Some parents who have a child with ADHD believe that diet may play a significant role in treatment and care. Common thinking says that children who have this condition may feel more settled and focused when they eat, or don’t eat, certain foods. The jury is still out on whether or not these measures have actual benefit, so we'd advise caution while trying to decide. But enough parents have seen a difference that we wanted to bring together a list of possibilities to help others looking for a place to start. It's just possible that the right diet may make it easier for them to succeed at school and in other areas of life—so here's what we found may help.
Proponents are hopeful that an ADHD diet will help a child diagnosed with ADHD to focus more easily. It's important to note that there’s no solid scientific evidence that ADHD is caused by dietary choices or nutritional problems. But some research suggests that for a small group of people with ADD/ADHD, some foods may play a role in their symptoms—and the hope is that if this is the case, some symptoms may be mitigated with dietary choices, too. Here's a great roundup of what we know about diet and ADD.
The ADHD diet includes foods consumed and supplements taken. Ideally, the diet would reduce restlessness and help with focus. There are nutritional considerations to take into account, along with supplementation to boost certain nutrients and on the other side, also the elimination of “trigger” foods or ingredients that could make ADHD symptoms worse.
One of the best ways to help all kids, including those with ADHD, is to give them nutritious foods. This seems obvious but consider the amount of prepared and fast foods consumed by kids annually and you'll see that while it may be obvious, it's certainly not all that common to build a comprehensive nutritional plan for most kids. So what does that even mean? This includes pushing foods like fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. And the theory is that foods that are good for brain health may be the best for reducing ADHD symptoms in children.
Basic nutritional science says to choose foods that are high in protein, such as cheese, beans, nuts, eggs, and meat. By eating these foods as after school snacks and for breakfast, ADHD medications may work better and longer. Omega-3 fatty acids and complex carbohydrates are also good choices—again because of their effect on the brain.
Avoiding foods that can increase ADHD symptoms is important. For most kids with this condition, foods and ingredients to avoid include caffeine, high-fructose corn syrup, candy, artificial colors, and energy drinks. Anything that’s a stimulant might make ADHD symptoms worse in kids, but not all kids are affected the same way. A food diary that tracks foods consumed and symptoms can help with trying to identify any foods (and remember to include additives) that are causing challenges. Every person is unique so what triggers one person may not matter at all to someone else.
Not everyone recommends supplements for ADHD. But there is some evidence that supplements may be beneficial. Among medical professionals who do recommend ADHD supplements for kids, the most common choices are Omega-3s, zinc, vitamin D, iron, and magnesium. A multivitamin/multimineral supplement may also be a good option, and Ginkgo Biloba has also been suggested. As supplements take a while to really work, unfortunately, this is where tracking must again come into play. You'll need to track consumption and symptoms for six months to see what's working and what isn't.
An elimination diet completely removes a particular food or food group for a while. The goal is to see if a person feels differently without consuming that food group and then to add it back after a time to test the conclusion. For example, someone who eliminates several foods may reduce symptoms or problems they are experiencing.
Then they will slowly add one food at a time back into their diet until symptoms or problems begin again—again with a careful symptom or trait tracking book and a food diary side-by-side. This may reveal what kinds of foods they will need to avoid to remain healthy or feel well. With ADHD, the goal of an elimination diet might be to see which foods may need to be avoided to reduce or eliminate undesirable symptoms.
For children with ADHD, a nutritious, healthy diet that’s stimulant-free may help improve focus—but tracking is the only real way to know for sure. Diet changes alone are unlikely to improve every symptom of ADHD, but for some children, it might make the condition easier to manage and it may also provide a sense of control—as if they can affect change and help themselves to feel more in control of their processes. Before making any drastic changes to your child’s diet, please be sure to talk to their healthcare provider.
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