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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Food Dye and ADHD

Does sugar cause symptoms of ADHD?

Processed sugars and carbohydrates may have an effect on a child’s activity level. These sugars produce a rapid increase in blood glucose levels because they enter the bloodstream so quickly. A child may become more active due to an adrenaline rush produced by this blood sugar spike.

Decreased activity in the child is sometimes noted as the adrenaline levels fall. However, there has been no proof to date that sugar actually causes ADHD.

How does diet influence ADHD symptoms?

It’s important to always consult your child’s doctor before trying a dietary treatment for ADHD. Based on the findings of the study discussed above, the U.K. Food Standards Agency advised parents of children with ADHD to eliminate food additives from their diet. The Agency also encouraged companies to remove artificial coloring from food products. In the U.S., though, the FDA still considers artificial food colors to be safe when used properly.

Parents are encouraged to try eliminating certain foods from their children’s diet if they feel these foods affect their children's behavior in negative ways. Some experts theorize, though, that behavioral changes may be noted in children following an elimination diet simply because of a change in the way the family interacts while on the diet. It’s also important to not be too restrictive with your child’s diet. The reason is you want to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Dieticians and doctors can help you devise a healthy eating plan for your children.

Ben Feingold created a popular elimination diet designed to treat hyperactivity. This diet proposes the elimination of artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives in order to decrease hyperactivity. Some studies have disproved Feingold’s theory. Nevertheless, many parents who have tried it have reported an improvement in their child’s behavior.

Regardless of whether a child suffers from ADHD, children should eat processed sugars in moderation, if at all. High-sugar foods contribute to tooth decay, contain empty calories that can lead to obesity, and tend to have little nutritional value.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Patricia Quinn, MD on July 08, 2012

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