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ADD & ADHD Center

Foods That Cause Hyperactivity in Children

author image Jeffrey Traister
Jeffrey Traister is a writer and filmmaker. For more than 25 years, he has covered nutrition and medicine for health-care companies and publishers, also producing digital video for websites, DVDs and commercials. Trained in digital filmmaking at The New School, Traister also holds a Master of Science in human nutrition and medicine from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Foods That Cause Hyperactivity in Children
A young child is eating watermelon. Photo Credit KOICHI SAITO/amanaimagesRF/amana images/Getty Images


Hyperactive children have problems paying attention, sitting still or controlling impulses to act without thinking. Approximately 9 percent of children have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health says ADHD has a median onset of seven years of age. Although ADHD may be treated with behavioral therapy and medication, some foods may cause hyperactivity in children and should be avoided.

Food Additives

Many processed foods contain additives such as preservatives, flavors and colorings. Sodium benzoate, a preservative, and artificial colors or both were found to cause hyperactivity in children, according to research by Donna McCann, Ph.D., published in "Lancet" in 2007. In a review of 15 clinical studies on the effects of artificial coloring in development of hyperactivity in children published in the "Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics" in 2004, David Schab, M.D., MPH, found that these chemicals are neurotoxic and may affect hyperactive behavior. Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, 6 and10 and preservatives, such as benzoate, may cause or exacerbate hyperactive behavior in some children.

Pesticides on Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are among the healthiest foods, yet some may contain pesticides that cause hyperactivity in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that boys and girls consume 1 to 2 cups of a variety of fruits and 1 to 2 cups of a variety of vegetables every day to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer. Yet, exposure to chemicals in pesticides called organophosphates may cause hyperactivity in children. Organophosphates are especially high in fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, blueberries and celery, according to Food Safety News in 2010. Research by Maryse Bouchard, Ph.D. published in "Pediatrics" in 2010 found that children who have higher urinary concentrations of organophosphates are more likely to be diagnosed with hyperactivity compared with children who have lower levels and are twice as likely to be hyperactive compared with children who have undetectable levels. Most intriguing is research by Chensheng Lu, Ph.D., published in "Environmental Health Perspectives" in 2008 that demonstrates children who switch from a diet of organophosphate contaminated fruits and vegetables to a diet of organic fruits and vegetables without any pesticides for five consecutive days have non-detectable or close-to non-detectable levels of organophosphate pesticides in their urine. This research supports evidence that dietary intake of organophosphate pesticides is a major source of exposure in young children and a cause of hyperactivity.

Foods With Added Sugar

Sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sugars are commonly used in many processed foods and may cause hyperactivity in children. Many parents of children diagnosed with ADHD claim that hyperactive behavior follows consumption of foods with sugar or artificial sweeteners. Yet, many researchers say the association between sugar and hyperactivity is weak.

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