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Five Nutrients for the ADHD Child and Five Foods to Avoid

The food your child eats can either reduce or worsen the symptoms of ADHD.  Here are five nutrient-rich foods you should add to your meals, and five foods that should be avoided.

Include: Essential Fatty Acids

An omega-3 fatty acid called DHA is the missing link between ADHD and recovery. A number of studies show that a deficiency in omega-3 fats is linked to learning disorders, behavioral problems, and conditions like ADHD in childhood.  Deep-sea fish, walnuts, and flaxseed are excellent food sources for omega-3 fatty acids.  It won't hurt to supplement meals with fish oils, too.

Include: Vitamin Bs

The B vitamin group is another important nutrient that can improve neurotransmitter production and reduce stress.  You can obtain more of these from yeast, chicken (dark meat), fish, eggs, fruits, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.  Regular multivitamins for kids should also contain safe doses of vitamins B3, B6, and B12.

Include: Protein

Most of us think that carbohydrates are the best source of energy, but protein is better at sustaining energy levels for a long period of time. In fact, studies show that a high-protein breakfast is related to better school performance.  Instead of cereal, try serving a grilled cheese sandwich or yogurt for breakfast.  Offer seeds, nuts, or protein-rich smoothie for snacks.

Include: Calcium and magnesium

Calcium is well-known for its role in bone structure, but it also participates in many nervous system functions that are related to behavior and attention.  Magnesium also calms the nervous system, maintains normal muscle function, and is involved in protein synthesis.  Children need both magnesium and calcium in balanced levels because calcium cannot be utilized properly without magnesium.  Although milk is a popular source of calcium, green vegetables like broccoli and spinach are even better because they contain far more nutrients.  Magnesium can also be found in green veggies, peas, whole grains, and nuts.

Include: Trace minerals

The body needs small amounts of micronutrients called trace minerals, and many foods today are surprisingly low in these nutrients. Zinc and iron deficiencies are known to be related to ADHD; iron, in particular, regulates the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Fruits, vegetables, and a regular child's multivitamin should do the trick.  In large amounts, iron can be toxic and cause free radical damage to cells and tissues.

Avoid: Sugar

There is some truth to the old wives' tale that sugar causes ADHD. Sugar can aggravate hyperactivity because it destabilizes blood sugar levels and requires a large amount of minerals, vitamins, and enzymes for its conversion into energy.  You don't have to remove sugar completely, but slowly eliminate foods with hidden sugars like powdered juice, breakfast cereal, and energy bars.  Foods with artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, and sucrose are also hidden sources of sugar.

Avoid: Artificial additives

Colorful candies are visually delightful for any child, but they're not always healthy. The artificial color, preservatives, and flavoring used in many foods today are made up of hundreds of chemicals, some of which have not been tested for their overall safety.  Go with natural foods as much as possible and avoid purchasing foods with artificial additives.

Avoid: Hydrogenated oils

Trans-fats and saturated fats can interfere with neuron function. If there are more trans-fats and saturated fats than healthy omega-3 fats, they tend to be absorbed to make up the structure of neuronal membranes, which makes it difficult for the membranes to transmit and receive messages from regions of the brain.  Avoid hydrogenated oils from chips and other processed foods, as these are a primary source of trans-fats and saturated fats. Fast food fries and burgers are also rich in these unhealthy fats.

Avoid: Caffeine

Although it provides a quick energy boost, caffeine leaches out minerals from the bones, aggravating the nutritional deficiencies that trigger ADHD in the first place.  Children may be too young to drink coffee, but a number of chocolates, carbonated beverages, and desserts contain caffeine.

Avoid: Salt

Too much sodium can be a bad thing because it also consumes minerals required by healthy, well-functioning neurons.  Cut down on salty snacks like pretzels and potato chips, and stick to healthier options like unsalted nuts and fruits.  Microwaved meals, fast food, and no-cook noodles are also high in salt.