Edelson Blog

No Sugar in the Tank: Challenging the Myths about ADHD

While each family that I work with is unique in their own way, I have found over the years that when a child is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, parents routinely ask very similar questions. So let’s look at a few of those questions here, for those who don’t have the opportunity to sit down with a psychologist in person:

1) Does sugar/candy/junk food cause ADHD?

Short answer…NO eating sugar does not cause ADHD. But there is a longer answer. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a medical condition and the underlying causes can be complex, but research consistently shows that it is not caused by eating sugar, even very large amounts of sugary snacks. Just the same, for some kids, parents may find that eating sugary foods increase their activity levels and behavior concerns. This may be due to the situation, rather than the food, in some cases. Trick or treating, birthday parties and other celebrations frequently include the “bad foods” so the cookies, cakes and ice cream get blamed for kiddos climbing the walls. In fact, the excitement of the event may be increasing behavioral deregulation, not the food. Nevertheless, limiting sugary snacks and drinks is sound advice for all of us, not just people with ADHD.

2) Can ADHD be treated effectively with special diets, such as removing processed foods, additives, or certain dyes?

Maybe…how is that for a straight answer? A special diet may be helpful, for some children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, but again research doesn’t support it for everyone. In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presented research that food additives do not cause the development in ADHD in children. However, certain individuals can have food sensitivities and intolerances that lead to problematic behaviors when those foods are eaten. Food additives are not causing ADHD, but they can increase the symptoms for a small population of children. Special elimination diets (for example, the Feingold diet) are very rigid, and can be difficult for most people to maintain for the long term. So, again let common sense prevail in this area. Limiting processed food, eating fruits and vegetables, and overall balanced diets is
good for all of us.

3) My child has ADHD, does this mean I am a bad parent?

Absolutely not! Remember the first question about sugar and ADHD, we discussed this is a medical condition. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder crosses all boundaries in our population, affecting children of all races, socioeconomic levels, and educational opportunities. And as psychologists we have to opportunity to work with all these families, both parents who are well-equipped and parents who have more limits inabilities, all of whom have children with ADHD. What is the fact is that children who have ADHD can be more challenging for all parents, regardless of skill level. This is when it can be helpful to work with a psychologist to develop a behavior plan that is specifically designed for your special child. But generally, children with ADHD respond better to structure, consistent limits, and opportunities to get “caught being good.”

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