Q. My child has been diagnosed with ADHD. I have been told by friends that he should avoid all sweets, sugars and additives in food but his doctors say diet has little effect. What should I do or is it best just to leave him with the foods he likes?
ADHD is a common problem in children – and adults. ADHD means children can have short attention spans or find it very difficult to sit still and concentrate. This can be a real problem at school and later on at work. They are generally of average to high intelligence but this doesn’t always show up in schoolwork due to their lack of concentration. ADHD may have a number of causes including genetic links and diet. Studies on diet in ADHD are not common or often, not very well carried out, so it is important not to follow all of the advice you might find on the internet, especially when it comes to sites selling supplements. So what does work? There is no diet that works for every child with ADHD but there are some things that are worth trying:
- Add in a fish oil supplement. Several studies have looked at the effect of fish oils – especially the omega-3 EPA – on ADHD and most have seen benefits in at least some of the children. It takes about three months to see an effect. You need to give 500mg of EPA per day (other omega-3s like ALA do not show the same benefits).
- Reduce sugar. Although cutting back on sugar doesn’t work for everyone, it does seem to help with the restlessness in many children. Also, children who cut out a lot of sugary foods tend to eat healthier foods instead, which gives them a wider range of beneficial nutrients. Scientists think that it is the extra nutrients that are of use to the child with ADHD rather than the reduction in sugar. Either way, do limit sweets and sugary treats to once or twice a week and limit fruit drinks to one per day at most.
- An elimination diet, which cuts out a wide range of foods for a few weeks can be helpful. This is a difficult diet and you MUST see a qualified dietitian to do this as your child can become quite malnourished or miss out on key nutrients for growth. If your child improves on the elimination diet, then you can start to challenge with foods to see which is the offending group. Working with a dietitian is essential for this. Never assume it is wheat or dairy, always check. Make sure the dietitian you see is a member of the INDI to ensure you get the best advice for your child. Apart from these suggestions, do focus on a healthy diet in general, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and protein from meat, chicken, fish, eggs and beans. Go for low GI carbs like pasta, brown rice and jacket potatoes or try some sweet potato as an alternative.