Grains and Dairy Products
Grains are an important component in a balanced diet; however, they can present a problem when it comes to Attention Deficit Disorder. More specifically, the gluten contained in many grains is thought to aggravate ADHD symptoms.
Gluten and casein (found in dairy products) are the latest “suspects’ when it comes to ADHD and diet.
Many years ago, sugar and artificial colorings were thought to aggravate ADHD symptoms, specifically hyperactivity. There are scientists today who still agree with that viewpoint.
As with virtually any subject, you can find experts and opinions on both sides of the issue.
Based on personal experience, I am siding with those who agree that gluten and casein can have a negative effect on people with Attention Deficit Disorder. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.
I would recommend trying a gluten and casein free diet for 30 days to see if you notice a difference.
Because many of my readers are also parents, and are seeking this information for their children, I recognize the importance of a truly balanced diet. I am not advocating elimination of these two food groups completely, at least not without viable alternatives. There are ways to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak.
In a discussion about gluten, or a gluten free diet, Celiac disease deserves some attention. Celiac is a person’s inability to process gluten, contained in grains such as wheat, barley, malt and oats. The body views the gluten as an enemy, like a germ, and produces a reaction in an effort to rid the body of it.
Symptoms of Celiac vary widely, and it is often misdiagnosed. There might be stomach and gastric complaints, such as stomach aches, gas, and constipation. Sometimes it appears as a rash, and at other times, as depression.
There have been a number of studies that link ADHD and gluten intolerance or Celiac. Celiac.com has some excellent information about this.
In addition, if you or your child suffers from any kind of allergies, I would suggest looking at a food connection between the allergies and ADHD.
Dr. Doris Rapp wrote a book years ago called “Is This Your Child?”. I would suggest looking for it in the library and seeing if it applies to your situation. It is also still available at places like Amazon.
Now that you know what Celiac disease is, and have a better understanding of it (and of allergies in general), let’s talk about the experts and what they have to say.
There are several very small studies that have looked for links between ADHD and Celiac disease.
In some cases, the study was a little broader, looking for links between gastrointestinal problems and neurological difficulties. In one study, researchers found that as much as 60-70% of the subjects who had untreated Celiac exhibited classic ADHD symptoms.
80% of those children showed an improvement of at least 50% after going on a gluten and casein free diet for 2 weeks. A Polish study showed a 71% increase in ADHD symptoms after 12 months of a gluten free diet.
When asked if there was an association between Celiac disease and ADHD, Dr. Alessio Fasano, Pediatric Gastroenterologist at the University of Maryland replied, “Yes, but only for untreated Celiacs. Once the child goes on a gluten-free diet, these symptoms tend to disappear.”
I certainly think that a gluten free diet is worth a try.
As for dairy products, I personally limit the amount that I consume. People with Celiac disease are usually lactose intolerant, and I find that I can tell the difference in my body (and mind) when I have consumed dairy. I would suggest that at the very least, you look for other sources of calcium and concentrate any consumption of dairy to times of the day when you may not need to be at your most alert.
The biggest problem in implementing a gluten and casein free diet is learning what to eat. Gluten, in particular, seems to be everywhere. You will have to learn to be an expert label reader in order to avoid it, and that includes such things as cosmetics, shampoos, medicines, and even stamps, envelopes, and Play-Doh!
By the way, most fast food is off limits when it comes to gluten and/or casein. Even McDonald’s fries – they contain both.
I’ve listed some of the most common below, for both gluten and casein. For a more comprehensive list of gluten sources, see the appendix for resources.
Sources of Gluten
Barley, barley malt
Modified food starch, unless specified as corn
Malt, maltodextrin, malt extract
Soy sauce – check the label
Sources of Casein
Any dairy product
Lactose or sodium lactylate
Products marked “protein” or “high protein” are often milk based, unless noted
Anything beginning with “lact”
You might be wondering by now what’s left to eat. Actually, there’s a lot, and it’s much healthier for you than what you might be eating now.
Isn’t it worth it if you can help yourself or your child?
Not only will the ADHD symptoms improve, but your overall health will, too. You might even lose weight. I lost 35 lbs when I gave up gluten, but that’s because I was eating a very unhealthy high carb diet when I switched.
My 3 kids were raised on a diet very similar to this – high in protein and fruits and vegetables, low in carbs and moderate dairy. Here’s just a sample of what’s left to eat:
Lean proteins, like chicken, fish, and lean beef and pork
Fruits and vegetables, especially red, purple, and blue ones
Rice and rice based foods, like rice flour, rice cakes, or rice noodles
Corn based foods, like polenta, corn taco shells
Gluten free alternatives to pasta, bread, cookies, and almost anything you can imagine
Calcium enriched foods, like orange juice
Nuts, nut butters, and seeds
If you decide to embrace this dietary change, you will find that there is a wealth of food choices out there for you. I’ve listed some of my favorite gluten free foods in the appendix, as well as some truly awesome gluten free resources.
I know that at this point you might be feeling overwhelmed with all the changes I’m proposing, especially with regards to going gluten and casein free.
In a later chapter, after I’ve outlined the rest of The Med Free with ADD program, I’ll give you some guidelines on how to get started and take it a little at a time. And of course, you have your workbook and bonus materials to help, too.