The Feingold Diet

Weekly Trip to the Library

On Thursday and Friday we discussed the “Smart Guide To Food Dyes: Buying foods that can help learning” by David Wallinga, M.D., Director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Food and Health Program with things you can do to reduce the exposure to food dyes.

To help reduce children’s exposure to food dyes for this week’s Weekly Trip to the Library for nannies and au pairs we will review The Feingold Cookbook. Although the Feingold Diet is cherished by many there is also is no shortage of reviews calling the Feingold Diet quackery.

The Feingold Diet is a food elimination program developed by Ben F. Feingold, MD to treat hyperactivity. Dr. Feingold was a pediatrician and allergist, and was considered a pioneer in the fields of allergy and immunology.

The Feingold Program eliminates three groups of synthetic food additives and one class of synthetic sweeteners:

1. Synthetic colors (FD&C and D&C colors)
2. Synthetic flavors (several thousand different chemicals)
3. Synthetic preservatives (BHA, BHT, and TBHQ)
4. Artificial sweeteners (Aspartame, Neotame, and Alitame)

In the first phase of the diet, all offending foods are eliminated. In the second phase, substances are re-introduced item by item to detect those substances that cannot be tolerated by the body.

In the first phase, the diet recommends the complete elimination of Salicylates from food. Salicylates are food additives, but they also occur naturally in foods like oranges, peaches, plums, tangerines, prunes, coffee, cloves, grapes, apples, tomatoes, tea and berries. So, these foods too are avoided.

In the second phase, those Salicylates that may be tolerated by the body are identified by reintroducing foods one by one.

There has been much debate about the program. Some medical practitioners deny that it is of any value, while other medical practitioners, as well as many people living with ADHD and parents of children with ADHD, claim that it is effective in the management of ADHD as well as a number of other behavioral, physical, and neurological conditions including salicylate sensitivity. The debate has continued for more than 30-years, involving not only consumers and physicians, but scientists, politicians, and the pharmaceutical and food industries.

Many studies show that 70% or more of hyperactive children respond positively to the removal of synthetic additives, especially when salicylates or allergens are removed. There is controversy, however, over what happens when researchers take children whose behavior has improved on a diet that eliminates several thousand additives, and then challenge them with one or a few additives, usually synthetic colors.

As well as The Feingold Cookbook, Dr. Feingold wrote a book directed to parents, entitled Why Your Child is Hyperactive.

As parents began using this diet for their children, many saw dramatic success and formed grass roots support groups. When they gathered in 1976 to form a non-profit national organization, they chose the name “Feingold Association” to honor Dr. Feingold. Today the Feingold Association of the United States provides member support services. Recently, some support has been added for Canadian members, and there is some information on the website suitable for people in other countries, as well.

The Feingold Association provides information and support for those starting the Program. Members can purchase comprehensive materials including a book listing thousands of brand name foods that have been researched by the Association and are free of the eliminated additives. Newsletters, updates, and phone and email support are also provided. Acceptable products — food, toiletries, cleaning supplies — are included in the Foodlist and Shopping Guide, the Mail Order Guide, the Supplements Guide, and the Fast Food Guide.

A good introduction to the Feingold Program, as well as 400 pages of compiled wisdom from over 30-years of working with families using the diet, is provided by the book Why Can’t My Child Behave?


Feingold Cookbook for Hyperactive Children


  1. While some children may have allergies to dyes or additives in general ADHD isn’t caused by an allergic reaction to food, or anything in food, including additives. The evidence to support elimination diets or tests for food sensitivities simply doesn’t exist. Although it would be nice if foods had fewer chemical additives and less artificial coloring, parents of children with ADHD should not let a general bias against certain food ingredients guide their approach to treating ADHD. Carl, PhD

  2. Super info! Studies do show that artificial coloring can increase hyperactivity in children.

  3. I worked with a boy diagnosed with ADHD and I dont think there is any harm in these diets but its a royal pain. The family I worked for did it for 3 months and did not see any regression after we stopped. Now the boy eats everything and anything including candy and Cheetos and he's overweight which isn't health either. Healthier to follow diets eliminating processed foods and artificial anything. But unless a kid has allergies to certian chemicals, behaviors are not cured because of the diet.

  4. hogwash started in the '70s

  5. My charge has been on the Feingold program. The parents started the diet before I worked for them as a nanny and they say before these diet changes he was unmanageable. I think all parents should encourage a healthy diet in their children, ADHD or not. It would be irresponsible for parents to dismiss the possibility of ALL healthy, alternative therapies such as diet. Only positive effects result from a nutritious diet. No one knows of his diagnosis so I will not be including my name.

  6. My bosses tried this and ithey said it made a huge difference in their son in a week. The boy had eczema all his life and it cleared it up in 8 days. The boy is more focused and started doing better in school. My experience has been if we use anything with a chemical dye on him (like sunscreen) or food (like M & M's) he will get a rash immediately. Feingold is daunting at first but once you are familiar with the system it becomes much easier.

  7. A good diet will benefit anyone, and if modifying a diet leads to a healthier diet overall, then energy, mood, and behaviors will improve. Why not expect that some autistic behaviors will improve especially if the dietery changes remove or reduce a food or group of foods that caused digestive problems for the child. It's important to keep things in perspective though. While a good diet will certainly help anyone especially it will not cure autism if the child is autistic.Danielle A.Denver CO

  8. Thanks for posting this. I work for a boy diagnosed autism and ADHD. I have read over and over again how so many things don't work like diet in helping children with ADHD or autism. But, a good natural diet can't hurt.The most convincing evidence are the tens of thousands of parents who claim that what is now called the Feingold Program brought about dramatic improvements in their ADHD children's behavior! Should we ignore parents that love the diet and say it works better than medication? Although these parent reports aren't scientific should we ignore them? Why would these parents say their kids' behavior improved if it didn't?Nanny Jeanie Syracuse

  9. Thanks for this great (yet controversial) information! Always good to learn more about caring for children. I guess I'm thinking this is a parental decision more than a nanny's decision to change a child's diet so dramatically. But I'm sure no parent would mind the info or your trying to serve the child a healthier diet. Great!

  10. You have a well-done article. My compliments. It's most interesting to see from some of the comments that some people are simply immune to facts, aren't they? For those who might actually want some facts, however, every double blind and open study done in the past 20 years shows that diet affects behavior in ADHD. It is not a cure for autism, but it is often a good start, and parents do tell us that whatever other treatments they use work better if they also avoid the additives the Feingold diet eliminates. These children's metabolism simply cannot handle additives or toxins. Moreover, research by Waring and others in the UK has shown that children with autism are low in an enzyme called PST (phenol sulfotransferase) made in the gut and used also by the brain. Salicylates suppress the making of PST in the gut; food dyes use up PST leaving too little for brain functions, so it makes perfect sense that these kids do better on the Feingold diet. Yes, the research is there. Yes, the diet works. Where "controversy" comes into play is when they take kids who got better on the diet – which eliminates thousands of additives when you include all the unlabeled synthetic flavorings – and you challenge them with a tiny amount of one single additive. It is like trying to test aspirin on headaches but using only a half a baby aspirin – you will "prove" that aspirin doesn't work. 27 mg of Red 40 will just barely make the frosting of one cupcake pink …. it takes about 300 mg Red 40 to make it red, but no study has EVER been done with 300 mg of any coloring to show whether that amount is safe for anybody, with or without ADHD. See the research at – abstracts are simplified for ease of understanding and brevity, but they are linked to the full abstracts in PubMed as well as to the full text when available.And bravo to the commenter who asks how we can ignore thousands of parents who say the diet works better than drugs. While in theory this could be a placebo effect, most of these children were already on drugs before the diet was tried – where was the placebo effect then? Besides, it generally takes one to several weeks for the diet to take effect. Placebos don't work that way – a placebo effect would be immediate and then go away. That is not what we parents see. What we see is what the research also shows – at least 70% of the children (and adults) who try the diet improve on it. And no, of course it doesn't work for everybody. We wish we could help the other 30% too, but that is the way things are.I will be happy to answer any questions about the research or the Program, and can be reached at info@feingold.orgShula EdelkindResearch Information DirectorFeingold Association of the US

  11. The boy I care for has a control issue with his energy. We love drinking Fruit 2 0 and clear water drinks with flavor. We feel like the kids drink more water using flavored (not colored) drinks. Should we be avoiding these drinks?

  12. Not to burst your bubble but all food additives have been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe. I understand parents will try anything to help their kids but no proof diet cures autism or ADHD. If someone is allergic to an ingredient that's another story. But for food dyes and such do you really think that a major food company would add something that could hurt you? Kids moods go up and down all the time. I’m sure a few tenths of a gram of dye won’t make much difference. Don’t worry, the food is safe. Career Nanny Melinda Boston Suburbs

  13. For Anonymous Nanny:I love Fruit 2 0 flavored water but it does have sodium benzoate which some are saying may increase hyperactivity in some children.

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