Medication and Treatment Reviews

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/.

Sources:

http://feingold.org/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15613992
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17825405
https://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/859-3.html

5 reviews

  1. Like the old saying, we are what we eat. You’ll never go wrong with a non-dye, preservative free, organic diet. I say it’s worth it for my family. We’ve always eaten that way.

  2. I’ve had my son on the Feingold plan since September and have noticed a significant improvement in impulse control. It is a challenge at times because it is so strict, but it gets easier as you go to find substitutes. One tip, I’d suggest using the search function on your phone or tablet—it tends to be easier than searching through the list and there have been things that I’ve found using the search function that I did not find in the guide. Also, there is a Facebook group that you can join that has a ton of information and tips from other parents.

  3. My child was constantly in trouble in preschool. We started Feingold on January 1st of his preschool year and saw an immediate improvement. His teacher was shocked. Here’s what she had to say:

    “In the fall [child] had trouble following directions, following school rules, controlling his impulses and/or anger, being defiant and he was sometimes disrespectful.

    Immediately on [child]’s return to our classroom after Christmas break I saw a change in all of his behaviors. He is able to control [his] behavior, make good choices, be an excellent friend, follow directions, follow rules, show compassion,be respectful and willingly participate in all activities of our classroom. Since January I would continue to describe [child] as smart, kind, patient, hardworking and a delight to have in class. I no longer make any adjustments for him in class. […] If someone were to observe our class, they would never pick out a child that had behavior struggles in the past.”

    We have now been doing Feingold for over a year. It is a commitment, and it was difficult to start, but it has made a HUGE difference, and there is so much support from other members. We will never go back.

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