What is the best diet for an ADHD child? Does diet even matter in terms of symptom control for an ADHD child? The answer, at least to the second question, is yes—the proper diet for an ADHD child can help immensely in controlling symptoms and improving a child’s overall health. Children living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, are suffering from a brain disorder that affects the portions of the brain responsible for activity levels and attention. Thus, a diet that helps to optimize brain functionality can make a huge difference in controlling symptoms. On the other hand, an improper diet will usually increase the severity and frequency of symptoms, often leading to major behavioral problems. In the article below we will outline an optimal diet for an ADHD child, along with some food sources that can often be detrimental to your child’s condition.
About ADHD and Your Child
ADHD is a behavioral condition that typically involves a number of taxing symptoms, including:
- An inability or difficulty in paying attention
- Incapacity when it comes to focusing on tasks—especially uninteresting tasks
- Hyperactivity, including trouble sitting still and talking excessively
- A tendency to speak or act impulsively (and usually inappropriately)without thinking
In some children ADHD can also lead to mood problems—feeling anxious or depressed—cause them to have negative, sometimes harmful thoughts and cause trouble with sleeping. The disorder affects both boys and girls (although boys are three times as likely as girls to develop the disorder), usually presenting with symptoms at a very early age, with symptoms that can sometimes span into adolescence and even into adulthood.
Like many brain disorders, there is no known cure for ADHD, but medication and therapy, which are the most likely treatment options offered by doctors, can be a huge benefit in controlling symptoms. Additionally, doctors will usually recommend some dietary changes that, at least in most cases, can help significantly with symptom control.
Diet for an ADHD Child: Elimination and Supplement Diet
The proper diet for an ADHD child is usually a diet that will help improve brain function and mitigate the symptoms of the disorder, such as restlessness, hyperactivity, focus and concentration. The word “diet” includes the food sources the child eats at meals, as well as any nutritional supplements they may take.
There are many types of diets for an ADHD child. Initially, doctors may suggest an “elimination diet” to see if limiting any particular foods has a significant benefit. This does not mean that all food will be eliminated, but rather those foods that are notorious for causing food allergies, such as dairy products and nuts. In addition, parents will often be asked to withhold or severely limit the child’s sugar intake, including all junk and processed foods.
Another type of diet is referred to as the “supplemental diet.” With this approach, the diet for an ADHD child will include a multivitamin that is loaded with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. The theory behind this diet is that ADHD children may be lacking a certain nutritional component to their diet—a deficiency that will be met by taking a daily multivitamin supplement.
Diet for an ADHD Child: Nutritional Diet
Once the specialty diets have run their course, doctors will often suggest a more permanent solution to your child’s nutritional needs. This diet for an ADHD child includes:
- Protein-rich foods. Protein foods can help children with concentration and can often increase the time ADHD medications work. Foods such as fresh meat, eggs, cheese, beans and nuts should be an integral part of each of a child’s three meals, with snacks that are also high in protein.
- Avoid simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates, also called simple sugars, break down very quickly in the body and can worsen symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Some of the foods in this category include: candy, sugar, corn syrup and foods made from white flour and white rice.
- Add Complex Carbohydrates. Unlike simple sugars, complex carbohydrates break down slowly and can provide an ADHD child with the energy and focus he/she needs throughout the day. This includes foods such as all vegetables, certain fruits such as oranges, kiwis, grapefruit and pears, brown rice and whole wheat products.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids, foods such as salmon, tuna, olive oil and certain nuts are particularly beneficial for overall brain health, focus and concentration.
While there is no evidence that a proper diet for an ADHD child can completely cure the symptoms of the disorder, studies show that eating the right types of food—and avoiding the wrong types—can often reduce the severity of symptoms and may help the ADHD medications work more efficiently.