ADD / ADHD, Food and Drink

ADD / ADHD Diet and Nutrition

In those distant days of the 1970’s, when flares were fashionable for the first time, Dr Feingold stated that childrens’ diet caused ADHD. He identified artificial food coloring and flavourings as the cause of 75% of ADHD. Subsequent research has shown that only 2% of children responded to Feingold’s Diet.
This was the first of several attempts to link diet and nutrition to ADD / ADHD.

The obvious target in the hyperactive child’s diet is sugar. Clearly children can get over excited on a sugar rush but is this the same as ADD / ADHD? The research produced mixed results, some finding that sugar has no effect, some finding it calms children and some, by the sugar industry itself, finding that increased motor activity or reduced attention span following sugar consumption. Whatever the relationship between sugar and ADHD, it is not a simple, straightforward link between cause and effect. So dropping sugar out of the diet probably will not reduce hyperactivity but most children have too much sugar in their diet and many face weight problems so there are other health benefits to controlling sugar intake.

The next target is vitamin deficiencies and here the evidence is strong for a link between nutrition and ADD / ADHD. One study found that iron deficient children had motor functioning and memory problems, both common symptoms of ADHD. A shortage of zinc has also been collared as a suspected cause of ADD / ADHD. A double-blind study on zinc supplements found they worked better than a placebo at reducing hyperactivity and impulsiveness. However the response rate for the zinc was only 28.7% were as for the placebo, the fake treatment, the rate was 20%. Zinc worked but not that much better than the placebo.

One of the problems with looking at diet, nutrition and ADHD is that diet is strongly linked to your home situation. Well off, well educated parents feed their children better then poorer, less educated people. The question is, is it the better diet that prevents ADHD in the well off children or is it because they grow up in a caring and stimulating environment?

The best advice currently available is for children to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. This will certainly help prevent weight problems and improve the child’s overall physical and neurological development. If the diet helps treat ADD / ADHD then that’s a bonus.

Also on Myomancy: ADHD and Obesity

Research: Diet and Hyperkinesis. An Update; Diet as a Treatment for ADHD [ PDF ]; Poorer Behavioral and Developmental Outcome More Than 10 Years After Treatment for Iron Deficiency in Infancy


  1. ML – No I haven’t covered additives and behaviour in any detail yet. From the research I did for the article above, there seems to be little evidence that addatives effect ADHD.


  2. Jane Hersey

    There is a great deal of evidence linking food additives to hyperactivity, and there aren’t any studies that show a mere 2% success rate for the Feingold diet (as described above).
    In December of 2004 researchers from Harvard and Columbia published a meta-analysis of the studies on food dyes and hyperactivity. It was published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. They found that the behavior of hyperactive children improved significantly when artificial food colors were eliminated.
    Similar results were found in studies by Anthony et al (1999), Bateman (2001), Pessler (2002). Earlier studies by Kaplan, Carter, Egger, Boris, and Rowe also support the food additive/behavior link. In 2006 Lau et al published their work showing the neurotoxic effects of food dyes and other additives.
    Dr. Feingold never said that food additives “cause” hyperactivity, but that in susceptible individuals they can trigger the symptoms.
    Accurate information is available at Wikipedia and a great deal of information can be found at This site also provides abstracts of the major studies on this.
    One more thing…the Feingold diet has no relation to a sugar-free diet. While it does not encourage overconsumption, the Feingold Program has never restricted sugar.

  3. Marcia

    Chris Tregenza,
    I hope you will look into the Feingold Program and correct the information you have regarding the Feingold Program.

    Jane Hersey’s information (post above) is correct. There are plenty of studies showing the huge relationship between diet, behavior and learning AND the Feingold diet does not eliminate sugar. People will find that when they go on the diet, less sugar is eaten. Behavior improves due to the elimination of the additives, not because of the sugar that is eliminated at the same time.

  4. maureen

    Comment on food coloring and foods that children are being fed do definitely have an impact on childrens’ behavior. Also..this diagnosis is made by the parents not the doctors. The parents are being handed a form to fill out questioning childrens’ behaviors. The answers are being used by physicians to determine if the child has adhd. Being a parent of one that was diagnosed and drugging my own child for a short time I realized that in fact after reading what was in some of the foods he was eating I promptly removed everything w/ artificial color and the results after 2 weeks were astounding. Also I ponder about the fact that parents are receiving ssdi payments for the children diagnosed w/ this problem. Hearing lots of parents complain and looking at their childrens’ behavior being “normal” childs behavoir in all occassions that I’ve seen. In other words my childs’ behavoir w/ out drugs and while ingesting food colorings was something that i’ve never seen again in another child. He was talking to himself banging his head like a drum w/ his own hand etc. totally out of control. Interesting topic

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