Ingredients Those With Learning Differences Should Avoid

At IET, we recognize the importance of a good diet and understand the negative impacts choosing the “wrong” foods can have on a student with learning differences. While the “right” foods can boost cognitive functions, memory and behavior, poor food choices can make everything worse. Here are a few ingredients worth avoiding. 

Artificial Colors 

Artificial colors are one of the most common culprits for aggravating learning differences, and unfortunately, they are extremely common in our daily food choices. Commonly found in cereals, yogurts, candy and even cold medicine, artificial colors seem to be sneaked into almost everything these days. 

Research has pointed to connections between food dyes and problems with children.  For example, A British study conducted in 2007 reported that children who consumed a mixture of common synthetic dyes displayed hyperactive behavior within an hour of consuming the mixture. Because of this study, in July 2010, the European Parliament’s mandate that foods and beverages containing food dyes must be labeled as such went into effect for the entire EU. While this research is great for other countries, the United States has still not put any restrictions in place to limit artificial colors in our food products which means that as parents, and teachers, we need to take extra precautions to ensure we are limiting these as often as possible. 

Tip: While grocery shopping, try to select foods with the green and white certified organic stamp; these foods will not contain artificial colors. Also, please note that foods that do not have the stamp but say “contain organic ingredients” may have artificial dyes present. 


Sugar is a common trigger for behavioral issues such as inattention and impulsivity. In fact, even parents of students who don’t have learning differences can exhibit changes in behavior after sugar consumption. 

Tip: Avoid these ingredients, which are just sneaky words for sugar.

  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • dehydrated cane juice
  • dextrin
  • dextrose
  • maltodextrin; malt syrup; maltose
  • molasses
  • rice syrup
  • saccharose
  • sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose

Instead, for a sweet fix, try items that contain honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, monk fruit, or are naturally sweetened with fruit. Students with ADHD frequently crave sweets. Teach your child to reach for a real piece of fruit first. 

Food Additives 

Food additives are very common in processed foods such as fast foods, cereals, breads and other snacks. A good example of a harmful food additive is MSG.  MSG is considered an excitotoxin which means it overexcites your body’s cells to the point where they can become damaged or even die off. This is especially detrimental to those with learning differences. 

In order to avoid additives, it’s best to stick to a whole food diet that includes vegetables, fruits, organic meats and nutritious carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes. 

Tip: These are common foods that contain food additives. We recommend working to avoid these entirely. 

  • Chinese Food
  • Store bought macaroni and cheese 
  • Chips
  • Flatbreads
  • Cereal
  • Candy
  • Popsicles 


We understand how challenging it may be to transition to “good” foods from “bad” foods, but the positive changes that are often reported from diets that exclude these ingredients are worth it! If you are interested in learning more or would like us to help you come up with an ADD/ADHD friendly meal plan we would love to help! Contact us at, or send us a DM to schedule a consultation. 

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