Pros, Cons, and Controversies
Diet is probably the most controversial issue today in terms of treating and managing childhood ADHD. Consistent research findings have not emerged on how and if specific foods and diets affect children with ADHD.
Two of the most controversial “ADHD diets” are supplementation diets in which your child takes vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to compensate for deficiencies allegedly caused by the neurobiological and/or lifestyle symptoms of ADHD, and elimination diets in which you remove offending foods or ingredients allegedly contributing to your child's ADHD symptoms. Because neither diet has been sanctioned by the medical community at large, both are considered experimental in nature.
The Pro Side of Dietary Intervention
Brain researchers believe that what's good for the brain is also good for childhood ADHD. They claim that a high-protein, lowcarbohydrate diet may help improve concentration and focus, and reduce the time it takes for ADHD medications to work. They advocate a diet high in beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts, with a focus on protein-rich foods in the morning and in the afternoon to bolster concentration and increase the longevity of ADHD drugs.
In addition, they recommend reducing your child's intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates (which break down rapidly into sugar) to avoid sugar “highs” and “lows” that can lead to rapid mood swings, depression, and erratic behavior as well as hyperactivity, restlessness, and insomnia.
This means limiting your child's consumption of candy; honey; products made with corn syrup; snack foods; white flour products; white rice; fruits with high-sugar content like oranges, apples, and bananas; and starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams.
Experts agree that consuming large amounts of caffeine is harmful to children with ADHD, although small amounts may promote alertness. Many children with ADHD suffer from insomnia and nervousness. Selfmedicating with large quantities of coffee, tea, and other foods high in caffeine to ward off sleepiness or to enhance focus and attention may exacerbate insomnia, and aggravate existing hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Advocates of dietary intervention for childhood ADHD also recommend eating more omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in tuna, salmon, other cold-water white fish, walnuts, Brazil nuts, olive and canola oil, and in supplement form. Taking daily nutritional supplements to counteract deficiencies caused by ADHD is also advised.
The Con Side of Dietary Intervention
On the other side of the fence are those who believe that restricted and special diets have little or limited effect on children with ADHD. They claim when it comes to managing impulsivity, inattention, and other symptoms of ADHD, nothing substitutes for the “holy trinity” of medication, behavior therapy, and psychotherapy.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, restricted diets, allergy treatments, and megavitamins have not been scientifically proven to be effective in treating the majority of children with ADHD.
Other ADHD treatments that lack scientific backing include medicines to correct problems in the inner ear, chiropractic adjustment, bone re-alignment, treatment for yeast infection, eye training, and special colored glasses.