There’s no question that eating a healthy diet is good for kids. When combined with exercise, a nutritious diet helps kids maintain good general health. It can also lower their risk for obesity and conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Some people believe avoiding certain foods and adding supplements can reduce or even “cure” the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Find out about food and nutrition therapy for ADHD—and if research proves that it works.
What Food and Nutrition Therapy Is
Food and nutrition therapy is based on the belief that avoiding certain foods and taking dietary supplements can treat ADHD. The idea is to use food therapy instead of medication to treat symptoms such as overactivity, impulsivity, lack of self-control and short attention span.
There are two main forms of food and nutrition therapy:
Elimination diets: The idea behind these diets is that eliminating certain foods from a child’s diet will improve symptoms of ADHD. Some diets, such as the Feingold Diet, eliminate foods containing additives, artificial sweeteners and chemicals from a child’s diet. Other elimination diets involve removing substances like yeast, sugar or gluten from a child’s diet. Advocates of these diets think some kids are sensitive to those substances and that they trigger the child’s ADHD-like behaviors.
Nutritional supplements: Many people have tried over-the-counter supplements to help manage the symptoms of ADHD. The theory behind this approach is that kids with ADHD have low levels of certain vitamins and minerals. Supporters claim that adding supplements that contain those elements to a child’s diet will treat symptoms of ADHD. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements. That means that claims made by manufacturers don’t need to be proven in order for these supplements to be sold.
How Food and Nutrition Therapy Works
People who believe in elimination diets say certain foods or additives can trigger some or all ADHD symptoms. With this type of plan, certain foods are removed from a child’s diet. Then foods are gradually added back to see if ADHD symptoms return.
In supplementation therapy, parents give their child the recommended amount of a supplement and watch for improvement in ADHD symptoms.
Who Provides Food and Nutrition Therapy
Parents provide food and nutrition therapy since it involves their child’s daily diet. Some diets are complex and require parents to buy materials to get the details of the plan. Other elimination diets can be found in books or online.
What to Watch Out For
If you think your child may be sensitive or allergic to certain foods, or that she’s missing some nutrients, the first step is to see her doctor for testing.
Some supplements have been tested and do show promise for helping kids with ADHD. Fish oil (omega-3) supplements are one example. But more research is needed to prove that fish oil is effective. Learn how to know if a research study is valid.
You may hear about ADHD “diet consultants” who offer ADHD diet plans. Be aware that there is no particular licensure or credentialing required for someone to create ADHD diets.
Finally, it can be hard to tell if a special diet is really working. Parents who want to see results may credit the diet for any positive changes they see.
The Bottom Line
A healthy diet is important for kids with ADHD, just as it is for all kids. So far, evidence doesn’t prove that certain diets or supplements can treat ADHD.
If you want to try food and nutrition therapy, check with your child’s doctor before making any big changes to your child’s diet. Before starting any therapy for your child, it’s important to investigate it. Here’s a list of questions to ask.