The Feingold Diet
An elimination diet designed specifically for children with ADHD.
What is it?
The Feingold diet is a type of elimination diet devised by Ben Feingold, M.D., in the early 1970s, and expanded upon in his 1985 book, Why Your Child Is Hyperactive. The Feingold diet eliminates artificial food colors, flavorings, sweeteners, preservatives, and salicylates (naturally occurring compounds found in some fruits and vegetables), and is intended to reduce or eliminate ADHD symptoms in certain children. The Feingold diet is controversial; many ADHD experts dismiss it as ineffective, but some families continue to swear by it. While little research supports Feingold’s overall hypothesis, some studies have supported a few of his key points.
How does the Feingold diet work?
The Feingold diet requires parents (or adults) to diligently eliminate artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, sweeteners, and salicylates (found in common fruits like apples and grapes) from the family diet. Since, according to Feingold’s theory, even one bite of a “banned food” can trigger a reaction, the diet necessitates an all-or-nothing approach that can be difficult to maintain — particularly if dealing with a picky eater. To help overcome this challenge, The Feingold Association of the United States publishes materials to help people find foods and cook recipes that comply with the Feingold diet.
Who is the Feingold diet for?
The Feingold diet was originally designed for an adult patient with a severe case of hives, but Dr. Feingold noted that behavioral changes occurred as well in the patients he studied. Today, it’s mainly recommended for children with attention problems, but the Feingold Association also claims it can help treat asthma, eczema, migraines, or other behavioral problems not necessarily related to ADHD. The Feingold diet can be used for children and adults of any age.
How much does it cost?
The cost of the Feingold diet varies, depending on which foods you stop purchasing and which ones you select to replace them. The Feingold Association claims that after an initial investment to replace the foods you already have, the cost of food should be about the same.
What studies have been done on the Feingold diet?
No well-designed studies have been conducted on the Feingold program as a whole, but many have been conducted on various aspects of the diet. A 2004 study, for example, confirmed that up to 5 percent of children with ADHD experience a negative reaction to artificial food dyes. A 2007 study, published in Lancet, found that food additives — particularly artificial colors and the preservative sodium benzoate — increased hyperactivity in 3-, 8-, and 9-year-old children, with or without ADHD. On the other hand, the FDA reviewed the existing research in 2011 and concluded that there was insufficient evidence linking food dyes and additives to increased behavioral problems in children.
Where can I learn more?
Read frequently asked questions about the Feingold diet at feingold.org/faq/.
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