You are what you eat. In medicine, this statement rings true for many health conditions, and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is no exception. To start, follow this sage advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”Then, when you’re ready for some fine-tuning, check out these strategies to not only lessen ADHD symptoms, but also optimally fuel your child’s growing mind and body for years to come.
1. Follow a Mediterranean-style diet. This wholesome nutrition plan gives kids the nutrients they need, and leaves out the ones they don’t. Children diagnosed with ADHD are at increased risk of deficiencies in vitamin D, iron, B12, folic acid, magnesium and zinc. A healthy diet will help lessen this risk, but if you still have concerns, consider talking to your doctor about screening tests so that you can supplement or make changes to diet in an educated fashion.
2. Take them fishing. Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are essential to the developing brain, and supplementation improves ADHD symptoms. To maximize omega-3s in the diet, serve fatty fish such as sardines, wild salmon or mackerel at least twice weekly. Vegan sources include algae, or algae oil, and flaxseed. If you choose to supplement, look for a product with at least 500mg of EPA.
3. Keep them hydrated. Offer a healthy, homemade smoothie or glass of water before school. Send them with a water bottle (plastic-free), and encourage hydration over the course of the day. Dehydration can impair attention and mood in children.
4. Skip the additives. Artificial colours, flavours and preservatives can worsen ADHD’s hyperactivity symptoms. Not convinced? Consider eliminating these additives from your child’s diet to see if symptoms improve.
5. Keep sugar in check. Stabilizing blood sugar over the course of the day can improve mood and behaviour. Add less sugar, limit processed foods, offer whole grains, and ensure adequate protein intake.
6. Log a food diary. Food sensitivities are common in children with ADHD. See if you can identify particular food triggers for any of your child’s symptoms.
7. Go organic. Toxins are abundant in the environment, and can have short and long-term effects on children’s health and behaviour. Check out the Dirty Dozen list updated regularly for advice on which foods carry the highest risk of toxins. Buy organic when possible, and don’t microwave in plastic.
8. Supplement for sleep. For children who have difficulty falling asleep, despite optimizing sleep hygiene, melatonin is a safe and effective supplement for children over the age of six. The use of calming herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, hops and valerian can also help promote sleep. These should be administered under the guidance of a practitioner familiar with their use in children.
These measures can improve ADHD symptoms, and help your child develop healthy habits and positive relationships with food that will serve him or her well, far beyond the childhood years.