A Diet for a Hyperactive Child
Just about every child has moments when he is distracted, bursting with energy and climbing the walls. Hyperactive children spend more time than normal in that state and have difficulty calming down. If a child has excessive energy, shows impulsivity, has difficulty paying attention and displays hyperactivity, she may have hyperactivity disorder, commonly referred to as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a comprehensive treatment program that includes parenting effectiveness training, use of behavior management strategies and medication. Dietary, nutritional and medical problems can contribute to a child's hyperactivity, so you can also manage your child's hyperactivity through careful supervision of her diet and nutrition.
Hyperactivity poses challenges to children and their providers, and there are many possible contributing causes, so in most cases have your child evaluated by a physician. Your doctor may identify medical problems and may be able to make suggestions to help in dietary and meal planning. Your child's physician should evaluate and rule out nutritional deficiencies, heavy metal exposure, gluten or casein intolerance, food allergies and sensitivities and metabolic problems like celiac disease. You may also consider having a psychologist evaluate your child for developmental or learning disorders.
Nutrition expert Phylis Balch, author of "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," suggests that food allergies or food additive sensitivities can influence the emergence and severity of hyperactivity symptoms. With the help of your pediatrician, use an elimination diet to see if allergies or sensitivities trigger symptoms in your hyperactive child. First, eliminate all potential triggers from his diet. Monitor your child's hyperactivity. After three weeks of no exposure to allergens, reintroduce the potential offending foods back into your child's diet. If your child's hyperactivity returns or increases, eliminate that food from your child's diet. Foods that can trigger hyperactivity in some children include processed foods, foods with dye, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, dairy products including milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream, and gluten or wheat products including pasta, cereal and bread.
Phylis Balch also recommends that children with hyperactivity should avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugars and starches. Research, such as that of Langseth and Dowd described at ADD ADHD Advances, indicates that children who are diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder have an exacerbation in their hyperactivity symptoms after consuming sugar. Three-quarters of the ADHD children tested positive for reactive hypoglycemia, a condition in which the pancreas releases excessive amounts of insulin following ingestion of sugar. This causes a sudden drop in blood sugar, which in turn triggers a cascade of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. Reduce or avoid starchy and sugary foods such as candy, fried foods, sweetened cereal, soda, bakery, white bread, non-whole wheat pasta and white rice.
Proteins slow digestion and slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. This creates stability in blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of reactive hypoglycemia. Further, proteins enhance the level of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine, brain chemicals that enhance alertness, attention and concentration, and reduce distractibility. High-protein foods include nuts, legumes, tofu, meats, legumes and cold water fish such as cod, halibut, salmon and tuna.
Fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods provide complex carbohydrates that stabilize blood sugar and enhance metabolic functioning. Complex carbohydrates also complement protein in the production of neurotransmitters, and therefore optimize attention and brain functioning.