Could Food Sensitivities Be Causing or Worsening Your Child’s ADHD Symptoms?

Could Food Sensitivities Be Causing or Worsening Your Child’s ADHD Symptoms?

Could Food Sensitivities Be Causing or Worsening Your Child’s ADHD Symptoms?

Could my child’s inattention and behavior difficulties be related to food sensitivities?  If you are wondering about the root causes of your child’s attention and behavior problems, it is quite possible that sensitivity to a food(s) is the culprit.  Food sensitivities are negative responses the body has when exposed to certain foods. Unlike food allergies, in which symptoms like hives or trouble breathing show up immediately when the food is eaten, food sensitivities show up over a period of hours or days and can cause physical and/or neurological problems. Common symptoms of food sensitivities include inattention, hyperactivity, headaches, poor digestion, irritability, sleep problems, foggy thinking, and more. Many children with ADHD symptoms have some type of underlying food sensitivity. Dairy, gluten, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and corn can be some of the most common foods that cause problems for kids. The question then becomes, “Which food(s) is causing the problem for my child?”

There are a few ways to determine which food(s) may be causing the problem:

*Conduct a food sensitivity panel.  This typically involves a blood draw or finger stick test.  The problem with this type of testing is that the results can be inaccurate depending on what your child has been eating prior to the testing and/or the test does not cover things like food additives and dyes.  Doing a food sensitivity panel may be a starting place to help you get the ball rolling, but most likely will not tell the whole story and further investigation will be necessary.

*Keep a food/behavior journal.  After your child has eaten a meal or snack record any observable behavior changes.  For example, if your child eats a bagel for breakfast and you notice that s/he is more active and less attentive for the next few hours, it is possible that gluten may be affecting your child’s ability to attend.  Once you determine which foods may be the offenders it is time to eliminate these foods from your child’s diet for at least 3 weeks to determine whether there is a change in behavior.  This can be a long process and you may find that you are struggling with pinpointing which food is actually causing the change in behavior.  Again, this might be a good starting place.  You might already have some ideas of what foods always cause a change in your child’s behavior, if so you can start the elimination process right away.

*Do a trial elimination diet.  At first look an elimination diet can seem daunting and many parents ask, “What will my child eat?”  There are still plenty of things for your child to eat and the complete elimination phase only lasts for about 3 weeks.  This method has been the most effective at determining what foods are the offenders.  After determining which foods are causing the problem, a new diet can be put into place.  This does not mean that your child can never have the offending foods again.  What it does mean is that your child may need to eliminate those foods for an extended period of time or only eat the offensive foods on special occasions with the understanding that they will affect behavior for a short period of time.  So what foods are eliminated and how do you determine which ones may be causing problems.  The following foods are eliminated from the diet for a period of at least 3 weeks: casein (dairy), gluten (wheat), corn, soy, eggs, nuts, citrus, and any product with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.  So, what can your child eat during this phase: any meat, any fruit (except citrus), any vegetable, any bean or bean flour, and rice, oats, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, tapioca, and teff (or their flours).  In order to get an accurate result you must be strict about sticking to the diet during the 3-week elimination phase.  Following elimination you will begin by adding in one eliminated food every 4th day.  After the 3 weeks are completed, on day one of the trial phase you will allow your child to have any dairy items that s/he would like.  At the end of that day, your child will not eat dairy for the next 2 days.  During these three days you will observe any noticeable behavior changes including a return to any symptoms that were evident prior to elimination.  If no symptoms or behavioral changes are noted then dairy is a safe food for your child and s/he can begin eating it again.  If there is noticeable change then this is considered an offensive food and should be kept out of the diet.  On the fourth day of the trial phase your child can eat all the gluten s/he wants and you will observe any changes for 3 days.  You will continue in this pattern with corn, soy, eggs, nuts, citrus and food coloring until you have tested them all.  After this phase you will have a list of foods that are offensive to your child and these should be avoided for a period of at least 6 months, at which time you can do another trial phase.  Some children are able to return to eating offensive foods in small amounts after being away from them for a period of time, while others are not able to tolerate those items for several years or ever.  It is important to note that some children do not exhibit much change in behavior during the elimination phase, it is only when foods are reintroduced that noticeable change is noted.

No matter which method you may choose to determine what foods may be affecting your child it is important to keep good quality nutrition in mind.  Should your child be affected by foods that may reduce their intake of needed nutrients such as calcium or vitamin D it may be necessary to find other food sources that can provide these nutrients, or to use a supplement.  If you are planning to do a trial of eliminating foods from your child’s diet I would encourage you to seek support to assist you in ensuring your child is getting the necessary nutrition for proper growth and development.

Written by: Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD, CNS

Horizons Developmental Resource Center serves the following areas in and around Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Caledonia, Kentwood, Middleville, Lowell, Forest Hills, Hudsonville, Walker, Holland, Zeeland, Rockford, Byron Center, Allendale, Grandville, East Grand Rapids, Wayland, Jenison, Ada, Ionia, Newaygo, Grant, Sparta, Cedar Springs, Kent City, Hamilton, Hastings in the state of Michigan and all surrounding areas.  If you are not located in or around these cities, we still may be able to help you, please contact us here with your specific need.

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