Elimination Diets and ADHD

Posted 4.12.11 | Christine Graham-Garo

In light of a recent New York Times article highlighting the link between artificial dyes and ADHD in children, we felt we should further explain how this debate originally started. A couple of days ago there was a spark in the news about the government reevaluating the safety of food dyes found in many everyday foods we all have in our pantries. The evaluation came when select studies were suggesting a link between food dyes and ADHD in children. In the end, the FDA did not find a link between food dyes and ADHD as the results of the studies were not substantial enough to make that claim.

Are elimination diets effective in helping with ADHD?

There is a recent article from February that confirmed an elimination diet that was made up of only rice, meat, vegetables, pears, and water was found to improve behavior in hyperactive children. As a caveat, 36% of the participants did not respond to the diet at all.

In the 1970’s, Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatric allergist from California, had success treating the symptoms of hyperactivity in some children by prescribing an elimination diet. The doctor even came up with his own diet, The Feingold Diet or Program. The Feingold Program eliminates these additives from your diet:

  • Artificial (synthetic) coloring
  • Artificial (synthetic) flavoring
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, an artificial sweetener)
  • Artificial (synthetic) preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ (these preservatives are found in most foods on the market)

So all-in-all, I would say strive to use foods that are low or contain no artificial color or dyes. It is already hard enough just restricting milk or soy from your child’s diet to have to worry about dyes as well! If you are concerned about the possibility that your child could have ADHD, speak to a Registered Dietitian about possibly starting an elimination diet. Remember, you must ensure your little one is still getting the nutrition he or she needs with these special diets. Another option you have is to use an allergen-free supplement, for example Neocate Junior Unflavored with Prebiotics (which is also free of food colorings and flavors) to help ensure that their individual nutrition needs are being met.

Have you looked into an elimination diet before? Do you know anyone who started one and has had success? We would like to hear about it. Please tell us your story in the comment section below.


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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.