In the U.S., approximately 8.5 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17 will eventually receive a diagnosis for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the disorder disproportionately affects boys (12 percent) over girls (4.7 percent), ADHD can cause problems for children of both sexes at home and at school.
For parents of a child with ADHD, trying to find a way to helping a child control their disorder can present a variety of challenges. Medication, when combined with behavioral therapy, can have great success helping a child manage the symptoms of ADHD, but health professionals may have trouble diagnosing the disorder in children who don’t exhibit all of the typical signs for ADHD. This could leave these children without access to medication and therapy needed to overcome their disorder.
Additionally, parents who are reluctant to start their child on medications designed to treat ADHD due to the dependency that can develop for drugs like Adderall and Ritalin can often struggle to find more natural ways to help their child deal with the symptoms of the disorder.
ADHD diets are one avenue that parents have turned to in an attempt to help their child control his or her disorder. To help you understand the potential benefits of an ADHD diet for your child, here’s the basics of what parents need to know.
What’s an ADHD Diet?
The ideal ADHD diet would help the brain function better, while also lessening the symptoms of the disorder, such as a lack of focus or restlessness. An ADHD diet may include the foods your child eats or the supplements he or she takes. In general, ADHD diets include three different facets that include:
- Overall nutrition for ADHD: This refers to the foods your child eats daily. While you may wonder how what your child eats can help his ADHD, the assumption by health professionals is that some foods your child eat may make the symptoms of ADHD better or worse. Your child may also not be eating enough foods that could help to improve symptoms of the disorder.
- Supplementation diets for ADHD: This includes adding minerals, vitamins, or additional nutrients to compensate for deficiencies in your child’s diet that may contribute to her ADHD symptoms. The assumption here is that if your child’s body lacks a nutritional component her ADHD symptoms would become worse.
- Elimination diets for ADHD: This segment of an ADHD diet requires removing certain foods or ingredients from your child’s diet that you may suspect of contributing to his ADHD symptoms. This final assumption is that by eating something that triggers, your child’s ADHD symptoms become worse.
ADHD and Overall Nutrition
While early research into ADHD diet have provided mixed results, researchers still believe, however, that diet can play a major role in helping to lessen or prevent ADHD symptoms. To back this claim, researches point out that foods with known benefits for helping to improve brain function are more than likely also beneficial for helping deal with ADHD symptoms. For your child to receive the greatest benefit from her diet, researchers recommend the following dieting tips:
- Feed your child a high-protein diet, which can include lean meats, nuts, cheese, eggs, and beans. Add foods high in protein as part of breakfast and as an after-school snack to help improve your child’s concentration and possibly prolong the amount of time ADHD medications work.
- Feed your child fewer simple carbs, such as sugar, honey, corn syrup, candy, and products made from white rice, white flour, and skinless potatoes.
- Increase the number of complex carbs in your child’s diet, such as some fruits and vegetables. Eating complex carbs before bedtime may also help your child sleep better at night, allowing her to wake the next day more rested and focused.
- Add more omege-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon, tuna, olive oil, and certain types of nuts, to your child’s diet.
Supplements and Subtraction
While children don’t need to take a wide variety of supplements, especially once you start feeding them more of the foods listed above, researchers suggest children with ADHD take a multivitamin that will ensure they receive 100 percent of the recommended daily vitamins and minerals needed each day.
When trying to determine what, if any, foods need to be eliminated from your child’s diet, you may need to take a trial and error approach before finally deciding to remove a food item. If you notice your child having a particularly hard time dealing with their ADHD symptoms, look at what foods or drinks they had earlier that day. If your child continues to have difficulty dealing with their ADHD symptoms after each time they consume that particular item, you may want to consider subtracting the item from their diet and if you a notice an improvement in behavior.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health and science writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Ben Crusan, a Battle Ground, WA dentist.