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ADHD Diet: Elimination Diet (How to Detect Food Intolerances)

Besides nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances and allergies are two of the leading food-related triggers of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  One very interesting study even showed that when a child with ADHD eats food he or she is allergic to, his or her brain wave activation pattern is affected. The tricky part about dealing with food allergies that affect behavior and brain function is that they cannot be detected by traditional tests for food allergies.  Although special blood tests and muscle tests can detect these, it is still difficult to identify which particular foods are responsible for triggering which symptoms. 

One way you can find out for sure is by putting your ADHD child on an elimination diet.  Although an elimination diet is time-consuming and will require some lifestyle changes, this is one of the most accurate ways to determine which foods may be causing or worsening your child's behavior. Essentially, an elimination diet involves removing particular foods from the diet for a certain period of time, and then reintroducing them to test for any reactions. 

There are three elimination diets known to have high success rates among children with ADHD.  The first is the Feingold Diet, where all foods containing artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, and artificial preservatives are removed.  Another diet, called the RPAH Elimination Diet or FAILSAFE Diet, is similar to the Feingold Diet in that all foods with artificial additives are removed for a period of time.  The only difference is that it is more restrictive, because all fruits and vegetables containing salicylates are also forbidden. A third diet is the gluten-free, casein-free diet ,in which all wheat and dairy products are removed for their gluten and casein content, which acts like morphine in the body when undigested properly.

Begin the elimination diet by keeping a daily diary of your child's symptoms and which foods have been eliminated when, so it will be easy to compare changes and identify your child's food intolerances.  Each day, write down everything your child eats, what time the meals are taken, along with how your child feels and any reactions he or she might have.  In three or four weeks, you should be able to identify patterns in how your child responds to different foods.

We have articles that detail which particular foods should be eliminated for which diet. What makes an elimination diet difficult to do is that your child may have to stop eating his or her favorite food.  Pizza, ice cream, potato chips, and milk are just some of the things that are forbidden in these diets.    If you think eliminating all suspect foods might seem too drastic, try eliminating certain classes of food for a period of time and see how your child reacts.  For instance, eliminate all dairy products for two weeks and watch your child's behavior.  If the symptoms still remain, eliminate all wheat products as well while keeping dairy products off the menu for the next two weeks.  Continue removing a particular class of foods until you notice an improvement in your child's behavior.  Once your child's symptoms start fading, you can assume that your child is intolerant of the foods that have been recently removed.  You can slowly add the other foods back into your child's meals, while observing for any reactions or worsening of behavior.

Once you have identified which foods are causing which reactions, simply keep these off the menu. Eliminate these foods completely for at least 90 days, then attempt to reintroduce them again.