ADHD and Nutrition: What You Need to Know About Diet Changes for Kids
An estimated 129 million children under the age of 18 have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), suggests CHAAD, a non-profit organization that educates and advocates on behalf of people affected by the condition. For children with ADHD, getting the right nutrients can help ease symptoms according to Sandy Newmark, MD:
“Food plans and nutrition can make a significant difference in the lives of both children and adults who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). I have used nutritional interventions for hundreds of patients with ADHD during the past 24 years. In many cases, changes have not only improved the symptoms of hyperactivity, concentration, and impulsivity, but also calmed oppositional behavior.”
While every child’s diagnosis is different, there are some nutritional needs to consider as you work to raise a healthy ADHD child. Use these tips as you uncover what works for your child and what doesn’t. Ultimately, their pediatrician will be able to help you decide what nutritional changes are needed, so always check with them first and foremost.
ADHD and Your Child’s Diet
Children with ADHD should follow the same simple guideline as all other children their age: maintain a balanced diet. “Having a healthy, balanced diet is important to having a happy and healthy life. A healthy diet can provide an effective complementary approach to alleviating some symptoms of ADHD,” suggests experts at CHAAD.
The first step in making this happen is preparing food ahead of time. It’s hard to provide a well-rounded diet between early mornings and long days if you don’t have easy grab-and-go options. Choose one day each week to prepare foods like rice or soup for dinner, along with options for lunches and snacks to take to school.
Secondly, consider the potential issues stemming from not getting enough of certain nutrients, or getting too much of foods that trigger poor behavior. Here are a few potential foods and nutrients to take a look at.
Foods to Avoid with ADHD: Too Much Sugar
Scientists and health professionals have not determined whether high-sugar consumption causes ADHD. However, hyperactivity is exacerbated with excessive amounts of sugar, according to a recent study. The study authors explain that the risk of hyperactivity and inattention increased by 14 percent for each additional sweetened beverage consumed. They also discovered that kids consuming energy drinks were 66 percent more likely to be at risk for the same hyperactivity and inattention.
Unfortunately, 16 percent of children’s daily caloric intake comes from sugars. If your child’s diet allows for a lot of sugar, your pediatrician may recommend cutting back. To do so, start by focusing on their recommended daily allowance (RDA) for added sugar, which is just 25 grams per day. Added sugars are found in many foods, even ones you wouldn’t think, like tomato sauce.
This makes reading labels critical. Make it a habit to check the label of every food item that lands in your grocery cart. If you want a few more ways to cut back on sugar in your child’s diet, check out a few tips we shared in our recent blog post, Simple Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Daily Sugar Intake:
- Limit beverages other than water or milk.
- Focus on whole foods at breakfast.
- Re-think desserts and make them at home.
Remember to check the label for any packaged item, even ones we think are healthy. For example, NPR recently pointed out the amount of sugar found in yogurt.
ADHD Vitamin Deficiencies and Weight Loss
When ADHD children are deficient in micronutrients. such as zinc, copper, iron, magnesium, or Vitamins B, C and D, their cognitive function suffers, which can exacerbate the psychological effects of ADHD, according to the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.
These deficiencies are common for children on ADHD treatment because the medication can affect their appetite, suggests experts at Impact ADHD. They explain that ADHD medications are designed to slightly depress and redirect natural appetites, which can affect your child in one of two ways:
- They take their medication and then don’t feel hungry all day. As the medication wears off in the evening, they become ravenous, often overeating to compensate.
- They simply have no interest in eating, which can lead to weight loss.
Weight loss most commonly happens for children taking stimulant medication, explains the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. They also suggest that this weight loss is not permanent:
“The effect of ADHD treatment on growth has been studied for many years. Recent research shows that stimulant medication may be associated with a small reduction in growth (primarily weight related), at least during the first 1 to 3 years of treatment. However, most studies show that any reduction in growth rate is often temporary and unrelated to the child’s ultimate height.”
If you notice weight loss in your child, you’ll need to work with your pediatrician to mitigate the side effects, especially those related to vitamin deficiencies. You can also make simple modifications, in conjunction with your doctor’s recommendations, like these using these tricks, from Impact ADHD, to help your child get more calories and nutrients:
- Feed your child breakfast before giving them medication so they’re still hungry.
- Encourage snacking throughout the day.
- Find time for movement before eating to work up an appetite.
Protein Intake and ADHD
Keep an eye on protein intake! Protein is important for all growing children. For those with ADHD, this micronutrient can be helpful in reducing symptoms, as well, boosting growth, says Dr. Vince Monastra. He explains:
“When you eat a food containing protein (like dairy products, eggs, nuts, meat, poultry, fish and beans) our body can make neurotransmitters like dopamine, noradrenalin, adrenalin, serotonin and GABA that help us concentrate, control our moods, and maintain a ‘calm, focused state’”
If your child is struggling with appetite, check with your pediatrician about the use of Healthy Height Shake Mix, which is on the Feingold List of Approved Foods. Developed and tested by pediatricians, it’s an easy and helpful way to supplement important vitamins and nutrients.
One serving size has 12 grams of protein, allowing your child to boost their intake with just one meal. The best part is you can add a serving of Healthy Height to pancakes, smoothies, muffins, oatmeal and yogurt.
Don’t forget that protein can be found in a wide range of sources, from protein powder to vegetables. If your child doesn’t eat a lot of meat, experiment with other high-protein foods like:
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy products (yogurt, cheese, etc.)
ADHD, Food and Your Child
Diet and nutrition play an important role in how your child is able to manage their ADHD. Don’t let poor food choices or lack of appetite keep them from thriving. Instead, work with your pediatrician to uncover foods that may be triggering certain behaviors. More importantly, keep a close eye on their appetite and weight, which can fluctuate thanks to certain stimulant medications. Together with your pediatrician, you’ll find what works for your ADHD child, keeping them healthy and happy.
The content in the Healthy Height Growth and Nutrition Guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.