Let’s start by saying that food choices can certainly impact health in a variety of ways. Choose to eat a diet exclusively filled with processed foods, fast foods and soda and it’s likely that diabetes and heart disease may come calling some day. Choose to eat a diet high in grilled, well done meats, and research shows that you may develop certain cancers some day. So what you eat can certainly dictate a heightened risk of certain diseases, especially if your family history already has certain genetic elements in place.
Many parents of ADHD children believe that certain foods and additives can amplify or worsen the behaviors of their children. Studies have shown a possible association between ADHD behaviors and food colorings. But an association is not the same as a “cause-effect” relationship. There seemed to be no concrete evidence of food additives causing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. A recent study funded by the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency may throw some fuel on this contentious debate. The study tested children after drinking fruit drinks that had varying amounts of added food colorings and preservatives. Unfortunately the study did not specifically identify which singular additives or combinations of additives caused the most significant changes in the test subject behaviors. But the results compelled the agency to suggest to parents that they keep records of which foods (and ingredients) seemed to instigate further heightened negative behaviors, and to remove the suspect foods from their children’s diets.
On of the longstanding alternative therapies for ADHD is the Feingold Diet. Created over 30 years ago, the doctor’s diet was based on 1200 cases and experiences with over 3000 food additives. Most doctors do not offer this diet to parents of ADHD children - in fact, over the last 30 years, many have ridiculed the diet - but many parents know about the eating plan. What is the actual concrete research to support the diet? Research seems to fall on either side of the discussion.
The Feingold Diet excludes many things including:
- Synthetic (petroleum based) dyes and flavorings
- Preservatives including BHT, BHA, TBHQ
- Salicylate-containing products
- Certain “temperate-zone” fruits
- No tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers
- No aspirin
- No synthetic fragrances
It can be really challenging to begin to re-work a child’s diet and remove, in essence, so many foods that are typically found on the typical American plate. That being said, if you want to try to eliminate foods that you believe may be making your child’s ADHD worse, it makes sense to partner with a dietician, nutritionist, or other health professional to create a plan that removes items, a couple at a time, so the child is not overwhelmed by deprivation and change. At some point, you might have to re-introduce food products or ingredients in order to test and see if indeed the child is “sensitive,” so you can document a relationship between the food or ingredients and the effect or behavior provoked. Keeping a journal that charts menus, behaviors and other pertinent information daily is imperative. Patterns may show up that you can again, confirm with your health professional. Constantly explaining to your child why you are making diet changes is also very important.
Luckily there are now cookbooks, prepared foods and other opportunities to implement a diet that may be restrictive, but that still offers tasty and enjoyable offerings. Every child can benefit from a reduction in consumption of processed, high fat, high sugar foods. The typical kid diet contains too much soda, to many fried and processed meats, too much juice, too many sweets and desserts. For the child with ADHD, it may be necessary to target a long list of 'elimination" foods and still, the studies to support this choice aren’t absolutely conclusive.
Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”