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Worst Ingredients for Children with Learning Disabilities

Avoid Food Additives for Better Learning

Food sensitivities are quite common in children with ADHD and learning disabilities. Meeting the needs of food-sensitive children can be challenging, since many family gatherings and school events often include traditional treats that worsen these children’s behaviors. Many treats can be made using alternative recipes which allow you to avoid problem ingredients. Here are the five ingredients found most likely to cause problems with nutrition and learning.

Artificial colors

Food dyes are frequently used in cookie and cake decorations as well as other processed foods. A study cited by WebMD showed these products can increase hyperactive behavior in children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest offers an encyclopedic listing of dyes, their effects, and the foods that contain them. By baking in your own kitchen or carefully reading labels, you can spare your child the potentially hazardous interaction of artificial colors and ADHD.

Artificial Flavors

These are usually found in products that also contain artificial coloring, preservatives, and sugar. Cake mixes, candies and pre-packaged baked goods are the likeliest culprits. Pure vanilla, almond and peppermint extracts from your own kitchen give cookies and cakes a rich flavor based on natural ingredients.


Sodium benzoate, the most common preservative in foods today, was included in groundbreaking ADHD research conducted by The Lancet and reported in Time magazine. Other preservatives have less research associated with them, but diet and behavior problems can be avoided through careful shopping for purer foods.


According to WebMD, all sugars and processed carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in the amount of glucose circulating in the blood, and can result in any child becoming more active and less focused. Even though sugar doesn’t technically “cause” ADHD, it has been shown to worsen the symptoms. Yale University's guidelines for children state that parents should also closely monitor juice consumption since juice is typically very high in sugar.


Children don’t usually drink coffee or black tea, so it’s easy to overlook the effect of caffeine on their bodies. Many sodas contain caffeine, however, and when the effects of this stimulant are added to those of the corn syrup and sugar the drink also contains it can create a perfect storm for food-sensitive children. A 2013 study cited in Everyday Health found that when five-year-old children with no identified food sensitivities were given soda, their behavior became both more aggressive and more withdrawn. For sensitive children, the effects of caffeinated drinks are even more pronounced.

Implement an Additive-Free Diet

Increasingly, scientists are compiling definitive evidence that food additives are responsible for worsening ADHD symptoms and issues with learning. Alison Schonwald, MD, FAAP, of the Developmental Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital in Boston, writes, "A recent meta-analysis of 15 trials concludes that there is 'accumulating evidence that neurobehavioral toxicity may characterize a variety of widely distributed chemicals.'” She encourages parents to institute an additive-free diet for all children. With just a bit of forethought and some careful label-reading, parents can assemble delicious, healthy meals that will benefit the whole family.

Want to learn more about the importance of a healthy diet and learning? Contact your nearest Brain Balance Center to schedule a free consultation on the specific aspects of our program, including nutrition

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Disclaimer: The information presented on this web site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment of specific medical conditions. Discuss this information with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you and your family.

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