that 12% of children ages 5-17 years old have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is a 43% increase from 2003. With such an increase in prevalence, more research than ever is being done to investigate treatment options. One option that many parents have found helpful is making diet changes for their children. Research has found correlation between making specific diet changes and a decrease in ADHD symptoms. Foods that are recommended to be avoided include foods with artificial colors and preservatives, high mercury, sugar, caffeine, dairy, gluten and non-organic produce. Below are ten popular foods that children eat that fall into these categories. Try eliminating these foods one at a time for about 2 weeks to see how your child responds. Unfortunately, children may respond differently to diet changes, so it may require some trial and error. To get your child on board with a diet change, make a fun game out of it by exploring the grocery store aisles for foods your family has never tried.
About The Author:
Margaret Burke is a Registered Dietitian at Portrait Health Centers in Saint Charles and Naperville, Illinois and a Certified English as a Second Language Instructor, and is currently completing her 200 hour yoga teach training. She works in private practice helping clients achieve their nutritional goals. When she is not working, she enjoys photography, traveling abroad, and baking delicious treats.
Cake mix and pre-made frostingHighly processed pre-made foods are full of food additives such as preservatives and dyes. Yellow cake mix contains Red 40 and Yellow 5. Research has found that dyes in food can trigger hyperactivity or ADHD symptoms in sensitive children. Elimination of artificial colors has been found to be an effective treatment option for reducing symptoms of ADHD.
CandyWhile there have been no official links made between sugar consumption and increased activity, many parents still feel that sugar causes their children to be more active. This may be because of the rapid change in blood sugar levels that sugar produces. Besides sugar, candy is usually made with artificial colors and preservatives, which may also effect behavior. Replacing candy with more healthful dessert option such as fruit is the best bet.
ChocolateThe same children who are sensitive to food dyes may also be more sensitive to the caffeine and preservatives in chocolate. Limiting your child’s consumption of chocolate may reduce hyper activity.
Wheat bread and pastaMultiple studies have shown that a gluten-free diet significantly improves ADHD symptoms. Furthermore, untreated celiac disease may predispose people to behavioral disturbances such as ADHD. A gluten-free diet means removing foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley.
MilkThe removal of milk products, specifically casein, from the diet has been found to help decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity in children with ADHD. To discover if your child has a milk sensitivity, try eliminating all milk products from their diet for 5 to 7 days. Then slowly re-introduce them and watch for any symptoms.
TunaTuna is the largest source of mercury in most Americans’ diet. Mercury has been found to lead to attention deficits and learning disabilities. One study found that children exposed to higher amounts of mercury or lead were 3 to 5 times more likely to be identified as having behavioral problems associated with ADHD by teachers.
Non-organic applesOrganophosphates are a type of pesticide commonly used on fresh, non-organically grown produce. These pesticides disrupt one of the neurotransmitters that ensures nerve impulses are halted at the appropriate time. When these nerve signals get interrupted, it may cause ADHD symptoms. In one study, the urine of a sample of US children was tested for organophosphate metabolites. Those with higher levels were more likely to have ADHD then those with lower levels. Choosing organic produce can help decrease exposure to pesticides.
SodaMany sodas have artificial colors, sugar, and caffeine all of which have been found to exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Furthermore, sodas often contain high fructose corn syrup, which can contain measurable amounts of mercury.
Deli meatOne of the more surprising sources of gluten is deli meat. Gluten is often used as a binding agent or in malt flavoring in deli meat. A 2011 study found that one out of seven subjects with ADHD also had celiac disease, which was significantly higher than the one out of 100 in the general population. The study further showed that subjects who followed a gluten-free diet for six months had vastly improved ADHD symptoms.
Nutrigrain BarsBecause there is “grain” in the title, it seems that these bars should be on the healthy list. But hidden inside are food dyes such as Red 40. A 2012 Meta-analysis study found that a diet that excluded certain foods from the diet, including food dyes, reduced ADHD symptoms in about 33% of children with the disorder.
Center for Science in the Public Interest (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.cspinet.org/fooddyes/Food-Dyes-Fact-Sheinet.pdf.
Cone, Marla (2012). Kids Exposed to Mercury or Lead more likely to have ADHD Symptoms, Canadian study finds. Retrieved from: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/adhd-lead-and-mercury.
Muñoz, Heather (2015). ADHD and a Gluten Free Diet. Retrieved from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/243308-adhd-a-gluten-free-diet/.
Natural Resources Defense Council (2011) Higher Organophosphate Pesticide Levels Linked to ADHD. Retrieved from: http://www.nrdc.org/living/healthreports/higher-organophosphate-pesticide-levels-linked-adhd.asp.
Niederhofer, Helmut (2011). Association of Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder and Celiac Disease: a Brief Report. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184556/.
Perkins, Sharon (n.d). Food Containing Mercury. Retrieved from: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/foods-containing-mercury-3669.html.
Smith, Barbara (2015). Milk and Attention Deficit Disorder. Retrieved from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/67522-milk-attention-deficit-disorder/.
Portrait Health Centers Specializing in Diagnosing and Treating Depression, Attention Deficit Disorders, Nutritional Needs, and Learning Differences in Children, Adults & Seniors