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Is your child eating an ADHD-friendly diet?

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Focus on food

Did you know you could improve your child's ADHD symptoms just by changing their diet? Make changes this summer so they'll be ready for school in the fall.
Mom and son eating

Many of us treat our kids with ADHD with drugs, but a 2011 study led by researcher Dr. Lidy Pelsser suggests help with symptoms might be as simple as changing their diet. Their findings (backed by a study by British researchers published in The American Journal of Psychiatry) showed a shocking improvement for kids on the right diet.

Tip: Consult a doctor before making these changes and be advised that all kids are different. Not all ADHD can be treated with diet alone, and the timeline for changes to take effect will vary.

Mac and cheeseEliminate artificial colors and flavors

Why: They increase hyperactivity, and the dyes may contain small amounts of heavy metals. While the FDA says trace amounts are safe, just think about how much of them you eat — they're in cereals, candies, meals (even macaroni and cheese!) and more.

How to spot them: Some are easy to spot, with names like "Yellow #5," but others are trickier. They may have names that sound like natural ingredients (like vanillin) or they may be unpronounceable.

canEliminate preservatives

Why: They increase hyperactivity. Additionally, if something has an ingredient that allows it to remain shelf-stable for months, how long do you think the chemicals will remain in your body? Eew.

How to spot them: For ADHD, the worst offenders are nitrates, nitrites, TBHQ, BHA and BHT, but none of them are particularly good for you.

sodaEliminate excitotoxins

Why: The name says it all. They excite (and can kill) brain cells. Some can also inhibit clear thinking and promote mood swings.

How to spot them: Aspartame is the biggie for artificial sweeteners, but you should cut them all out in case your child is sensitive to the others.

MSG is a little harder. Manufacturers are only required to label the product as having MSG if they put it in. But if it's present in another ingredient they use, they aren't. Additionally, there are more than 40 ways to say it!

Other things to watch

If your child is still having issues, you should consider other common culprits. Make sure the makeups she uses don't contain artificial colors, dyes or fragrances. Body soaps, laundry detergents, toothpastes and more may also contain ingredients they shouldn't be exposed to. Any chemical that might come into contact with their skin may need to be researched. It may not always be necessary, but it's worth considering.

Also, check with a doctor or pharmacist about any medications (over-the-counter — including vitamins — prescription and homeopathic). The coatings may have artificial ingredients, too.

Helpful hints

This won't be easy, but if it improves your child's ADHD symptoms, it'll be worth it. These tips should make it easier.

  • Eliminate things slowly so it's easier to figure out and easier for the child to take.
  • Do it with your child so they have a support system.
  • Explain to your child why they're going on this diet and educate them about how to follow it on their own if they're old enough. Learn together!
  • If your child is too young to understand any of the dietary restrictions or how to know if they can eat it, send a list to school for the teacher to reference if they have a question.
  • Pack lunch for your kids. Nothing against the hard-working peeps in the school lunchroom, but they don't have to follow these restrictions and may not know what's OK for your kid to eat and not eat.

More on ADHD

Managing ADHD without medication
ADHD diagnosis redefined
Parenting Guru: Is ADHD good?

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