It is common knowledge that good health is positively associated with a nutritionally balanced diet. It sounds so simple! However, given that we are all individuals with unique genes, weight goals, taste preferences etc., a nutritionally balanced diet looks different for everyone. I have spent years researching and studying evidence-based strategies to support people find their perfect diet and know first-hand that there is an ocean of information available that can often be overwhelming. That’s one of the key reasons why it’s important to explore your diet with an expert.
One of the more common questions I am asked relates to diet and behaviour in children. The link is strong and significant, and the right diet may make the world of difference! For example, recent studies have explored how our genetics might explain different needs for various nutrients, nutrient deficiencies and food intolerances 1.
Given the volume of young people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that come to our clinic for assessment and support, I thought this might be a helpful area to provide some more information. These disorders are linked to our genes and they last throughout the lifetime. Setting up a nutritionally balanced diet throughout childhood can make independence in adulthood so much easier!
There are three main reasons that diet plays a role in young people who are diagnosed with ASD or ADHD – medication, sensory difficulties and atypical development 1,2,3.
Young people with ASD and ADHD will likely be taking medication to manage their symptoms. Medication may effect a child’s appetite, which makes it one of the many barriers for children with ASD or ADHD to achieve adequate nutrition 1. Other barriers contributing to frustration and stress at family meal times include limited food acceptance and sensory issues impacting food intake 1,2,3.
Nutrition is particularly important at times of rapid growth and cognitive development. It may not come a surprise that research suggests that nutrient deficiencies are more prevalent in children with ADHD and ASD 1,3. Many studies have investigated the benefits of eliminating particular foods and additives from the diet in the hope of reducing ADHD and ASD symptoms. Recent studies have also investigated the benefits of supplementing the diet with specific proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals 1.
Results of research suggests that eliminating potentially reactive food and additives may significantly reduce symptoms and nutrient deficiencies can exacerbate symptoms 1,3. The challenge for parents and carers is to evaluate the research, sort out fact from fiction and weigh up the potential benefits versus the risks (time, stress, money, nutrition status) of eliminating foods. This is where a visit to a qualified Dietitian can be of benefit.
I am a Dietitian practising medical nutrition therapy at Scope Clinical Services. As a working mother, I understand some of the barriers parents face at meal times. I am available for nutrition consultations to provide support to parents and work through practical strategies aiming to reduce symptoms and maximise nutrition adequacy. When it comes to children with ASD or ADHD it is vital to make every bite count.
- 1. Barkley, R. A. (2014). Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Fourth Edition. : Guilford Publications. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com Created from qut on 2016-09-07 16:41:25. Copyright © 2014. Guilford Publications. All rights reserved.
- Queensland Government. (2011) Review (2013). Autistic Spectrum Disorder: Food and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Consensus document by Queensland Dietitians. Disclaimer: http://www.health.qld.gov.au/masters/copyright.asp
- Ranjan, S., Nasser, J. (2015) Nutritional Status of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Do We Know Enough? Department of Nutrition Sciences, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA doi: 10.3945/an.114.007914 Adv Nutr July 2015 Adv Nutr vol. 6: 397-407, 2015