What is ADHD in children and can diet have an impact?
Has your child recently been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Or, do you suspect that he might have ADHD? While it can be unsettling news for you, here are a few things that will help you understand more about the disorder and how to deal with it by making some dietary changes.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is also called ADHD, affects millions of children globally. Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and cannot control impulsive behaviours. They are usually restless and are constantly active.
Common symptoms of ADHD
Common symptoms of ADHD are lack of attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. Children who are inattentive display the following characteristics:
- They fail to pay close attention to details and struggle with homework.
- They cannot stay focused on a play or task for a long period of time.
- When called, they appear not to listen.
- Following instructions is a challenge for them.
- They struggle with tasks related to organizing things.
- Staying focused on tasks that need mental effort is a challenge for them and hence they either avoid them or dislike them.
- They tend to lose items needed for regular tasks or activities.
- They get distracted easily.
- They forget to do regular chores.
Children with ADHD also display the following characteristics:
- They tend to fidget with hands or feet or tap them.
- It is difficult for them to remain seated in a specific place.
- They cannot stay still for a long time.
- They struggle with performing tasks silently and can’t play quietly.
- They are loud and talk a lot.
- They tend to squirm in their seats.
- They regularly interrupt discussions and blurt out random phrases.
- They struggle to wait for their turn.
It is important to understand the difference between regular behaviour and ADHD, as most children demonstrate some amounts of inattentiveness, hyperactivity or impulsiveness at some point or the other. Pre-school children often have short attention spans and struggle with focusing on one activity for a long time. Just being different from their friends is not an indicator that your child has ADHD.
Causes of ADHD
Despite many scientific researches, the exact causes of ADHD are unknown. It is believed that genetics, environmental issues or problems with the central nervous system during the development phase cause ADHD. The condition can get better over the years, but some children may continue to exhibit symptoms of ADHD beyond their childhood. If you are concerned that your child is displaying the traits of ADHD, consult a paediatrician or the family doctor for advice. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist after a thorough evaluation of your child, if necessary.
What is the recommended diet?
There is no scientific proof to show that diet can impact ADHD. However, it has been observed that some foods might aggravate or trigger the symptoms of ADHD in some individuals. Here are some dietary recommendations that can help in managing the symptoms of ADHD.
Diet to improve overall nutrition
A diet that boosts brain health is believed to be ideal for managing ADHD. The following tips are recommended.
- Adequate protein: Food that is a good source of protein is ideal to improve concentration power. It can also help the ADHD medications to work better. Some of the recommended food sources include eggs, cheese, meat, beans, and nuts. They can be consumed in the morning for the best results.
- Complex carbohydrates: Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best source for this and can be had in the evening. They are more preferable when compared to simple carbohydrates.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are not produced by the body and hence should be obtained through the diet. Some scientific evidence has shown that ADHD patients have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can improve the good cholesterol level in the body and also help manage ADHD. Some of the sources are Indian salmon or rawas, rohu, pomfret, walnuts, olive oil, and canola oil. You can also give your child omega-3 as a supplement.
- Vitamins and minerals: Check with your doctor for supplements to provide sufficient vitamins and minerals to your child.
Foods to avoid
It is important to identify the foods that can aggravate ADHD symptoms and limit them in your kid’s diet.
- Simple carbohydrates are not ideal for ADHD as they can aggravate hyperactivity. The food sources of simple carbohydrates are white rice, candies, syrup, honey, regular sugar, items made from white flour, and potatoes without skin. White rice is a staple diet of the Indian community and hence should be replaced with brown rice, oats or barley. There is no evidence to support that sugar can cause hyperactivity, but it should be limited as it leads to empty calories.
- Some experts recommend that children with ADHD should avoid artificial colours and food additives like preservatives in their diet.
Hence, to improve the symptoms of ADHD, consuming omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals is essential. A sensible approach is to follow a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, good and lean sources of protein, complex carbohydrates, and whole grains. Physical activity is also recommended.