Episode 128 – Nutrition For ADHD Part 2

Key Topics Covered

Brain and food representing nutrition for ADHD.

In Part 1 we covered specific nutrients of interest, logistical challenges, and elimination diets associated with ADHD.

In this episode, we will explore the role of food colours and sugar.

Food Colours

Food colours used in cupcakes

  • Research on food colours has been inconsistent.
  • For example, some research has identified a dose-response relationship in blinded settings. 
  • Not every participant in those studies experienced any impact from this though. So it could be case by case.
  • Other research has found no noticeable link.
  • A 2012 literature review on it had a nice summary though. They highlighted that a lot of research on the topic had obvious flaws, making it difficult to come to solid conclusions. 
  • BUT they also highlighted that the impact is not unique to ADHD

Research on Children

  • Research on children has identified that artificial colours can impact behaviour in those with and without diagnosable ADHD. 
  • So they described it as more of a public health issue than an ADHD one.
  • There is an interesting link from the NHS.
    • They highlighted that specific food colours are more linked to hyperactivity than others.
    • They listed 6 of them to look out for. In the UK, these colours come with warning labels about hyperactivity.
  • If you are concerned about this, it probably makes sense to avoid a high intake of food colours. 
  • From the alternative angle, the effect size of this has been pretty small on average, so it likely isn’t a big deal regardless. 

Thoughts on Sugar

Sugar and sugar cubes.

  • Sugar is a controversial one in the ADHD space.
  • A lot of people have identified it as a clear issue.
  • Some experts have highlighted it as an issue. A lot of individuals notice differences. And some animal research has found a link too.
  • But meta-analysis data looking at this topic has not indicated any link in humans.
  • Limiting added sugar is typically a good idea regardless.
  • The only reason this topic really matters is from a food flexibility perspective. Becoming obsessive about avoiding all sugar can potentially create a bunch of issues too. 

Potential Reasons for This Link

  1. High sugar intake = high energy intake. If somebody is already hyperactive and you add that, it could exacerbate that.
  2. High sugar intake usually equals low micronutrient intake too. So that could play a role.
  3. High sugar intake usually means a high intake of artificial colours too.
  4. Expectations of symptoms can influence behaviour and interpretations.
  5. Individual variation can play a role too.

Relevant Blogs / Resources

Blog Posts

Studies Mentioned

Relevant Links