Sugar is often wrongly blamed for ADHD. We give you the reasons why children could get hyperactive and tips on how nutrition can help children with ADHD.
October is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) awareness month so to honour this we’re taking a look at the myths and facts of ADHD and how nutrition can help. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ADHD is the most common neurobehavioural disorder in childhood. The symptoms of ADHD are:
- Difficulty in paying attention
- Having trouble focusing on tasks
- Struggling to sit still
- Acting impulsively
It’s important to note that all children show one or more of these behaviours at times – this is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean they have ADHD. These could be caused by excitement, tiredness or something else that’s happened that day! However, if these symptoms continue, happen often and start adversely affecting home life, school and life in other settings, then you should talk to your doctor, who may diagnose your child with ADHD.
What causes ADHD?
No one knows exactly what causes ADHD but some things are known to play a role. These are:
It’s found that ADHD tends to run in families with research showing that parents with ADHD have a 4-8 times increased chance of having a child with it.
Problems during pregnancy and early childhood
Research also suggests that a child can be at increased risk of ADHD if it is born premature, has a low birthweight or if the mother had a difficult pregnancy. There’s also a correlation between drinking and smoking during pregnancy and ADHD.
Certain environmental factors can also increase the risk of ADHD. These include lead poisoning, brain injuries and epilepsy.
Unfortunately, some children experience a deprived institutional upbringing and this has been found to lead to an increased risk of ADHD.
MYTH: Sugar causes ADHD
Many people think eating too much sugar is a cause of ADHD and hyperactivity. This is a myth and not supported by research. Research has shown that the removal of this ingredient from the diet will not improve ADHD symptoms. The possible explanation of excited behaviour may be linked to the event (like a party) rather than the sugar itself.
Whether a child has ADHD or not, sugar is not likely to make a child’s behaviour worse. However, like any food, sugar must be consumed responsibly as part of a heathy diet.
Take a look at this video by Aaron Carroll of Healthcare Triage on the lack of scientific evidence for linking sugar and hyperactivity:
How nutrition can help children with ADHD
All children need a healthy diet and the right nutrients to develop into healthy adults, and children with ADHD are no exception.
Those with ADHD may have deficiencies in certain fatty acids, zinc, magnesium and iron so ensuring these nutrients are in diets is very important.
Do seek advice from your doctor or dietitian before giving your child supplements as they may not need them and supplements don’t always have a beneficial effect in ADHD.
Healthy eating tips for children with ADHD
As children with ADHD can have low levels of omega-3 fats, zinc, magnesium and iron, we’ve compiled some food tips to help you give your children the nutrients they need.
Have a fish dinner twice a week
Some fish, like sardines, pilchards, salmon, trout or mackerel, are rich with omega-3 and are recommended at least twice a week. The bones of sardines and pilchards are fine to eat so you can crush them for some extra calcium. You can have this fish on a sandwich or include them in soups, stews or curries!
Slip seeds into food
Chia seeds and ground flax seeds are also a source of omega-3 so try adding these to fresh fruit and blending it to make a healthy, and delicious, smoothie – something kiddies love!
Make sweet treats with pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a wonderful source of iron, zinc and magnesium. Try adding them to soups or salads. But, if that’s not child friendly enough, add them to crumpets or cakes as a treat!
Go veggie with lentils
Lentils and other legumes like chickpeas and beans are full of iron, zinc and magnesium. While lentils are not known for being particularly loved by children, we guarantee that they won’t be able to resist a lentil burger!
Dried beans, peas and lentils are a fantastic source of iron, zinc and magnesium. However, on their own, they are not particularly enticing, particularly for children! But, put them in a wrap, add salsa, guacamole, cheese and sour cream and you have a delicious bean burrito. Get the kids to construct the burrito themselves and we guarantee they won’t be able to resist a bite!
We hope these tips give you some meal inspiration. Enjoy!
Healthy eating tips for children with ADHD
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about ADHD. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Accessed 19 September 2017).
Davison KM, Ng E, Chandrasekera U, Seely C, Cairns J, Mailhot-Hall L, Sengmueller E, Jaques M, Palmer J, Grant-Moore J for Dietitians of Canada. Promoting Mental Health through Healthy Eating and Nutritional Care. Toronto: Dietitians of Canada, 2012. Access at: www.dietitians.ca/mentalhealth.
Flisher AJ, Hawkridge S (2013). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents. The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) Treatment Guidelines for Psychiatric disorders. South African Journal of Psychiatry 19(3).
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008). The NICE Guideline CG72: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Diagnosis and Management (Clinical Guideline).
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2016). Addendum to Clinical Guideline 72, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Clinical Guideline Addendum 72.1.