In the past several decades, a number of individuals proposed that sugar, dairy products, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors in foods trigger or aggravate ADHD symptoms. The most widely publicized has been from pediatric allergist Dr. Feingold, who claimed in the mid-1970s that hyperactive behavior was caused by artificial colors and flavors. The Feingold diet thus involved scrupulous avoidance of these items. Based on some excess in individual cases, Dr. Feingold took his theory the public, and his diet became the nutritional bulk for thousands of parents of ADHD children. But frequent controversy studies shows that in larger numbers of children it failed to support his claims. Similarly, a common problem of that eating refined sugar triggers hyperactive behavior has not held up in large-scale studies.

It is quite possible that some children show a deterioration of behavior when they eat certain foods. If this happens consistently, those foods should be avoided. To prove cause-and-effect relationships can be very difficult, and some caution and skepticism are in order to prevent a child from becoming a “food cripple” who isn’t allowed to eat anything but a handful of “safe” items.

Because a child with ADHD can create such havoc in a family, the desire for a magic formula to make the problem go away can become overwhelming. Several types of therapies (e.g., the use of mega vitamins) have made parents desperate for a cure, but the likelihood that these therapies will create lasting success without other measures being taken is remote.