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ADHD Diet: Phosphate-Free

The foods we eat affect our bodies and our behavior. Eating the right kinds of foods can contribute to our overall well-being and improve our performance in life, but eating the wrong kinds of foods can impede our development and prevent us from living life to the fullest. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can benefit tremendously from eating the right kinds of foods for their brain. Doctors and nutritionists have discovered that most foods children eat – even foods perceived to be healthy – actually contain components that can worsen their condition.  One of these components is phosphates, a food additive usually listed as “mineral salts” on food labels.

Phosphates are essential nutrients that play a significant role in the cellular functions of the human body.  For instance, phosphates supply ADP/ATP, a form of energy that allows cells and neurons to carry out their life processes.  However, too much phosphate prevents the body from absorbing other essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc.   Children with ADHD are often deficient in these nutrients, and a phosphate overload may be part of the problem.   Several decades ago, the food processing industry discovered that phosphates had many uses.  They improve the taste of foods (as in soft drinks), act as emulsifying agents to prevent fat from seeping out (as in cheese spreads), speed up the thickening of foods (as in pudding and gravy), and improve the texture of baked products (through the addition of baking soda). These are just some of the foods that contain high levels of phosphates:

Biscuits, cakes, bread, and confectionery (chocolate, candy, etc.).  Phosphates are often used as flour improvers and as a component of modified starch. Thus, baked goods or any foods made of processed flour contain high levels of phosphates.

Cheese, dairy products, canned soups, creams, and sauces.  Phosphates are commonly used as emulsifiers for these foods.

Cola-based drinks and soda.  Soda contains very high levels of phosphates. Coca-Cola has up to 570 mg of phosphoric acid per can!

Do any of these foods sound familiar?

Because of the fast-paced Western world’s preference for processed “instant” foods, people in developed nations now consume three times more phosphates than is considered normal. This upsets the body’s calcium/phosphorus balance, resulting in mineral deficiencies and numerous health problems. ADHD is just one of them.

Several years ago, a German pharmacist named Hertha Hafer discovered that a low-phosphate diet dramatically reduced hyperactive behavior in children with ADHD.  Doing the low-phosphate diet is a little tricky because there are natural foods, such as nuts, that contain high amounts of phosphates.  Here are some of Hafner’s suggestions on how to start following a low-phosphate diet.

  • To avoid singling out a child, and to make him or her feel better about having to avoid “fun” foods like cake, the whole family needs to adapt its way of eating. Since ADHD has a genetic basis, it is likely that other family members may have the disorder, but not so severely as to receive a diagnosis. In Hafner’s experience, having the whole family adapt the diet has spin-off advantages. In one instance, she reports that a domineering father mellowed out when the family removed phosphates from their meals.
  • Find at least ten recipes to start with.  Actually, ten recipes are all that most families need. It will take time to figure out which dishes your family will enjoy because there are literally hundreds of ways to prepare low-phosphate meals – but at least your family won’t get bored eating the same old thing every day.
  • When buying groceries, read the ingredients carefully and avoid those with “mineral salts.”  Avoid purchasing processed meat, cheese, soda, instant meals, and other processed foods.  Buy as many fresh foods as possible.
  • As much as possible, prepare all meals from scratch.  For instance, instead of using premixed gravy, make your own out of butter and plain flour.  Make your own chicken stock by boiling chicken meat, bones, and vegetables. Use fresh herbs to add flavor to your food.

The principles of a low phosphate diet are integrated in the UnRitalin Diet, the way of eating we recommend in the UnRitalin Solution.