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ADHD Diets


Elimination Diets and ADHD

In elimination diets, you identify a particular food or ingredient you think might be contributing to or worsening ADHD symptoms. Then you stop eating anything containing that substance. If the symptoms lessen or subside, then you continue avoiding the substance.

Can eliminating foods from your diet improve ADHD symptoms? Research in all these areas is ongoing and results are not clear-cut. Here are some common areas of concern and what the experts recommend:

Food allergiesor additives

Starting in 1975, the late Benjamin Feingold, MD, an allergist, proposed that artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives might lead to hyperactivity in some children. Since his initial theory, researchers and child behavior experts have hotly debated this issue. A recent study showed that some food coloring and one preservative did increase hyperactivity in some children. However, effects varied according to age and additive.

Based on this and other recent studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics now agrees that eliminating preservatives and food colorings from the diet is a reasonable option for children with ADHD. Amen recommends that anyone with ADHD avoid these substances:

  • Artificial colors, especially red and yellow
  • Food additives such as aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), and nitrites; some studies have linked hyperactivity to the intake of the preservative sodium benzoate.

Sugar and ADHD

Some children do become hyperactive after eating candy or other sugary foods. No evidence indicates, however, that this is a cause of ADHD. For best overall nutrition, sugary foods should be a small part of anyone's diet, though there is probably not much harm for a child or adult with ADHD to try eliminating sugary foods to see if symptoms improve.

Caffeine and ADHD

Some studies have shown that small amounts of caffeine may help with some ADHD symptoms in children. However, the side effects of caffeine may outweigh any potential benefit. Most ADHD experts recommend avoiding caffeine.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Patricia Quinn, MD on May 15, 2012
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