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/.
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