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Mental Health and Nutrition for Children with ADHD

Children are notorious for presenting situations, challenges, and events spontaneously.  Have you ever opened your parenting tool box and found that you are missing some invaluable tools to work with the needs of your child?  It is common for children to be suspect of having attention and behavior problems in school and at home.  It is often suggested that children may have ADD and ADHD.  If this has come up in your child’s life, you may wonder what to do? As a practitioner in the mental health and nutrition fields, I am presented with situations like this often.  Parents and families are faced with the decision to put their children on medication to help with these challenges; parents often seek advice on what other options they have. It’s true that there are other options to try first.  Some of the following suggestions can help people in making key decisions for your child’s health and future. Food and lifestyle can make a significant difference in the behaviors of children; their minds can be impacted by some basic changes and simple food/nutrient choices.  The following tips have helped many parents expand their knowledge and best help their kids.

                          Lifestyle Planning for Kids 

Consistency and Routines are the first step in creating a well-balanced child.  This applies to daily routines, parenting consistency, and structure.  This is hard in times when change happens, where daily routines vary, parenting varies, and schedules change.  These inconsistencies affect a child’s ability to self-regulate emotionally and directly affect behaviors, focus, mental function, and contribute to the underlying concerns that present like ADD/ADHD.

Meal Planning for Kids

Blood sugar balance is directly connected to moods, behavior problems, and mostly to focus ability.  Most people understand this, see it in their children, and even in themselves.  A diet plan that prevents low blood sugar, which kids are particularly affected by (e.g. eliminate refined sugar, caffeine, combine carbohydrates with protein; eat 4 – 6 small meals throughout the day; eat plenty of dietary fiber, drink water.  This is a plan that can benefit the whole family too.

Specific Nutrients for Balanced Moods

  • ·       Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids for growth and repair of nervous tissue: nut, seed, cold water fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel) and vegetable oils (safflower, walnut, sunflower, flax seed)


  • ·       Foods rich in vitamin B6 – needed for normal brain function:  Brewer’s yeast, bok choy, spinach, banana, potato, whole grains


  • ·       Foods rich in tryptophan – precursor to neurotransmitter serotonin:  white turkey meat, milk, nuts, eggs, fish


  • ·       Liver cleansing foods – proper liver function helps to regulate blood sugar:  garlic, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, beets, carrots, artichokes, lemons, parsnips, dandelion greens, watercress, burdock root


  • ·       Magnesium rich foods – important for nerve conduction:  seeds, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, soy products, almonds, pecans, cashews, wheat bran,meats


  • ·       Vitamin D Foods- It is becoming increasingly studied and the trend is that that Vitamin D impacts childhood mood and behavior.  SUNLIGHT and Whole Grains are the main sources…….In the pacific northwest supplementation is common in deficiency.

The Solution

The best solution if you have been faced with concerns that your child may have ADD or ADHD is to make changes in lifestyle consistency and in the food your child eats.  Give your child a couple weeks to settle into these changes and keep a log of behaviors, moods, and attitudes.  Let your child’s caregivers, teachers, and others in their life know that you are making these changes; this allows them to be supportive with consistency and also to help you monitor the behaviors.  If the problems persist, it is always a good idea to consult with a mental health counselor that can work on behavior modification and help you to best assess your child.  They are a good sounding board for what is normal, and also to help work as a team to help your child. If you decide to try medication, your efforts will be useful in providing the best comprehensive data your doctor, and it is recommended to have your child’s therapist consult with the doctor too.  This will help decisions be in the best interest of your child, and will ease your mind that you are making the best decision.  It is well advised that the counselor continue to work with your child if they do begin a medication regime. In my experience, not all children require medication, and fully assessing the situation and trying all options to change lifestyle and food can have significant improvements for children’s behaviors, focus, and happiness. Happy healthy kids, make happy parents and families.