ADD Medication and Treatment Reviews

The Feingold Diet

An elimination diet designed specifically for children with ADHD.

What is the Feingold diet?

The Feingold diet is based on an early allergy diet devised by the Mayo Clinic and used by Ben Feingold, M.D., to treat asthma and allergy in the 1950s. During the 1960s and 1970s, he discovered it was also helpful for behavioral challenges like hyperactivity. The diet is described in his 1974 book, Why Your Child Is Hyperactive. The Feingold diet eliminates artificial food colors, flavorings, sweeteners, preservatives, and some 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; some ADHD experts dismiss it, some support it, and some create their own treatment version based on Dr. Feingold’s work. Certain families have seen positive results, and 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, and sweeteners, as well as three artificial preservatives. Some foods and other products containing salicylate (a chemical related to aspirin) are also eliminated at the start of the diet, but are tested for tolerance later. According to Feingold’s original theory, even one bite of a “banned food” could trigger a reaction; now, however, representatives from the Feingold Association say that such a rigid approach is usually not necessary. The Feingold Association shows families how to take “baby steps” into the program (when necessary) and still find success.

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 the Feingold diet 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 meta-analysis, for example, supports the hypothesis that artificial food dyes promote hyperactivity, and that sensitivity to these dyes may not be limited to people with clear-cut hyperactivity syndromes. The reviewer pointed out that most studies were done using doses of food dye far below what people may be exposed to in the real world. 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. While in the United States, the FDA has been reluctant to require a warning label on products containing food dye, that decision has already been made in Europe, leading to the removal of many of the artificial food dyes from products and the increasing use of natural coloring.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in their Grand Rounds, in 2008, that “a trial of a preservative-free, food coloring-free diet is a reasonable intervention.” An included editor’s note said that the new research may “require that even we skeptics, who have long doubted parental claims of the effects of various foods on the behavior of their children, admit we might have been wrong.”

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

7 The Feingold Diet Related Links

  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.

  4. The diet worked for me and mine for the past 30 years. I was told my son would never make it through high school successfully before using the diet – and for him none of the meds had helped either. On the diet not only did he do just fine in high school, but he has college degrees in both chemistry and engineering. None of that would have happened without the help of the Feingold Association. Who woulda thought learning some simple recipes and identifying “safe” restaurants would be what made a difference in the future of my child?

  5. I grew up on the Feingold diet and it was a Godsend for my family!

    The diet described in this article dates back to the 1970s when it was much more difficult to use because we had no way to know what was in processed food so we had to make many things from scratch.

    But that was more than 40 years ago and much has changed. Today we know how to research brand name foods and can buy snacks, sweets, mixes, and even fast food.

    Another change is that we now know it’s not an “all-or-nothing” program. It is important, however, to have up-to-date information and not try to figure out on your own.

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