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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Expert Q&A: ADHD and Diet

An interview with Sheah Rarback, MS, RD


The bottom line: A trial of a diet free of food colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate is certainly worth trying.

It is interesting to note that the European Union Environmental Committee on food safety is recommending any foods with food dyes be labeled that they may provoke allergenic effects and hyperactivity in children. The group wants sweetness and colorings banned in food for babies and small children.

Q: What about the emotional impact of putting your child on a diet that makes him or her feel different?

Consider whether you are taking away nutritious foods your child likes to eat, and whether it will create social problems at home, school, or when visiting friends.

Parents need to become ace label-readers to choose foods without these artificial colorings and preservatives, and ideally purchase foods that the entire family can enjoy so the ADHD child does not feel singled out. Stores like Whole Foods pledge their foods are free of artificial anything; however, shopping at these kinds of markets can be costly.

Instead of totally eliminating these foods, you may want to consider scaling back on foods and beverages with the most food colorings, like blue, sweetened beverages, as these tend to have little nutritional value.

Q: What can parents do when their child has a decreased appetite from ADHD medication?

Talk to your doctor about the timing of the medication so that it does not interfere with meals. Some drugs do decrease appetite, so it is generally recommended to take the medication after a healthy breakfast. Monitor what he eats for lunch, as you may need to provide a larger after-school snack, when the medication is usually wearing off and the appetite is better.

Getting adequate nutrition is important for growth and development, along with normal weight gain. Parents need to carefully monitor their child’s intake so they don’t lose weight, but before you blame the medication, consider how the child eats when not on drugs.

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Reviewed on April 30, 2009

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