There are many different suggestions for dealing with ADHD in a child. Behavior modification, diet changes, herbal therapies, and medications are often recommended, depending on who you’re talking to. Parents are often conflicted when trying to decide what approach to take: they are hesitant to put their child on medication, but they aren’t entirely sure they trust any other suggestions either.
One thing that any parent can try, and should consider even if they resort to medication, is dietary changes. With or without medication, there are a variety of things in food that can have a negative impact on the child’s behavior, sometimes severely. Some parents have heard of some of the very restrictive diets that supposedly cure or at least curb ADHD, and think there’s no way they can possibly limit their child’s food in such a way. But you don’t have to restrict their diet to that degree, necessarily.
A good place to start:
Cut out foods with preservatives: Boxed meals, prepackaged snacks (cookies, brownies, cakes, crackers, potato chips), and ice cream all contain preservatives. This is why they can sit on store shelves for months and in your pantry for just as long. While preservatives themselves are not necessarily a bad thing, the effect they can have on your child can be bad. This doesn’t mean your child can’t have these things – but prepare them from scratch. This cuts out the preservatives and allows you to put in some other healthy ingredients as well. They won’t last as long, but that’s all right. One exception: If you are looking for ice cream, Breyer’s ice creams are all natural, with no preservatives.
Cut out artificial colors: Most ADHD kids react to various forms of red dyes. But they can also be affected by other colors. When you cut foods with preservatives, many times this eliminates foods with artificial colors too. But consider that ketchup and mustard also can contain artificial colors, as can salad dressings (switch to oil and vinegar), puddings and Jell-o, and some yogurts. While you don’t necessarily have to completely eliminate these things, making sure they are used in extreme moderation can make a huge difference.
Get rid of fast food: Again, you don’t need to completely eliminate it, but cutting back drastically can help. Consider this: You’ve seen the videos online of people who’ve kept a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries for a year or more and the food looks as though it just came out of the drive-through window. Imagine what kind of preservatives must be in that food in order for it to hold up that well, and also imagine that if it can look like that, what must it do to the stomach? Most of us have a weakness for some type of fast food, but you should limit it as much as possible.
Eliminate sodas and artificial juices: Many parents don’t think of these when they think of artifical colors or preservatives. Many parents have also heard about giving a child a little Mountain Dew to see if it calms them down to determine if they might have ADHD. While it is true that the caffeine in soda may calm your child down, it’s a very limited effect that is outweighed by the negative effects of the artificial colors.
When you look at that list, some parents will wonder what they can replace some of those foods with. They aren’t sure what to send with their child’s lunch to replace the potato chips, for example. Here are a few options:
To replace cookies, brownies, cakes: bake these items from scratch. A batch of chocolate chip cookies is quick to whip up, and you often get two or three times as much from one batch as you would from one store bought package – and for considerably less money, too! You can also add things such as oatmeal, applesauce, raisins or other things that make them healthier.
To replace potato chips: Fresh vegetables (with or without peanut butter), or some Cheerios (Honey Nut Cheerios are often a favorite among kids). Cheerios do still have some preservatives but not as much as potato chips, and they have added health benefits. Fresh fruit also works here.
To replace boxed meals: With a little thought, you can recreate almost any Hamburger Helper, Tuna Helper, or other boxed meal from scratch. Most contain some form of pasta, a variety of spices, and a little water or milk. It’ll also be healthier, and you can mix and match and change the spices to create flavor variations and add more flavor. Many parents resort to these boxed meals because they feel like they have little to no time to cook and a boxed meal is faster than a homecooked meal. This is not the case. Most homemade versions of these meals can be made in the same amount of time, and if you really feel you will be pressed for time, you can do some preparation in advance the day before or over the weekend, to speed things along when it’s dinnertime.
Sodas and juices: Water flavored with lemon, lime or orange can be a good replacement. Milk also is a good replacement, and has vitamins that growing kids need. If your child loves juice, you can compare brands and flavors to find some that are all natural juices, straight from the fruit or vegetable, with no artificial colors or flavors.
Some people assume sugar is responsible for the hyperactivity found in ADHD, or that cutting back on sugar will lessen the hyperactivity. While sugar can create energy highs that can cause a child to be hyper, it usually has no influence on the hyperactivity that is associated with ADHD. Sugar does, of course, have some negative health effects when consumed in large quantities, so you do want to make sure your child consumes sugar in moderation.
These changes can be made without consulting a doctor, and can actually be beneficial to the entire family, not just the child that has ADHD.
If you’ve made these changes in your child’s diet, and aren’t seeing significant changes in their behavior and focus, you can consider one of the more restrictive diets. However, it is important that you speak with your child’s doctor before beginning a restrictive diet, to ensure that your child will still get all the vitamins and nutrition they need, and to ensure your child’s safety on that diet.
Another option to consider is fish oil. Omega 3-6-9 can be beneficial to children with ADHD. You can find fish oil in liquid form with various flavors (orange seems to be the most common) or in capsule form. Both forms are available at most Ocala Publix and Walmart stores, or ordered online from reputable sources such as Puritan’s Pride. Fish oil also has other benefits, such as heart health, that can be helpful to the entire family.