Although this page mainly talks about helping ADHD with diet, recent research has also shown that diet can help autism and Asperger's Syndrome too. Especially by eliminating Gluten and Casien from the diet. See info and links at bottom of page
Since starting this site I have had many e-mails asking for help with a diet programme for a child or adult ADHD sufferer. Many people have found that cutting out certain foods can help an ADHD child to be much calmer, less hyperactive and able to concentrate more. In my own personal experience it was the difference between having an active but moderately relaxed and happy child or the "Tasmanian devil" !!!! Others believe that a change of diet does not make any difference but that it is worth supporting anyone who wants to try.
I am afraid there is not a fixed diet that I can provide you with as all children are different and have different tolerances to different foods. However I can point you in the right direction for trying diet control of ADHD. It may sound like a lot of hard work but if it can help it will be well worth all the effort.
Start a diary, write down everything that your child eats and also what his/her behaviour is like throughout the day, so that when they go hyperactive you may be able to link it to a specific food.
To start the diet give your child a very bland diet for two weeks, plain potato with plain boiled fish or chicken and fresh boiled cabbage or cauliflower. plain oven chips that only contain potato and vegetable oil. Only plain water to drink with perhaps a little milk introduced slowly. plain boiled rice and pasta are also usually safe when starting the diet. Once you have managed this diet for two weeks (this is to get any toxins from other foods out of their system) then you can start introducing other foods. Only introduce one or two new foods at a time so that you can tell if anything affects them. If you do have a bad reaction (he/she goes hyper) then check what they have eaten and remove it from their diet. Hyperactive children usually have a reaction within a very short time which makes it easier to work out which foods have caused the problem. Even if you have trouble sticking to the very plain diet in the first two weeks the diary should help to eliminate some of the worst foods. Often it is the foods that they most crave for that has the worst effect on them.
Try and avoid all additives, artificial colours, flavours, preservatives and flavour enhancers. Also sugar, chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks are known to be some of the worse things to affect hyperactive children. Try to buy fresh or frozen food and avoid tinned, ready prepared, take away food and packet foods
It may take several weeks or longer to work out a diet for your child but if it is the foods that are effecting them you will notice the benefits quite quickly. My son Kyle's diet is based on avoiding additives but also because he can not tolerate corn, beef, turkey, sugar, fruit, caffeine or malt. Try to buy foods that do not contain additives. For example use butter instead of margarine and low fat spreads (as they contain additives). Be careful of misleading food labels. "Contains No artificial flavours" does not mean the product doesn't contain other additives like artificial colours, preservatives or flavour enhancers (E621).
It is also worth avoiding coloured soap, coloured toothpaste and bubble bath as the colours can be absorbed through the skin. My son is also affected by paint, wallpaper paste and glue fumes. (As are several other children I know).
Lettuce is known to have a calming effect so you could substitute lettuce for some vegetables. Be careful when introducing fruit as fruit has a natural silicate aspirin which can make children hyper (this includes tomato). Camomile tea is calming, if you can not get your child to drink it, add it to their bath (the easiest way is to buy Camomile tea bags and hold them under the hot tap when running the bath). Lavender oil also has a calming effect. You could try putting a few drops on their bedding.
You may find that he/she is depressed or gets a bit aggressive when you first put them on the diet, this may be due to the fact that you have withdrawn the foods or chemicals that their body is craving for. A "safe" drink and small snack between meals can also help to calm them. As I said before it may be very difficult when you first start and will require some work on your part, but please give it a try, in my opinion it was one of the best things that I could have done for my son.
Additional information that I found from the web site http://add.about.com may also be helpful
Feeding Your Child with AD/HD
All children need healthful diets to learn and feel their best. It is important that children with AD/HD eat a well-balanced diet. However, because of behaviors and medications, it may be difficult for them to eat right.
Children with AD/HD don't always pay attention to their own body signals for hunger, rest, or need to use the toilet. Even when they do, they often don't sit still long enough to finish the job! They may eat just enough to "take the edge off" before they are off to do something else. Because of their high activity level and need for calories they may crave sweets to meet their energy needs. Medication often decreases the appetite during the daytime.
What can you do to help
Give your child 3 regular meals.
He/she should be seated at a table with the family rather than in front of the TV or wandering around the house.
Offer a variety of health foods.
Let him/her choose what and how much to eat.
Give milk to drink and fruit for dessert.
Make healthful snacks part of your diet plan.
Midmorning and afternoon snacks of fresh or dried fruit, graham crackers, popcorn of juice will supply calories and vitamins.
An evening or bedtime snack may be really important since medication effects will usually have worn off by then.
A protein snack such as peanut butter or meat sandwich, yogurt, cheese, nuts, milk and cereal or a milkshake are some good choices.
Increase your child's interest in meals.
Include him/her in the planning or preparation.
Save sweets and other "junk foods" for occasional use.
It is best not to have them in the house on a regular basis.
Give stimulant medication with milk or after meals.
If your child continues to be a very picky eater, check with your nurse, doctor, or dietitian about the need for multivitamins or other supplements.
What about sugar, food additives and food allergies
Many parents wonder about the effects of food additives, sugar or food allergies. There is no clear link between specific foods and learning or behavior problems. Most (95-98%) of children with AD/HD show no difference in behavior with elimination of sugar, food additives or specific foods. A few (2-5%) who did show some improvement on special diets were better but not normal in terms of their activity level (49). Remember, high sugar foods tend to be given in fun, unstructured environments (parties, company, restaurants). Is it the sugar or the environment which is affecting your child's behavior
If you feel your child is more active or behavior is worse after eating certain foods, simply eliminate those foods for at least two weeks to see if it makes a difference. If your child has allergic symptoms such as hay fever or asthma, it may be helpful to talk with your nurse or doctor about foods that might be making these symptoms worse.
Again, we know that good nutrition does make a difference in learning and behavior. Your energy and money is best spent in providing a varied and healthful diet. If you need more information on healthy diets for children, ask your nurse, doctor, or dietitian.
I can not tell you which views are correct but I do know that a diet certainly helped my son (no it didn't cure him). But if he goes "off" his diet and has a cola and sweets (or other food known to affect him) the effects are very noticeable to anyone who comes into contact with him. He becomes quite aggressive, is unable to concentrate, loses the ability to think rationally and also becomes very depressed. I believe that helping my son by maintaining his diet is in his best interest and the people around him. Many people we know (including some relatives) that originally thought that maintaining my son's diet was nonsense have seen the effects for themselves and wholeheartedly support us now. I do not believe that providing a healthy diet can do any harm and urge others to support anyone willing to try and help their child through diet.
Diet and Asperger's Syndrome
New research indicates that Gluten and Casien free diets can greatly benefit the autistic child or those with Asperger's Syndrome. Further information can be found from GFCF website
The feingold diet, www.feingold.org
Implementing a Gluten-Free and Casein-Free Diet
Another site that looks at the wider issue of diet, Allergy Induced Autism has good research and advice and should be read in full but here are a couple of extracts from the site.
"When our children develop autism they often modify their diet and becoming 'picky' eaters. They choose the foods they wish to eat and consume them to excess. The foods they crave are the foods causing the mischief and their menu often reads: milk, bread, pasta, chicken nuggets, yoghurts. This is in sharp contrast to the normal diet they enjoyed from birth. In addition these children also have many physical problems.
For many, dietary intervention will never be a cure for autism but it will help to alleviate some of those physical symptoms which can make life unbearable. It can also help the child or adult to concentrate, become more aware of their surroundings and thus find it easier to learn.
Dietary intervention should always be carried out in conjunction with a Qualified Medical practitioner."
Allergy Induced Autism
As my son has ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome and many of the symptoms overlap, I am unable to tell which symptoms are helped by his diet but believe it is a combination of both.