Study: Mediterranean Diet Linked to Lower Levels of ADHD in Children

If you have considered going on the Mediterranean diet to lose weight, you might want to consider it for your children, but for entirely different reasons. Recent research conducted by the University of Barcelona, and published in the journal Pediatrics, has linked the diet to lower levels of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. It was the first time such a link between the two has been studied.

The Mediterranean diet consists of “large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans, and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy, and wine, and limited red meat and poultry.” While the study showed correlation and not causation, there was an undeniable connection between the quality of diets in children and adolescents and the likelihood that they would show signs of ADHD.

According to PsychCentral:

The study involved 120 children and adolescents (60 diagnosed with ADHD and 60 controls) between the ages of six and 16. The children’s dietary patterns were assessed using food frequency questionnaires. The findings show that children with low adherence to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD compared to those with high adherence.

Furthermore, the team identified a higher prevalence of ADHD among children who consumed high amounts of candy and sugary drinks, but low amounts of fatty fish.

It remains unclear exactly why a diet low in certain nutrients is connected to this disorder. But previous research has shown that “an unbalanced dietary pattern can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients (iron, zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.) that appear to play an essential role in the etiology of ADHD.”

While we probably want to avoid micromanaging our children’s diets, it is clear that certain guidance regarding what they eat can pay off. Given the high occurrence of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes across the country, as parents we should not ignore studies such as this one. A little candy here and there probably won’t hurt anyone. But a diet high in sugary drinks and candy, and low in fruits and veggies, can come at a cost. Clearly, and unsurprisingly, the Europeans are on the right track when it comes to diet.

Interestingly, more research is needed to determine what is at the root of the ADHD issue.

For example, said Dr. José Ángel Alda, a psychiatrist at Sant Joan de Déu University Hospital, it’s unclear whether kids develop ADHD because of an unhealthy diet or perhaps the disorder itself causes them to eat an excess of fat and sugar to balance their impulsiveness or emotional distress.

“We believe this is a vicious circle,” said Alda, meaning that the impulsiveness of children with ADHD could make them eat unhealthily, and therefore “they don’t eat the nutrients they need and it all worsens their symptoms.”