Dietary Changes That May Help Improve ADHD Symptoms

16 Oct 2017

The majority of children with ADHD, over 70 percent, are put on medication to help control their symptoms. Parents who want to minimize the amount of medication their child takes, or who would like to see even more improvement in ADHD symptoms, may want to try changing their child’s diet.

Research suggests that some children with ADHD experience a small improvement in symptoms when they restrict or add certain foods. Here are some dietary tips that may help improve ADHD symptoms.

An Overall Healthy Diet

First, parents should feed their children a diet that’s healthy overall. This means preparing mainly whole foods rather than processed foods, and then dividing the plate into four sections, one half of the plate should be for non-starchy vegetables, one quarter should be for protein, and the last quarter should be for either fruit, starchy
vegetables (like sweet potatoes), or gluten-free grains.

This type of diet will be beneficial for a child’s health even if it doesn’t improve ADHD symptoms, as a healthy diet limits the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Get Plenty of Protein

Protein-rich foods include the essential components of the neurotransmitters that the brain cells use to communicate with each other. In addition, protein-rich food often includes nutrients that children with ADHD are sometimes deficient in, such as iron, magnesium and zinc.

Protein also slows down digestion, so there isn’t a big surge of glucose in the blood after eating, which is helpful since sudden increases in blood sugar are sometimes associated with hyperactivity.

Eat Fish or Other Sources of Omega-3 Fats

Including fish that are rich in omega-3 acids, such as salmon, as the protein source in a couple meals,
each week may be helpful as well. There’s some evidence that, the symptoms of up to 25% of children with ADHD may improve with daily doses of supplemental omega-3 fats. Other fish high in omega-3 fats include mackerel, sardines, herring and albacore tuna.

Limit Food Additives

Eliminating foods with certain ingredients may help children with ADHD. Most evidence supports eliminating food with artificial colors and preservatives, including sodium benzoate, and this is a good place to start.

Other additives that may have links to ADHD symptoms include nitrates, MSG and artificial sweeteners, although there isn’t as much research on these nutrients in connection with ADHD.

Minimize Sugars

Although there isn’t any research that proves that sugar increases ADHD symptoms, some parents think that limiting sugar helps with their child’s symptoms. As sugary foods are unhealthy anyway, it can be beneficial to limit them in favor of healthier foods.

However, don’t replace sugary foods with those containing sugar substitutes, as these aren’t necessarily any healthier. Instead, stick with foods that are naturally sweet, such as fruits, which provide fiber and slow down the absorption of the sugars.

Check For Food Allergies and Intolerances

Another suggestion is checking the whole family for common food allergens and sensitivities, as it is possible undiagnosed food sensitivities are responsible for at least some of the symptoms exhibited by children with ADHD. Food sensitivities, which don’t typically cause
swelling or hives, may cause headaches, inattentiveness, hyperactivity, gas or eczema.

You can also test the impact food has on ADHD symptoms by eliminating wheat, gluten, dairy, corn, soy and eggs for a few weeks, and then add these foods one by one back into your or your child’s diet. Slowly adding these foods back in will help you identify which foods are problematic.

Finally, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor or registered dietitian before overly restricting a child’s diet to make sure the child will still get enough of the essential nutrients.

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