In this article I will be talking about how good nutrition will benefit those who are on the Autism spectrum and those with ADD, and ADHD. Of course, good nutrition can benefit all of us, but I just want to share with you some information around common nutrient deficiency’s that may be helpful to you, if you know someone or have someone in your family that is on the spectrum or has ADD or ADHD.
As always, any information that I provide here is for educational purposes only, it is not medical advice, if you are already using pharmaceutical medications you will want to speak to your pharmacist first to make sure there is no complications with any of vitamins and minerals that I recommend using and do your own research. I just hope this information is helpful to you because we do live in a world of nutrient deficiencies, and you may not be aware of this.
First of all, the rate at which children are being diagnosed with ASD, autism, and ADD / ADHD is escalating at rapid rates and so today I wanted to focus this article on how nutrition can improve their outcomes.
Let’s go back in history a little first:
The reality of the past 20+ years….in fact going all the way back to 1976 – there was no ADHD, now 1 in 10 kids are on drugs for ADHD. Yes, some might say that back then they were not testing for it and there is a factor to that, however, so much has changed in terms of our food, the quantity of processed foods, and the nutrient deficiencies in our soil that are triggering ADHD now, that didn’t exist back in 1976.
From 1997-1998 25% of kids going to a therapist were prescribed Ritalin, and just 4 years prior to that it was only 5%…. so in 4 years we went from 5% of kids being prescribed pharmaceutical drugs to 25% – that is an astronomical growth in just 4 years, and that happened over 20 years ago. My question is why?
In my research I learned that the questionnaire therapists use in order to make this “diagnosis” are in fact designed by Big Pharma – yes, that’s right Big Pharma – and kids are diagnosed if they have 6 of 9 “behaviours” such as:
- Failing to pay close attention to details
- Not listening when spoken to
- Failing to complete homework
- Forgetting things
- Being easily distracted
- Speaking out of turn
- Can’t sit still, they fidget or squirms.
- They have difficulty playing quietly.
Well, I don’t know about you but, they seem like very normal childhood behaviours and so to have 6 of 9 of those result in a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD and then the recommendation of a drug for a young child, doesn’t seem right to me. The purpose of this article really is to have you start questioning “Do I need to put my child on a drug right off the bat or do I need to look at what we can do nutritionally to support the deficiencies?”, and then see how the behaviors change. if there are behaviors you are concerned about. What if your child can begin to thrive, and their behavior improves simply from adjusting their nutrition?
Another fact that I find quite horrifying is that between the years of 2000 – 2003 there was a 369% increase in kids not yet old enough to go to kindergarten, being prescribed Ritalin and other similar drugs. I just question the side effects of putting such young children on drugs, that they are taking every single day, for however many years, and those side effects may not show up until adulthood. Yet there is excellent research out of the UK, that has been around for several years, that shows that putting kids on Omega 3s rather than Ritalin, proves to be equally as effective without any negative side effects!
Omega 3s are good for the brain, as well as the heart, eyes, skin, hair, and cell health. The best source is wild fatty fish, and a lot of kids don’t want to eat that, so they become deficient – they may be born deficient as Mom might have been deficient through her pregnancy. It’s easy to get Omega 6s in our diet because they’re in everything and so that increases our inflammation levels, because Omega 6s are inflammatory essential fatty acids and that puts the body out of balance with the Omega 3s, such that we are in a “deficient state” in terms of Omega 3s relative to the level of Omega 6s we have in our body. The research shows that after 1 year on Omega 3s, the kids did just as well as the kids on Ritalin, with no negative side effects, as assessed by both their parents and teachers. So, if your child is given a diagnosis of ADHD, there may not be a need to start with Ritalin, you might want to start with an Omega 3 supplement instead.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting individuals on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While there is no one-size-fits-all dietary approach for these conditions, several key nutritional factors should be considered.
Before introducing any of the information I’ve provided today, I’d like to remind you to please ensure there are no contraindications with the meds your child might already be on, by checking with your doctor or pharmacist first. This information is to be used for educational purposes it is not medical advice, I am not a doctor, and I cannot give medical advice.
Let’s move on and take a look at what can be done, and where your kids may be deficient:
What are our kids eating? Are they getting enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in their diet? You want to be avoiding excessive consumption of processed foods as much as possible, including sugary snacks, and fast food.
Those foods are designed to be addictive, the flavors are delicious, and kids want more of them, however if that is negatively impacting their behavior and how they are feeling, can you start making more meals at home to allow them to get what their body truly needs, which is 7 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables in a day and good quality nutrient dense meals.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
I have already talked about the Omega-3 fatty acids, some great sources are fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel), flaxseeds, and walnuts, may have a positive impact on brain health and cognitive function. There are also some very good supplements available today that no longer leave that fishy aftertaste that kids don’t like. If you are relying solely on plant-based sources, you need a lot more of that in order to bring your Omega-3 levels up because the body needs to go through an additional process in order to be able to turn that plant-based Omega-3 into a usable form.
Another aspect of your child’s diet that you want to take a look at is protein. Protein is essential for the development and function of the brain. You want to ensure that individuals with ASD and ADHD get an adequate amount of protein from sources like lean meats, poultry, fish, tofu, and beans. You need to make sure that they are getting some type of protein during each meal.
Next, We Have Vitamins and Minerals
Adequate vitamin D levels are important for overall health, particularly for immune health, brain health, respiratory health, as well as bone and teeth health, and it regulates insulin levels.
Supplementation is recommended as we simply do not get enough hours of sunlight exposure on our bare skin, for enough hours / day and enough days of the year, with kids sitting in classrooms, sitting inside playing videos games, and not outside playing in the sun. This goes for adults as well who are sitting in offices for much of the day, rather than outside tending to the farms as our forefathers did.
When it comes to Vitamin D supplementation, 100% of Canadians are deficient in Vitamin D if they are not supplementing in their diet, this is true in the northern part of the U.S. as well, because of our colder climates. Even in the sunbelts people need to supplement their Vitamin D because they are spending so much time indoors due to the hot weather.
It is very easy to get a liquid Vitamin D supplement where you put a few drops under your tongue, and it doesn’t taste like anything. You want to do this in the morning because it can give you a little bit of an energy kick, and that can make a huge difference in boosting the health of your child, particularly their immune system and brain health.
Iron deficiency is very common, and kids can be born deficient in iron. It can affect cognitive function and energy levels. We need to encourage consumption of iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, poultry, beans, and fortified cereals. Be careful with the fortified cereals because there is a lot of marketing hype where the label shows all the wonderful vitamins and minerals that have been added to that cereal to make it excellent, however when you read the nutrition label you will also find that is it loaded with sugar, and you don’t want to be starting your child’s day that way.
In fact, there was research I heard about that I just shook my head at. It came out in 2022, from one of the big Ivy League Universities, that said that Lucky Charms are the healthiest cereals you can feed your child in the morning. The whole reason the paper was saying that it was the healthiest was because it was fortified with all these vitamins and minerals, however it didn’t talk about the downside and impact of all of the sugar that is in Lucky Charms.
Magnesium plays a role in in over 300 cellular functions in the body, including neurotransmitter function and it is important in helping the body be calm, while a stress state burns through our Magnesium supply and leaves us deficient. This deficiency can cause hyperkinetic behaviour, anxiety, irritability, irregular heartbeat, while an excess of Magnesium can cause confusion, depression, fatigue, diarrhea & lethargy. Clinically speaking, I rarely see anybody who has too much magnesium, I always see people who are deficient in magnesium. Typically, 80% of the North American population is deficient in magnesium, because it is harder to get it through our diet. A good quality magnesium supplement taken at bedtime can help your child calm down and get better sleep. Better sleep than results in more stress resiliency. You can also put Epsom bath salts into their bath – pour 1 cup into a standard sized bath – this is also a great way to get some magnesium at bedtime as the skin absorbs it well, and then they can take a supplement in the morning, before heading off to school, if needed.
Zinc also plays a role in neurotransmitter function. Low Zinc can cause a weakened gut lining and bed wetting. It is also the partner of copper, so if zinc is low, then copper is high or vice versa. When copper is high there is the risk of copper toxicity, which can result in anxiety, a racing mind, it is often present in those diagnosed with ADD / ADHD / Asthma / Allergies, and other mood-based disorders. Many babies are born with copper toxicity passed to them via the placenta. Foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens are good sources of both Magnesium and Zinc.
We can run tests to determine your mineral levels with a simple hair sample and it will also show us heavy metal toxins in the body as well, which are often present in people with ASD / ADD / ADHD.
B vitamins are something you want to consider as well, especially B6, B9 (folate), and B12, they are important for brain function. They can be found in foods like leafy greens, legumes, poultry, and fortified cereals. Remember to be careful with the fortified cereals as I discussed earlier in this article.
We can run a lab test that is a simple urine test that will assess the levels of key vitamins in the body as well as look at gut health. The B vitamins also help our body cope with stress. During periods of stress we burn through the B vitamins, so it is important that we are putting them back into our body.
We know with kids with ASD their gut flora has 25% less variety in their gut flora than what is typical and as such their gut health is compromised. We know there is a very strong gut-brain connection, when our gut health is compromised so is our brain health.
It is worth running labs to assess if there is candida or bacterial overgrowth as we can then address that. What we want to do is to address any candida overgrowth first before we start using a probiotic. If we go straight to the probiotic, it can feed a candida overgrowth and make things worse. So, first we have to eradicate that overgrowth and them we use a probiotic in order to support the ongoing gut health.
Food Sensitivities and Allergies
Some individuals with ASD or ADHD may have sensitivities or allergies to certain foods, and many people do even if they do not have these diagnoses. Identifying and eliminating trigger foods from their diet can lead to symptom improvement. Again, we can run a lab test that will show sensitivities to 190 different foods. The 3 most common foods that people have sensitivities too are dairy, gluten and eggs. Dairy and gluten are also highly inflammatory, and most people do better by eating less of them. In fact, with gluten, it acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter in the body which can leave the adult or child feeling overstimulated and acting out – It can cause kids to not act as the best version of themselves due to being under the influence of Gliadin, and Gliadin is a protein in gluten.
Gliadin and gluten can trigger symptoms such as: Headaches / inflammation / high blood pressure / high cholesterol /beginning phases of dementia & Alzheimer’s / MS / neurological issues / Lupus / auto-immune issues in general/ skin rashes / mood issues in general – tantrums, tics in children, ADD, and ADHD.
Gliadin breaks down in the body to an amino acid called glutamate, which wipes out or lowers your natural anti-anxiety neurotransmitters, which leads to an anxious child or adult, which leads to higher levels of stress and that throws off hormones in your body and your immune system. So, we have a double whammy going on because its an excitability transmitter already, and it wipes out your anti-anxiety neurotransmitters.
Over time glutamate which is also inflammatory begins to affect the nervous system, your gut, and your brain. What we put into our body matters; it does impact our microbiome balance, and that impacts our overall health.
Here’s another thing you may not realize, glutamate is the same as MSG – a lot of people know to avoid MSG, particularly in Chinese foods; however, they don’t realize that when they eat gluten, they are getting it as well. Not only is gluten in breads, muffins, pastries, pasta etc., but it is also in ice cream and even your toothpaste as it’s a good thickening agent. So how much gluten is your child getting in a day, and could it be some the cause of their behaviour or mood? Can you reduce the amount that they are getting?
Important Note: Buying gluten free foods may not be the answer either, as you’ll need to read the labels, a lot of them are filled with sugars and other chemicals to enhance the shelf-life, which leads me to my next point.
My daughter Is gluten free, and we switched to rice pasta, and I baked muffins from almond flour and spelt flour in order to provide her other options. It does take a little more effort initially however once you get into a routine, and some conscious meal planning it will feel like that’s what you’ve done all along and the benefit will be in seeing your child thrive, as it was for me as she was no longer getting tummy aches every day and was getting back to enjoying life.
The doctor had told me she’d grow out of the tummy aches, and I wouldn’t have to do anything. However, those tummy aches were debilitating, and no parent wants to watch their child suffer. When the doctor couldn’t tell me how long it would take for her to grow out of the tummy aches, I wasn’t willing to just sit around and wait. We did some tests and found out she had a sensitivity to dairy and gluten, and we removed those foods from her diet, and saw profound impacts in about 3 weeks of removing them. Now keep in mind everyone is individual, so her experience will be different to everyone else’s, however having that knowledge from the lab tests helped us feed her in a way that worked for her unique body!
Sugar and Artificial Additives
Next, I want to talk about sugar and artificial additives. Sugar is in everything these days. Excessive sugar intake and artificial additives, such as food colorings and preservatives, may exacerbate hyperactivity and attention issues in some individuals with ADHD. Reducing or eliminating these from the diet may be beneficial. This really helped my other daughter – she never had a diagnosis, however at the end of grade 2, her teacher told me that her ability to sit still and focus had declined over the course of the school year as had her handwriting.
I wasn’t in health and wellness then, this was 18 years ago, and I didn’t know what I know now! I had no idea how to support this and so I asked the teacher, and she said, “you know, it may be a food sensitivity”, and sure enough, we did some testing and discovered she was sensitive to both sugar and yeast. We removed these from her diet as best we could and when school started in the following September, she had that same teacher for the first week and that teacher told me she was a different child!
I had also seen the difference in her behaviour very quickly, the tantrums while crying out “I don’t know why I’m crying, mommy” had stopped. For her, the sugar amped up her body so much she felt out of control – and no one likes to feel that way. She would feel out of control, and then she would crash with the insulin crash, and it would end up in a melt down when she couldn’t handle it anymore. The point here is you need to not read the labels of foods to see how much sugar it contains, but also read the labels of your drinks. Sugar is in so many of our drinks including fruit juice. You might think fruit juice is healthy, but it is nothing but sugar, 28 g of sugar in 1 apple juice box – that is 7 tsp of sugar! You’d never feed your child 7 tsp of sugar! Yet, that is what is happening when they drink 1 juice box. We think it’s healthy as it’s from fruit, however with the fiber of the fruit having been removed, it’s now a straight shot of insulin to your system. Pop and energy drinks are also full of sugar!
Caffeine can affect sleep and exacerbate hyperactivity and anxiety in some individuals with ADHD. We all have a sensitivity to caffeine to some degree. Limiting caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening, may be advisable. It is a stimulant after all. I’m very sensitive to caffeine – I’ve never drunk a cup of coffee in my life and if I have any caffeine after 2pm, I will like awake for hours.
I take my clients off coffee for 3 weeks, while we do the detox program, just so they can have awareness on how it’s impacting them during the day and their sleep at night as often the very thing we are drinking to switch our brain on, is actually the problem as it’s robbing us of good sleep at night and having us wake up tired, feeling like we need it. When we give it up, we find that we sleep better and don’t need it. Hopefully your children aren’t drinking caffeine, but I recommend thinking twice before introducing it to your teens as well!
We need to ensure proper hydration throughout the day, as dehydration can affect cognitive function and behavior. Our brain is largely made up of fat and water. Therefore, it needs good hydration.
Properly hydrated means drinking ½ your body weight in water, so if your child ways 50 pounds, they should be drinking 25 oz of water – which does not include energy drinks, pop, fruit juice or milk. It includes water, which can be flavoured with the juice of ½ a lemon, ½ a lime, ½ an orange, herbal teas, fruit teas, or greens and fruit smoothies.
Encourage regular mealtimes that are spaced out evenly throughout the day, and snacks to help maintain stable blood sugar levels, which can help with mood and attention regulation and providing structure. Kids do well with structure, it gives them boundaries to work within and they know what is coming next.
Ideally having your meals 3 ½ hours to 4 hours apart with a breakfast, a lunch, perhaps an afternoon snack, and a dinner. This allows the food to be eaten and digested properly, and for the body to then have be able to do a little bit of cleanup which is what it is designed to do before the next meal goes in.
Individual approaches are very important. As I explained, in my family, one child couldn’t do gluten, and another couldn’t do sugar and yeast. I choose not to eat red meat, because my body does better without it. Every single one of us must find the right way to eat for our unique bodies. That is something I teach in my programs as well.
We have often been raised to eat what is put on the table in front of us, obviously for convenience, as it is easier to make one meal for the entire family that we all share. However, it doesn’t always work that way. As adults we may do it that way as that is how we were raised, or we might have been told to “eat what is on your plate, because there are people starving in Africa”, as children that caused us to suppress our own body’s ability to let us know when a food wasn’t what it wanted, or that we had a sensitivity to it. It might have given us a symptom but when we had parents telling us to hurry up and eat it, and we were forced to eat it, we couldn’t leave the table until we did, and that happened night after night after night, we overrode our own innate signals.
It is very important to recognize that individual approaches are needed, and what works for one person may not work for another. If a child is not wanting to eat a food, we need to be asking deeper questions such as “How is it making you feel? What is it about that food that isn’t working for you?”
They may not have the language to say anything more than “I don’t like it” until you start probing them with more questions.
Supplements can be very beneficial in supporting our nutrient deficiencies and allowing us to get to the place where our body can thrive in life, and in the classroom, where our brain can thrive. I know that the supplement industry can be very confusing because there are supplements that are cheap but may not have enough of what the body needs, or perhaps it isn’t in a bio-available form, it’s the cheapest form instead. If it isn’t bio-available, it is hard for your body to absorb it.
Knowing brands you can trust, and what supplements your body might actually need is really important. That is where working with someone like me, or a healthcare practitioner that you already have in your life can be helpful, as well as running the labs so you know which vitamins and minerals you might be deficient in. Once you know where you are deficient, you will be better able to support your body so it can go back to being in balance and thrive physically and mentally.
I hope this information has been helpful to you, I’d be happy to have a chat with you, if you feel you need support in making some dietary changes in your household and / or getting lab testing done. Simply go to https://yourguidedhealthjourney.com and click the book button to book a complimentary call with me.
Do you know someone that this article can help, please send it to them and invite them to listen to my “Don’t Wait for Your Wake-Up Call!” podcast.