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If your child is suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, his diet may be partly to blame, according to a 2010 Australian study 2. ADHD can be a challenge for children and their parents, and without treatment, it may affect a child’s learning ability and social interaction. Diet, along with conventional treatment, may help some children control the symptoms of ADHD and enjoy a healthy and successful life. (Reference 1)
The idea of reducing the symptoms of ADHD through meal planning isn’t a new one. Dr. Ben Feingold (1900-1982), author of the 1975 book, “Why Your Child is Hyperactive,” introduced families to meal planning designed to control hyperactivity. Feingold’s research laid the groundwork for today’s studies that address the role a child’s diet plays in ADHD, according to the “Gale Encyclopedia of Diets.”
How Diet Affects Children's Behavior
A child with ADHD may be exhibiting an allergic reaction to certain substances in his food, according to Feingold. By eliminating the offending food substances, which include:
- all artificial colors
- the child’s symptoms may improve
The Australian study examined the diets of 115 children diagnosed with ADHD. Wendy Oddy, Associate Professor at Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, concluded that children who eat a “Western style” diet were more than twice as likely to suffer from ADHD. Oddy describes a Western diet as one high in processed foods, sweets, salt, fried foods and refined grains. Further studies are necessary to confirm Oddy’s findings.
- The Australian study examined the diets of 115 children diagnosed with ADHD.
Inattentive ADD Diet
MayoClinic.com advises parents of ADHD kids to eliminate foods that contain sodium benzoate, FD&C Yellow No. 6, D&C Yellow No. 10, FD&C Yellow No. 5 and FD&C Red No. 40 from their child’s diet. While the Mayo Clinic does not claim that these additives cause ADHD, they report that the presence of these substances in a child’s diet may make ADHD symptoms worse.
After the child’s symptoms eased, Feingold suggested re-introducing the substances one at a time to determine which additives were the triggers for ADHD symptoms. Parents choose from a list of acceptable foods and not all processed foods are eliminated, according to the Feingold Association 4.
- MayoClinic.com advises parents of ADHD kids to eliminate foods that contain sodium benzoate, FD&C Yellow No.
- After the child’s symptoms eased, Feingold suggested re-introducing the substances one at a time to determine which additives were the triggers for ADHD symptoms.
Adult ADHD Diet Tips
Adults with ADHD may benefit from advance menu planning in addition to following the same dietary restrictions suggested for children. HelpGuide.org recommends eating small meals throughout the day and reducing sugar consumption. Include plenty of lean protein in your diet and eat fewer carbohydrates. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages in the evening, which may prevent a good night’s sleep. Use meal planning and diet restrictions to control ADHD under the supervision of a doctor.
- Adults with ADHD may benefit from advance menu planning in addition to following the same dietary restrictions suggested for children.
How Diet Affects Children's Behavior
Inattentive ADD Diet
Gluten-Free Diet for Kids With Developmental Delays
Aggressive Behavior in Children & Nutrition
Common Psychological Problems of School Children
The Effects of Corn Syrup on Children's Behavior
Can Diet Cause Anger in Kids?
Suitable Diets for Children With IBS
How to Help My 5-Year-Old Lose Weight
The Effects of Junk Food on Bad Behavior in Children
- "The Gale Encyclopedia of Diets: A Guide to Health and Nutrition”; Jacqueline L. Longe; 2008
- Mayo Clinic: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children
- Help Guide: Self Help for Adult ADD/ADHD
- Feingold Association of the United States
- Faraone SV, Larsson H. Genetics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Mol Psychiatry. 2019;24:562–575. doi:10.1038/s41380-018-0070-0
- National Human Genome Research Institute. About attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Updated November 2012.
- Rucklidge JJ. Gender differences in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2010;33(2):357–373. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2010.01.006
- Johnston C, Williamson D, Noyes A, Stewart K, Weiss MD. Parent and child ADHD symptoms in relation to parental attitudes and parenting: Testing the similarity-fit hypothesis. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2018;47(sup1):S127–S136. doi:10.1080/15374416.2016.1169538
- Handelman K. Attention difference disorder: How to turn your ADHD child or teen's differences into strengths in 7 simple steps. New York, NY : Morgan James Publishing; 2011.
- National Institutes of Health. The ADHD Genetic Research Study. 2012.
Glenda Taylor is a contractor and a full-time writer specializing in construction writing. She also enjoys writing business and finance, food and drink and pet-related articles. Her education includes marketing and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.