Does Food Really Change the Way a Child Behaves? ( ADHD DIET )

Updated on April 15, 2011
R.T. asks from Allen, TX
18 answers

While it is on my mind I wanted to make a post. My daughter is very bright. She is very active and full of energy. She isn’t ADHD my mom is a psychologist and tells me She is just a bright and strong willed child. She is just full of life.

However I am wondering ( my mom has wondered too ) if my child is sensitive to sugar and certain foods. I mean if she eats pancakes or an ice cream or a piece of candy she goes nuts and isn’t really the best manageable child ☺

Are there kids that are sensitive to foods but if we make food changes does it make the child calmer and more collective and seem to focus better? Are these really factors?

A friend mentioned to me so I thought I would ask you moms and see your opinions and theories on this matter.

THANKS IN ADVANCE! You guys are so helpful!

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Dallas on

Yes, my daughter is the same way. High sugar, high starch foods put her on an emotional roller coaster.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

for some it does matter there are noticeable differences in my kids when they eat certain things. My family does not believe me that Soda is the devil. My kids are allowed Soda but on a very limited basis and until recently with my oldest only they are NEVER allowed caffeine I swear to heaven it is just like crack! My youngest it is an absolute no no my oldest I know I cant keep him from it all the time but he is pretty good about moderation.
There has to be a lot of something to change their behavior but they are totally different when they get back from staying with my parents or my sisters they eat a lot of sugar- cakes cookies, donuts, soda, punch, it takes them a few days to chill back out

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answers from Columbus on

No, not unless the child has an allergy. There is one study done recently in Brittian about artificial colors that has made a correlation; it has yet to be replicated, so don't get too excited about it. Sugar is not shown to be any issue whatsoever, again, and again, and again. If your child has a reaction to sugar, it is a metobolic issue, which can effect behavior, but it is not brain function related. If your child has a glueten allergy, you already know this, and the issues are gastric...frankly, diet is just not front line in the treatment of brain disorders, though many people would like it to be, it is not.

If your child has reactions to food, look toward the food, not the brain. ADHD is a brain dysfunction and many processess of the brain are effected. Food is not the issue for ADHDers, brain function is.


5 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Absolutely, no doubt about it---kids behavior can definitely be affected by what they are eating. They have been doing studies for more then two decades on sugar and hyperactivity--there is absolutely no correlation whatsoever. However, most sugary foods also contain artificial colors and chemical preservatives and high fructose corn syrup---all things that have been proven to be associated with hyperactivity. Finally food allergies or sensitivities will cause changes in behavior and temperament. Her reaction to ice cream, for example, could show a sensitivity to dairy, and pancakes could be to gluten or to the syrup your using if it isn't natural maple syrup.
Almost all people are sensitive to chemicals, some more so then others. If it is a food sensitivity/allergy there will be other symptoms. Those symptoms could include puffy and/or dark circles under the eyes, rashes of any kind including eczema, a constant runny nose or post-nasal drip, an irritating cough, frequent ear infections, constipation (defined as not going at least once every day), diarrhea, and trouble sleeping.

Try keeping her from chemicals in her food first--anything like red dye #5, parabens, nitrates, high fructose corn syrup (it doesn't appear this way in nature like say maple syrup does), msg (monosodium glutamate), etc. If you don't know what it is then you probably shouldn't eat it.

If she has any of the other symptoms I mentioned I am happy to talk to you about how to change her diet (between my two boys we have to avoid gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, shell fish, and a couple of other random things). Unfortunately I'm a bit of an expert on the whole food allergy thing at this point :-)

J. :-)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I used to have a boy in my class who was autistic and when his mom changed him to a very low gluten/low sugar diet it made a huge difference. He was so much calmer and less likely to get set off. I think in general this is true for kids and adults across the board...whole foods and healthier foods make people calmer, happier, and healthier. With that said, I feel like I don't want to deprive myself or my family of occasional treats, and yes (gasp!) I sometimes keep frozen chicken nuggets in my freezer, so I think it's a balance. I don't necessarily encourage eliminating anything in particular, but, since you feel like you already notice your daughter possibly having issues with sugar, etc. then maybe give it a try and see what happens. If you decide to eliminate these things I would probably give it at least 2 weeks and then decide.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Ditto part 2 for Martha R.

There does seem to be a correlation with the consumption of red food coloring seems and behavioral issues in kids with ADHD. Research on the effects of sugar, however, has shown there is no correlation between sugar consumption and behavior in kids.

Food allergies, of course, are not included in this discussion.

And, regarding sugar, I think the issue is more that large amounts of sugar consumption generally happen during special times (i.e., special treat, birthday party, holiday) when the excitement could be revving them up just as much as the sugar. It's fun to eat sugar-laden products, and this could lead to wacky behavior. Of course, if the sugar consumption is hurting their tummies, this could conceivably cause different behavior.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

absolutely food can contribute to what you described. We used a lab to test our girls and they even have a guarantee that if the results don't help once the offending foods are eliminated for a period of time (3 months or longer depending on severity of intolerance) they will reimburse you the cost. The lab we used has a less than one percent variance in their results so I would check it out to make sure your efforts are efficient and effective.

Immuno laboratories is the lab. Healthy Kids Pediatrics is the ones I know order the tests directly to the lab which makes it cheaper, but there are others. I would call the lab and get a list of local providers that will order it---check costs before doing...the provider can charge whatever they want.

I have full confidence in this lab and the results it has given our family on our health in general.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

All my kids are ADD so I have spent a lot of time researching. The answer, yes and no. Yes your child can have food allergies and they do create interesting reactions. My oldest could drink this bottled kool aid product and you could tick off the seconds until he bounced off the wall. He reacted to a red die they used in the product.

Sugar on the other hand no. It appears to be a major stimulant until you consider where you tend to get more sugar products. Say birthday parties. A birthday party without any food is still going to stimulate the child, ya know?

My favorite are the people that say I put my kid on this diet and he is a different child. Yeah, someone who is going through the bother of a strict diet is being strict in other areas so it will work. Discipline works, don't pin it on the foods.

My advice is watch your child. See if something effects her the same way every time. Pancakes? Have breakfast for dinner, watch the results. If it is different, it isn't the pancakes, get it? :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Yes some people are more sensitive to certain foods or food additives. My kids are not particularly off the wall when they eat anything. But I have nieces/nephews that are like you describe. It isn't the same for everyone, and some kids can have ADHD symptoms and NOT be that sensitive to food/additive consumption. Which is why I think some ADHD parents swear by diet changes and some don't.

Remember, food is broken down and digested (or not -just passing thru, lol)... and causes/affects chemical reactions within the body. Certain foods (sugars! but not just simple sugars... fructose and complex carbohydrates also) specifically affect insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone and affects ALL KINDS of things. Everyone's body reacts slightly differently to an influx of sugar...Some people develop a glucose tolerance that requires more and more insulin to manage the sugars in the blood... but that "more and more" insulin does more and more OTHER STUFF too.

So, if you have figured out that sugar has strong effects on your daughter, then watch her intake. And try to avoid the simple quickly absorbed sugars. Low glycemic index foods will probably affect her much less. Kudos to you for making the connection. What you do with that information is up to you. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

YES! My son was having attention issues as well all the way through elementary school. We had to meet with eh principal all the time, and they always said the same thing... get him tested for ADHD. If he had a hot chocolate, watch out because the devil horns were quick to follow!!

So we started by removing hot chocolate and red food coloring. We noticed a huge change. Then we put him on a vitamin product called Juice Plus (the chewables - he loved them) and that year in school was the first one that he did not go to the principal ONCE! He was in 5th grade by this time. Then we took it another step and eliminated sugar from his breakfast on school days. While we did not win the cool parents award that year, his grades have come up to mostly A's and B's, and he finally passed the state standardized testing! He is now in 7th grade and doing really well. This was a child who was almost held back in 3rd and 4th grades.

Give her a new diet for a month and see what happens. What can it hurt? It is such an easier step than medicating them for ADHD.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Augusta on

For some yes it matters , for mine it does not, I've always given them a low sugar, low dyes diet and my daughter is still ADHD , it's genetic.
I never give my kids sugar because of my bad teeth and I am afraid they will end up with the same.
If the child has an allergy yes the sugar / dyes, etc will effect them if they don't have the allergy then no it won't do a bit of good. Sugar is a carbohydrate and a starch and it behaves in the system as such.
Carbohydrates give you energy, or a "sugar high" , Simple carbs such as sugar give a quick burst of energy then a crash.
This is likely what you are seeing in your daughter.
My advice , cut out all sweets. no extra sugar , today's foods have enough sugar already in them.
get sugar free syrup for those pancakes. or sugar free ice cream, ect.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Anyone who says that there is no correlation between ADHD and food hasn't lived it. For a while I thought I had adult ADHD or something similar because I was unable to concentrate, I was moody, I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin. I could barely focus on anything. Turns out it was a food sensitivity. Once I eliminated the offending food I was fine. If I ever have a small amount on accident, the symptoms return. I can't explain the feeling other than I literally can't stop moving and I my head wants to burst. Avoiding the food is the only solution.

My daughter has a sugar sensitivity. You feed her too much sugar and she gets hyper and sometimes mean. If she has too much sugar before bedtime she won't sleep. Anyone who says there is no correlation between sugar and diet doesn't know my daughter! We keep her sugar intake low and she's fine.

Look, there are medical studies that say one thing and then there is a different study that shows the opposite. There are also many agendas behind the studies so you can't really trust any of them.

Trust what you know. If sugar makes your daughter go nuts then that's how it is for you. Adjust accordingly.

I was considered bright and strong-willed as a child. That was back before ADHD was diagnosed so frequently. I also probably was mildly allergic to the food discovered in my adulthood. Who knows if it would have helped--I have noticed that by eliminating it I'm able to concentrate so much better than I ever did.

Trust yourself and trust your observations. That's the best advice I can give :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

Ditto everything said by Martha R.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

All of us are affected by our diet. If you eat a lot of processed foods and junk foods - you are not going to feel well. You'll be crabby, sluggish and prone to illness.

If you eat more whole foods, whole grains, grass fed meat, eggs, fish, seeds, nuts, fruits and veggies, you'll feel much better, have more energy and have the ability to fight off illness.

So, I know when I eat better, I'm calmer and more alert. Stands to reason that the kids would be too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think most foods are totally ok in moderation for most children. BUT, you know your child best and if you see your child acting out of character (in a bad way) after consuming certain foods, then there is definetely a sensitivity there. It sounds like your daughter is highy sensitive to sugary foods (my son can eat frosting then go to bed and sleep soundly). But my son acts very angry and irritable for 1-3 days after eating any dairy. I am not sure why exactly but I know its true. I would limit the sugar she eats as much as possible and soon she wont miss it.



answers from Oklahoma City on

Red dye # 40 is in almost everything and does effect children's behavior. I had a friend who had an adhd child and when she figured out the red dye #40 and kept it out of his system he was a normal everyday child.

Another friend took her kids off wheat and they behaved differently. When the kids would visit grandma and grandpa they would give them whatever they wanted. Then bring the kids home due to bad behaviors. It would take her nearly a week to get their systems back in line.

I could give my daughter macaroni and cheese and she would fall asleep within 20 minutes and sleep for about 2 hours. Even if she had just woke up.

Yes, food alters behaviors. Which foods? Your system is different than anyone else's so finding the culprit is hard and takes time. Then each child may have different foods they can't have and then another might not have a problem with it. So one can eat this and the other can't eat the same can be a lot of fun when messing with diets and trying to find the best combination.


answers from Chicago on

My girlfiriend's son has issues that are still undiagnosed but she changed his diet to no wheat/gluten and wow the difference! His meltdowns have subsided greatly, his listening skills are stronger, overall he is a different child in many ways. I agree that food makes a difference in our body and how we feel/act ... think about thanksgiving how do you feel after all the food? It could not hurt but weed things out slowly and one at a time to see if you can find the "culprit" and see the changes.

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