Attention Deficit Disorder

For years it was believed that ADD was caused, or at least aggravated by the consumption of sugar. Sugar was believed to cause hypoglycaemia and it was found that hyperactivity and/or ADD and hypoglycaemia are interrelated. Now that we know that it is the high glycemic index (GI) foods that cause the hypoglycaemia, (especially when eaten when inactive or before exercise or alone), children with ADD should rather avoid high GI foods such as refined bread, most cereals, cold drinks, energy drinks and sweets that are high in glucose, rather than just avoid foods that are high in sugar.

Why ADD and hypoglycemia are interrelated:

Many children with ADD crave high GI carbohydrates, which leads to hypoglycemia. All high GI foods cause a rapid rise in blood glucose, which causes a temporary surge of energy and at the same time hyperactivity. This is due to the fact that high GI foods cause a sudden and, in most cases, high rise in blood glucose levels. This causes the pancreas to pour out insulin, in an attempt to bring the blood glucose down to a normal level. Most peoples’ bodies, especially those of children who suffer from ADD, produce excess insulin, causing too much glucose to be drawn out of the blood and the blood sugar level to fall below normal.

The end result is a hypoglycaemic attack with irritability, poor sleeping habits and lack of concentration. (See section on Hypoglycemia for other symptoms of hypoglycemia that are caused by eating high GI foods.) When high GI foods are eaten for breakfast, children can suffer a hypoglycaemic attack 1-1.5 hours later, which is still before first break at school and at a time when their brain should still be receiving a steady supply of energy from the food that was eaten 2-3 hours before. If high GI foods are eaten at break times, which often happens, since the child feels the need to compensate for the tired feeling by eating, the same scenario can repeat itself later in the morning, which is the reason these children cannot concentrate. The brain fuel is constantly undergoing huge swings and this is not conducive to thinking or behaving in a normal manner.

It is now known that an adverse food reaction can also cause a significant drop in blood glucose. A person’s endocrine (glandular) system overreacts and this causes a sudden rise and later a drop in blood glucose. Histamine causes the adrenal glands to excrete adrenalin which stimulates the liver to convert stored sugar (glycogen) into blood glucose. This sudden rise in blood sugar levels can also cause the pancreas to produce excess insulin. The end result is a hypoglycemic attack. If a child is allergic to a specific food, it can also cause hypoglycemia and consequently blood glucose and mood swings.

Caffeine can also cause hyperactivity initially, and hypoglycemia with the resultant symptoms later. This is due to the fact that caffeine also stimulates the adrenal glands to excrete adrenalin, which stimulates the liver to pass glucose into the blood stream. This sudden rise in blood sugar levels can cause the pancreas to secrete insulin. The end result is a hypoglycemic attack.

Treatment of ADD:

In light of the above, all high GI foods, caffeine and any food to which a child with ADD is allergic, should be avoided. If low GI foods are eaten most of the time, but especially for breakfast, since the latter sets the tone for the rest of the day, the brain receives a steady supply of energy from the food. This is because low GI foods do not result in a sudden, or high rise in blood glucose and consequently no sudden drop in blood glucose. They keep blood glucose levels even and enable a child to concentrate better. The emotions are also more stable.

Examples of low GI breakfast foods are oats, wholewheat Pronutro, High Fibre Bran, deciduous fruits and fruit yoghurt, to name but a few. (See GI list at end of Introduction for more ideas). It is, however, usually better to use natural brown sugar (in moderation) for children with ADD. White sugar goes through more processes to get it white. It is advisable to keep these children away from colourants, flavourants, preservatives, as well as salicylates, which are chemically related to the former three additives. The only exception to the low GI rule is during, and especially after exercise. Please note that ALL the recipes in “The Sustained Energy Recipe Book” are suitable for children with ADD.