Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder that causes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Cases of childhood ADHD are increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 8 percent of school-age children have been diagnosed with ADHD. Twice as many boys than girls are labeled as ADHD, probably because they display different symptoms of the disorder. Girls with ADHD tend to be inattentive (disorganized, easily distracted, forgetful, etc.), while hyperactivity is more common among boys with ADHD. A boy who is hyperactive is more easily identified by teachers and parents. Not surprisingly, ADHD results in a variety of learning and behavior problems. Children diagnosed with ADHD are often labeled as learning disabled, although they are typically intelligent and very creative. What’s more, many children with ADHD continue to exhibit symptoms into adulthood.

Conventional treatment for ADHD relies on stimulant drugs, which have long-term adverse side effects. But simple changes in nutrition can have a profound impact on behavior and academic performance, and a positive effect on health. For example, a 2005 scientific review makes a strong case for omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of ADHD. These essential fats are found in flax seeds, walnuts, and fatty cold-water fish. (Children with ADHD are generally deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.) But overcoming ADHD is not just about eating more healthy foods; it’s about avoiding potential dietary triggers.

Food sensitivities occur frequently in patients with ADHD.  The most common culprits are dairy products; other provoking foods include eggs, gluten, corn, chocolate, and oranges.  Treating ADHD with nutrition can significantly improve symptoms in most cases. In addition to removing the most common dietary triggers mentioned above, it’s also important to avoid the following foods or ingredients:

  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Trans fats
  • Shortening
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Fried food
  • Fast food
  • Refined grains
  • Refined sugar
  • Soda
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Sugar
  • Caffeine

Other dietary components can play a role in ADHD. Artificial food coloring and preservatives are potential triggers for ADHD. Avoid red dye #3, and yellow dye #5, which can exacerbate ADHD; flavor additives such as MSG, vanillin, smoke flavoring, sodium, and potassium phosphate; preservatives such as BHA, BHT, TBHQ, sodium benzoate, calcium propionate, nitrates, nitrites, sulfites, and citric acid; caffeinated tea, coffee, soda, sweetened drinks, and all beverages that contain phosphates.

In addition, chemicals known as salicylates – found in natural and packaged foods, medicines, and perfumes – may cause a reaction in sensitive individuals. Natural foods containing salicylates include tomatoes, apples, apricots, cherries, grapes, raisins, nectarines, oranges, peaches, plums, almonds, and wintergreen. The consumption of sugar with salicylates may cause a more intense reaction in hyperactive children. Avoid as many sensitizing substances as possible, including common inhalant allergens and other environmental contaminants.

Until next time, make every bite count!