Can diet changes impact ADHD?
Real Mom Problem
“I've been hearing a lot about the 'ADHD diet.' I know it talks about cutting back on sugars and processed foods. Can anyone tell me anything else about it? Thanks for any input.”
- 1. Some moms have success making small adjustments while others believe in following a stricter diet plan
- 2. Eliminating foods that contribute to behavior issues is often a matter of trial and error
- 3. It may take a couple of weeks after altering your child's diet for you to notice any kind of change
- 4. Dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners are some of the biggest culprits according to our moms
- 5. Books and online sources can help make meal planning and shopping easier
- 6. The answers below are not medical advice and should not be relied on as medical advice or used in lieu of speaking with a medical professional.
Real Mom Solutions
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, or is exhibiting symptoms, you may be wondering if diet changes can help. The moms of CafeMom have been in your shoes and are here to share their advice and experience.
Some Moms Suggest Diet Adjustments
My son was about to be diagnosed with ADHD until I saw a segment about allergies to food dyes and colorings. The symptoms exhibited are very much like ADHD. I took my findings to my son's doctor and she agreed to try to limit his intake of these things. That was a year ago. My son has improved 100%. I know this isn't proven but in my personal, at-home experience I feel very strongly that it's what the problem was. Red dye is the worst! I can always tell when my son had a snack in school that was red; like punch. He comes home and is basically uncontrollable for the evening. I'm not going to lie and say it was easy switching over, but many brands are now using all natural coloring. It has made a huge difference. He can actually sit and concentrate on things now. He used to not be able to do that. He has lost weight because our food choices are healthier. I added more fruits and veggies to his snacks and took out most candies. I thought he would rebel but I actually found he enjoys things like grapes and carrots
We avoid corn syrup, sugar, all food dyes like Red 40, Blue 6, Yellow 5, etc. We also avoid Splenda and aspartame. We try to use sweeteners like honey and brown rice syrup in place of cane sugar. As a general rule, we try to keep sugar content below 5g per serving, not exceeding 15g of sugar per day. We also try to make high protein meals, especially breakfast.
There are a ton of different diets and different foods that supposedly make the symptoms worse. We tried a lot of them, and didn't see much of a difference, then we started just doing trial and error, like when you're introducing foods to a baby for the first time. What we have found is that red dye effects our son a bit, but it's minimal, dairy doesn't affect him at all, but any kind of fake sugar (Splenda, Sweet'N Low, etc.) affects him a LOT. We don't let him have anything artificially sweetened at all. Not to mention it's not healthy for anyone. But that is just my son. I firmly believe there is no one magic diet and that all kids are affected differently by different foods.
My friend has a son with ADHD and she does not give her family anything with a lot of sugar, starches or dyes. It's not a cure, but it does help her children.
My 12-year-old daughter has ADHD. When she was four or five, the school was pushing me to have her formally diagnosed and start treatment. I'm super lucky that our pediatrician suggested we try to manage it through her diet and get her more active in sports. When I started asking the school exactly what she was eating other than what I packed for her, I found out her teacher was using candy rich in high fructose corn syrup and food dye as REWARDS. Now, I'm all about positive reinforcement, but not giving a kid with ADHD candy like that! Once we eliminated that in her diet, and I started making sure that even the grandparents started reading labels, we had a lot of success. I also make sure that any dairy product my kids do eat/drink, are organic. Our meats and veggies are also organic. I live in southern NJ where it's easy to get good meats and produce straight off the farms, and knowing who grows your food is important. Also, my hubby has a 10-year-old son with ADHD, and he wasn't doing well with meds. When they moved in with me and he started eating like we do, we and the school noticed a DRAMATIC improvement in all aspects of his behavior. When they visit their mother, she doesn't cook from scratch and gives them red soda and all sorts of crap. It takes half the week to let that all get out of his system and he calms down.
My son is in first grade. In the beginning he really struggled to keep up with reading. I realized the sugar was a problem after our second conference. The teacher was saying he was on track but was much worse in the distractibility area. I didn't know why at the time. Then they had a snow day and he ate his lunch (that I packed for the school day) with me watching. He had begged for candy saying EVERYONE gets one piece each day - he wants to be like them - promises to eat the candy last. I witnessed him eat the candy first, then juice, then yogurt, then say he was full - not eating his sandwich, crackers, cheese, all the healthy non-sugar foods. And he was a nut all afternoon, no focus. So I talked to him about his choices and now if he gets a sweet treat - its sugar free. Since that change, he has been more focused, not getting marked down in behavior. I am just so grateful that the small change made a big difference. I am lucky and I know it. I hope that making that sort of change can help your child too. It sucks to sit at home or at work and worry about him all the time getting in trouble, and struggling with learning, and you can't go to school and help. I know it personally.
My husband has ADD. Our son has not been diagnosed but has some issues that may end in him being diagnosed. We cut out most gluten, most dairy, and all food dye, and most preservatives. We have seen a big improvement. It does not get rid of the issues but it helps us deal with them more effectively. My daughter who does not have the issues benefited as well. Her mood and behavior is better on the more restrictive diet.
One of my friend's sons had ADHD and was having problems at school disrupting his class with outbursts. They decided to take him off dairy and it did wonders. They tried dairy again a few months later and he immediately went off the wall. Now he is off permanently and all is well with school, sports, shopping and socializing.
What has changed in society that is causing such an increase in these drugs being administered? Sugar overdose. When you start reading about the detrimental effects of sugar in our bodies it's scary. Look at the food labels and note how much sugar is contained in everything that's processed and how many ways it's disguised. (Sugar, glucose, corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice...the list goes on.) Then take a look at the additives, preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, colors, flavors, etc. that are also added to everything we eat. It's hard to find even a loaf of bread that doesn't have nasty additives. Then all the sprays and chemicals that are used on fruit, vegetable, and grain crops which slowly build up in our children's and our bodies.
More and more rubbish is being added to our food every year to make it last longer and look nicer and we are slowly but surely poisoning our children. The nasties our children are being exposed to everyday are things which our parents' generation were very rarely exposed to which may help to explain the growing number of children on these drugs. Some children are a lot more sensitive than others to additives and sugar and can have immediate or delayed reactions like tantrums, anger, tears, aggression, or bounciness. I know it is not always the case, and problem behavior can be caused by many things BUT isn't it better to try and get to the root of a problem instead of just masking it? Couldn't diet changes be a good place to start BEFORE prescribing drugs?
These Moms Recommend the Feingold Diet
My son and I are on Feingold and WOW the difference has shocked everyone. I can tell if he eats something he isn't supposed to. Your local library may have a book or two. Basically if you want to buy pears for your child, look at the label and it should say pears...maybe water or something....not a list a mile long. We avoid all dyes and any processed food, and anything we can't pronounce on a label.
When you first start the Feingold Diet, it does seem difficult but with all the help the Feingold Association has, it soon becomes just a way of life, and being on the diet isn't as hard as dealing with the behaviors of ADHD. Eliminating red dye is good but it is only a start. Red seems to be the main culprit but that is because Red 40 is the most widely used dye. Yellow #5 is the second most used dye in processed foods. Be sure to read through the Feingold Association's website: feingold.org
Love, love, love the Feingold Diet! Can't rave enough about it. My son went from being kicked out of pre-k three years ago to now sitting in a no-nonsense academy three times a week for eight hours straight without a hitch. I never thought this was possible. I can't recommend it enough and anyone who tries it will think they are raising a different child. It took us two weeks to really see a difference and to be able to shop easily and efficiently. I am able to do my grocery shopping at any store, but especially love Sam's Club, Costco and Wal-Mart. Once you get used to the shopping and the changes, it is no big deal. And frankly, it is less expensive. If you go to the website, Feingold.org and buy the packet (shopping guide, recipes, school information, access to the recipe board and support board) you'll be able to go into it full hog. Also, you can go to Yahoogroups.com and enter "Feingold." There is a support board there that will give you more information on the program.
What About Foods that Are Helpful? Try These!
In a book that I have called Parenting Children with ADHD, by Vincent J. Monastra, it talks about what kinds of food ADHD kids need. When your child feels sluggish, carbohydrates are good; like a bagel, cereal, or muffin. Protein is something we all need, but especially kids with ADHD. A way to get it easily into them is by using powdered soy - it is a major source of protein. You could add it in a batch of muffins. It's also a good idea to keep your kids on multivitamins. This book has a chart in it based on what your child, according to age and gender, should get in a day. Eggs and toast for breakfast or cereal with fruit on the side. Lunch could be a ham sandwich and low fat milk. Dinner could be pasta and salad. ADHD kids can have a treat once in a while in moderation of course. It's hard for me. My kid is five and has ADHD. He always wants the goodies. I advise you to get the book. It's helped me in many areas. Hope I could help!