Feingold Diet

feingold-dietThe Feingold Diet derives from the program suggested in the book “Why Your Child is Hyperactive”, first published in the 1970s by Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatrician and allergist.

He went on to develop and promote his dietary approach to helping children with learning and behavior problems, since categorized as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The Feingold Diet is based on the premise that allergic reactions or sensitivities to certain types of foods cause or contribute to ADD/ADHD symptoms, such as problems with:

  • Behavior (marked hyperactivity, impulsive and compulsive actions, emotional concerns)
  • Learning (short attention span, neuro-muscular difficulties, cognitive and perceptual disturbances)
  • Health (physical complaints and/or sleep problems)

The full Feingold Program

How it functions

The Feingold Program is more comprehensive than a simple diet, and operates in two stages. Stage 1 eliminates chemical compounds in particular food additives, and salicylate compounds in certain foods (and non-food items such as fragrances – hence the name Program rather than Diet). See below for a list of items for elimination. Stage 2 involves identifying which salicylates (if any) can be tolerated.

Does it work?

Many ADD/ADHD sufferers who follow the Feingold Program have experienced great improvements in focus and behavior. There is a considerable (recent) research to back this up (see more).

Studies in the early nineties show that around 75% of children improve on a diet that restricts additives.

What it does

The Feingold Program eliminates these additives and chemicals:

  • Synthetic coloring (are made from petroleum – crude oil)
  • Artificial flavoring (combinations of many natural and synthetic chemicals – eg imitation vanilla flavoring or “vanillin” might originate from the waste product of paper mills). There has been little research carried on these chemicals.
  • Artificial preservatives (BHA, BHT, and TBHQ, made from petroleum; also termed “anti-oxidants” because they prevent or delay the “oxidization” of fats in foods, which make them rancid)
  • Salicylates (a group of chemicals related to aspirin, which are a naturally occurring pesticide in particular food plants – see ‘Food sources of salicylates’ below; also manufactured and used in many products including medicines, perfumes and solvents). Only some are eliminated on the Feingold diet.
  • Artificial sweeteners (only aspartame is eliminated)
  • Other food additives considered undesirable (such as MSG, sodium benzoate, nitrites, sulfites) – these are not eliminated – but are noted in the food list.

Food Sources of Salicylates

Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Aspirin, Berries, Cherries, Cloves, Coffee, Cucumbers, Currants, Grapes, Nectarines, Oil of wintergreen, Oranges, Peaches, Peppers (bell & chilli), Pickles, Plums, Prunes, Raisins, Rose hips, Tangelos, Tangerines, Tea, Tomatoes

A Staged Dietary Plan

A less rigorous approach than the Feingold Program, given that many studies have shown the sensitivity of some children to dyes, is to start by eliminating only those foods (and vitamins, drugs, and toothpastes) that contain artificial colorings.

If initial dietary changes have little benefit (i.e. excluding only dyes), try the complete Feingold diet. It is important to use a diet diary or journal.

If that doesn’t help, the Feingold Association recommends eliminating:

  • corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and corn sugar (in soft drinks and other sweetened foods)
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) and HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which contains some glutamate)
  • sodium nitrite (in luncheon meats)
  • calcium propionate (in baked goods)

After several weeks, if the child’s behavior has improved, every few days restore one eliminated food or ingredient at a time. Repeat that two or three times if a problem occurs, to confirm that the food is really a culprit.

If the child’s behavior did not improve on the Feingold diet, try a “few-foods” diet, which involves more extensive restrictions (see Elimination diets). Studies show that some children are sensitive not just to food additives but also to such foods as:

  • wheat
  • eggs
  • milk and other dairy foods
  • chocolate
  • soybeans/tofu
  • corn products (including corn sugar and syrup)

Eliminate as many of those foods as possible, plus artificial colorings and other additives. Children can eat fresh meat and poultry, any vegetable (except corn and soybeans), fruits and fruit juices (but not citrus fruit/juice and not beverages normally consumed daily), rice, and oats.

Look here for recipes to use with The Feingold Diet.

See Also

Feingold Association

 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
  • Millichap, J. G., & Yee, M. M. (2012). The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 129(2), 330-337. link
  • Kanarek, R. B. (2011). Artificial food dyes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutrition reviews, 69(7), 385-391. link
  • Nigg, J. T., Lewis, K., Edinger, T., & Falk, M. (2012). Meta-analysis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms, restriction diet, and synthetic food color additives. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(1), 86-97. link

10 Comments or Reviews

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  1. Jill Mills

    My son was one of the first to be put on the Feingold diet in the 1970’s. His and my life were hell for his first seven years because of his hyper-activity and extremely high IQ. The Feingold diet transformed our lives. It required my total commitment because there were very few additive free foods then. I cooked and prepared everything from scratch. He drank only water, had no sweets, nothing pre-packaged, home made yoghourt, mashed banana, raisins and honey every day for breakfast in the summer, home made porridge with honey in the winter. Home made cakes, jam, biscuits, everything. He was transformed into a wonderful, well-behaved but totally normal young lad, but with the added character of having great compassion, patience and care for other children with any difficulties, because of his own experience. He is now very happily married and heads up a computer company with over 50 employees. The diet changed our lives for good. All my cooking experience culminated in starting my own successful catering business. I’m now retired. Please put the effort in, this is your child’s life and future. It is really worth all the hard work. Nothing is more important and you WILL reap what you sow.

  2. Lisa

    I discovered my son reactived to artificial colors over two years ago. It was challenging to find foods that did not have the colors but currently, more and more companies are using natural vegetable color-Head towards the organic foods, they are coming out with loads of fun kid foods without the artificial stuff. Keep checking the labels because they are hearing our voices.

  3. Gail

    I know this is an old posting, so I hope i’m not too late. Please, whatever trouble you think this diet will be to you, make the effort to learn. It is time consuming at first, but that is all. I did it 25 years ago and there is so much more available now. The book is so helpful. There are things like Cheerios and 7up that have always been free of additives. You will educate yourself very quickly and the benefits are so worth it. My son changed as night to day. He is now a corrections officer with his own apartment and his own busy life. I couldn’t have imagined that before we started this diet and the calm began. Take the time, you will be so glad that you did.

  4. Shula Edelkind

    For Sheri re journaling == Use the Diet Diary Form provided in our Program materials (photocopy it). You just fill in the blanks. The reason it is important is simply because if you do not see fast dramatic results, this diary is often where the clues are. If you don’t feel up to doing the diary, then just don’t do it, at least not for now, and hope you won’t need it. Don’t let this stop you from starting the diet itself. Take the Foodlist with you to the store but don’t take the kids, even if you have to hire a sitter. Later, when you are more familiar with your brands, it will be different.

    On the other hand, if your child is old enough, enlist his help and teach him to read labels and what to look for. He will learn to be his own best advocate.

  5. Sheri

    I am considering this diet, but the journaling seems like an aweful lot of work. What foods don’t have those dyes and additives?

  6. Lucien Beauley

    I am puzzled as to why splenda, sacharine and aspertame, which I did not see mentioned should ever be a part of ADHD or Autistic individual diet. Aspertame because it is a terrible toxin causing ceizures which are extremely dangerous.

  7. Shula

    Just an addition — more recently, all the synthetic sweeteners are eliminated on the Feingold Program (e.g., splenda, sacharine, neotame, etc.) except for alcohol sugars (e.g. xylitol, sorbitol, etc) which can be used in moderation as long as you are aware that they can be very laxative, and stevia which is acceptable.

    If you think you need more than the Feingold Program or don’t want to use the organization’s materials, there is a Feingold Caveman Diet at http://www.caveman-diet.org which you can do yourself. It is free, and based on the organic foods that cavemen were likely to find available. Yes – and they all ate organic foods without benefit of health food stores! Just imagine!

  8. Jane Hersey

    The Feingold Association researches brand name foods and publishes books listing thousands of acceptable brand name products. They even publish a guide to fast food restaurants! Since 1976 Feingold volunteers have worked to make it all as simple as possible for the new family. Check out http://www.feingold.org for details on all of the resources available.

  9. Heather

    Judy-start in the Natural and Organic section of your grocery-then check all ingredient labels from there. Yellow 5 is even in some breads. FD&C red 40 is made from Arsnic (rat poison). Also-don’t take the kids shopping with you!!! It’s going to take a lot of time.

  10. Judy

    This diet seems great but I don’t know what foods to get my child that doesn’t have Yellow 5 and all of those additives. I need help trying to figure that part out.