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ADHD and Diet: Is There a Link Between Sugar and Hyperactivity, and Is There Really an Effective Diet for ADHD?

By Tess Thompson

In the 1970's, Dr. Ben Feingold developed what came to be known as the "Feingold Diet" after he thought he noticed a link between certain foods and hyperactivity in children. The ingredients he flagged to avoid were mostly food additives which he thought were causing allergic reactions in some of his patients, but sugar was also on the list.

For years following, Dr. Feingold's theory grew in popularity and acceptance, but the theory was based only on his patient's testimonials, and a link between sugar and hyperactivity has yet to be proven in studies.

While there is not overwhelming conclusive evidence that any particular food will cause or prevent hyperactivity, a well-balanced diet that is rich in a variety of brain-healthy foods will benefit anyone, and some preliminary studies have found certain food types to have a positive effect on children with ADHD.

Contrary to Dr. Feingold's theory, some recent studies have shown that large amounts of sugar can have a numbing effect on children and can actually induce tiredness. These days, most doctors agree that while limited amounts of sugar are acceptable in a diet, large amounts can be harmful in a variety of ways, even if sugar has not been shown to have a particularly negative effect on ADHD and treatment of it.

One study by the George Washington University School of Medicine found that children who ate a protien-rich meal performed as well or better afterwards in school than children without ADHD. Foods that are high in protien include meat, fish, milk, yogurt, beans, peanut butter and eggs.

There is also various research, including a study done by Oxford University in London, which suggests that including Omega-3 fatty acids in hyperactive children's diets will moderate their ADHD symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids are often lacking in the average American diet, but can be found in salmon, mackarel, sardines and flax oil.

Both protiens and omega-3 fatty acids should be a part of everyone's diets, and it is important to remember to moderate your child's intake of any one food group. In general, green vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protiens and healthy fats should all be included in your child's daily diet.

Removing as many simple and refined carbohydrates as possible from your child's diet could have a positive effect as well. These kinds of carbohydrates include candy, cake, white bread, potatoes, white rice, and pasta, and are broken down very quickly by the body, often causing surges and dips in energy. Instead of white bread and white rice, try substituting whole grain versions of the foods, and give your child fruit instead of cake or candy.

While it might be impossible to eliminate all of the suggested items from your child's diet, it should be possible to moderate them in favor of healthier foods. Although there is no specific diet proven to be an effective child ADHD treatment, a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, omega-3 fats and protiens promotes general well-being and will also help eliminate the possibility of your child suffering from a nutritional deficiency that might be affecting his or her behavior.

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