Diet and ADHD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide

    As Halloween approaches and we get ready to have our children come home with bags of candy, gobbling up sugar, the question invariably comes up: how much does diet impact our children's behavior?


    In the 1970's Dr. Benjamin Feingold developed a diet that eliminated food colorings, flavorings, artificial sweeteners and preservatives. According to Dr. Feingold, this diet would help to eliminate or reduce symptoms of ADHD. Parents that tried this approach had mixed results, while some claimed there was a large improvement; other parents saw no difference in either behavior or schoolwork.


    Since then, there have been numerous studies to determine if there is indeed a link between diet and ADHD. Some of these studies have shown a possible link in a small percentage of children but to date there has not been any definitive link shown between diet and ADHD symptoms.

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    According to the National Institute of Mental Health:


    "In 1982, the National Institutes of Health held a scientific consensus conference to discuss this issue. It was found that diet restrictions helped about 5 percent of children with ADHD, mostly young children who had food allergies. A more recent study on the effect of sugar on children, using sugar one day and a sugar substitute on alternate days, without parents, staff, or children knowing which substance was being used, showed no significant effects of the sugar on behavior or learning.

    In another study, children whose mothers felt they were sugar-sensitive were given aspartame as a substitute for sugar. Half the mothers were told their children were given sugar, half that their children were given aspartame. The mothers who thought their children had received sugar rated them as more hyperactive than the other children and were more critical of their behavior."


    It is however, important for children to have a well balanced diet. It has been shown that children receiving a healthy breakfast do better in school. Sugary cereal, although extremely easy to prepare on hectic mornings, is not a healthy breakfast. Creating a healthy lifestyle including a well balanced diet can only to help your child. Their behavior and schoolwork may improve changing from a diet of cookies and sweets to eating more vegetables and grains. This however, does not mean that their diet has caused ADHD or that a diet can alleviate ADHD.

    For ingredients in food may impact a small percentage of children that may have food allergies or their behavior, parents can do the following:


    1) Talk with your physician about your concerns. They can complete tests that will detect dietary deficiencies. Based on the results of these tests, your physician should be able to recommend steps you can take to improve your child's diet.


    2) Try an elimination type of diet. Rather than jumping in to the Feingold Diet, eliminate one specific item at a time, for several weeks and keep a journal to see if there are any changes in your child's behavior. For example, you can eliminate artificial colorings for several weeks. Once you determine whether or not there has been any change, eliminate one more item, such as artificial sweeteners. This can help you determine which item, if any, is causing behavioral disturbances in your child.


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    Parents need to take charge of their child's diet. They need to make sure they are eating healthy, balanced meals. Most children will receive the proper nutrition to grow strong and healthy through good eating habits.



    See also:

    Other Treatments

    Behavior Modification

    Myth: Sugar and Food Additives Cause ADHD





Published On: October 24, 2007