Feingold Diet

 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)

feingold-dietThe Feingold Diet derives from the program suggested in the book “Why Your Child is Hyperactive“, first published in the 1970s by Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatrician and allergist. He went on to develop and promote his dietary approach to helping children with learning and behavior problems, since categorized as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The Feingold Diet is based on the premise that allergic reactions or sensitivities to certain types of foods cause or contribute to ADD/ADHD symptoms, such as problems with:

  • Behavior (marked hyperactivity, impulsive and compulsive actions, emotional concerns)
  • Learning (short attention span, neuro-muscular difficulties, cognitive and perceptual disturbances)
  • Health (physical complaints and/or sleep problems)

The full Feingold Program

How it functions

The Feingold Program is more comprehensive than a simple diet, and operates in two stages. Stage 1 eliminates chemical compounds in particular food additives, and salicylate compounds in certain foods (and non-food items such as fragrances – hence the name Program rather than Diet). See below for a list of items for elimination. Stage 2 involves identifying which salicylates (if any) can be tolerated.

Does it work?

Many ADD/ADHD sufferers who follow the Feingold Program have experienced great improvements in focus and behavior. There is a considerable (recent) research to back this up (see more).

Studies in the early nineties show that around 75% of children improve on a diet that restricts additives.

What it does

The Feingold Program eliminates these additives and chemicals:

  • Synthetic coloring (are made from petroleum – crude oil)
  • Artificial flavoring (combinations of many natural and synthetic chemicals – eg imitation vanilla flavoring or “vanillin” might originate from the waste product of paper mills). There has been little research carried on these chemicals.
  • Artificial preservatives (BHA, BHT, and TBHQ, made from petroleum; also termed “anti-oxidants” because they prevent or delay the “oxidization” of fats in foods, which make them rancid)
  • Salicylates (a group of chemicals related to aspirin, which are a naturally occurring pesticide in particular food plants – see ‘Food sources of salicylates’ below; also manufactured and used in many products including medicines, perfumes and solvents). Only some are eliminated on the Feingold diet.
  • Artificial sweeteners (only aspartame is eliminated)
  • Other food additives considered undesirable (such as MSG, sodium benzoate, nitrites, sulfites) – these are not eliminated – but are noted in the food list.

Food Sources of Salicylates

Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Aspirin, Berries, Cherries, Cloves, Coffee, Cucumbers, Currants, Grapes, Nectarines, Oil of wintergreen, Oranges, Peaches, Peppers (bell & chilli), Pickles, Plums, Prunes, Raisins, Rose hips, Tangelos, Tangerines, Tea, Tomatoes

A Staged Dietary Plan

A less rigorous approach than the Feingold Program, given that many studies have shown the sensitivity of some children to dyes, is to start by eliminating only those foods (and vitamins, drugs, and toothpastes) that contain artificial colorings.

If initial dietary changes have little benefit (i.e. excluding only dyes), try the complete Feingold diet. It is important to use a diet diary or journal.

If that doesn’t help, the Feingold Association recommends eliminating:

  • corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and corn sugar (in soft drinks and other sweetened foods)
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) and HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which contains some glutamate)
  • sodium nitrite (in luncheon meats)
  • calcium propionate (in baked goods)

After several weeks, if the child’s behavior has improved, every few days restore one eliminated food or ingredient at a time. Repeat that two or three times if a problem occurs, to confirm that the food is really a culprit.

If the child’s behavior did not improve on the Feingold diet, try a “few-foods” diet, which involves more extensive restrictions (see Elimination diets). Studies show that some children are sensitive not just to food additives but also to such foods as:

  • wheat
  • eggs
  • milk and other dairy foods
  • chocolate
  • soybeans/tofu
  • corn products (including corn sugar and syrup)

Eliminate as many of those foods as possible, plus artificial colorings and other additives. Children can eat fresh meat and poultry, any vegetable (except corn and soybeans), fruits and fruit juices (but not citrus fruit/juice and not beverages normally consumed daily), rice, and oats.

Look here for recipes to use with The Feingold Diet.

See Also

 By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
  • Kelly

    Wow, that list of salicylates in foods is so inadequate it’s ridiculous. There are sals — in high amounts — in many other foods. People should check out the list on the “salicylate sensitivity” website.

  • Wenonah

    I’m at a loss as to what to give my ADHD four year-old. All the fruits that he loves are all forbidden. He is a slave to routine and refuses to eat breakfast without his daily dose of strawberries, blueberries and bananas.

  • J. Matthews

    I really want help for me and my kids who r diagnosed with Adhd. We will all try. What do we start with first?

    • barbara morris

      my son was diagnosed with adhd in the late 70’s & I was told about the Fiengold Diet / Program. my husband, son, younger daughter & myself all went on the diet. all I can say is it worked, what a great program & all the family should go on it, of course there are products that other members of the family like, but if you want results then you should all go on the diet. at least give it a go, what have you got to gain “a much better behaved child”

  • Scott Black

    We have had our son (he is now 13) on this diet for about 3 years and it has been great. Prior he slept walked, had horrible temper tantrums and just horrible disobedience issues. After several incidents in elementary school, the school pointed us towards Feingold. We started him on the diet as well as ourselves. We figured if we were going to make him change his diet, we would as well. The results are amazing. Over time you will learn what things set your kids off and what is safe for them. You will find many who claim this is a quack remedy but truthfully it is not. Our son went from B and C grades and numerous calls from the office to Mostly A’s and no calls from the school. It is a commitment so if you are not willing to put the effort into don’t do it. Don’t complain about your kids behavior after you give them a Slurpee or sugar coated cookies. You gave it to them.

  • Isabellle Nasym

    I am about to try the feingold diet out on my grandson i hope it works

  • Mohie,Francis Oko

    I love this.What exactly should my autistic brother not eat?Kindly give me details of the diets he should avoid.

  • Solana

    This diet has made a huge difference for my 9yo son since kindergarten. Within 2 months of starting this diet, he went from being out of control and unable to focus or learn anything at school to behaving well and keeping up and learning well in school alongsided all his peers. Many people now compliment us on how well-behaved, respectful, and intelligent he is.

    • Mia

      Personally, I believe the only diet to trust is one recnemeodmd by your doctor. I have a lot of health issues, including diabetes, and recently started a diet that included eating grapefruit and/or drinking grapefruit juice. In just a few days, I began to feel horrible. I discovered that grapefruit is an absolute no no with the medications I am currently taking. I know most people don’t have issues like mine, but I’ve known others that have had issues with a self imposed diet, often because they should’nt be dieting at all! Be safe! Call the Doc first.

      • Shula

        It is true that nobody taking medicine should start eating lots of grapefruit or other items that are different without checking with their doctor or pharmacist because some of these things do interact with meds. HOWEVER, I PROMISE NOBODY WILL EVER GET A DEFICIENCY OF RED 40 … or any other food dyes. You really DO NOT need any special kind of permission to feed your child (or yourself) real food.

      • Marcia

        It is always important to communicate with your dr. Many doctors recommend the Feingold diet but a recommendation is not necessary.

        It’s common knowledge that grapefruit & some meds should not be mixed. The directions state that. But this has nothing to do with the Feingold diet. Eliminating synthetic additives only helps one’s health.

  • Tracy

    We did this program for 5 years. The improvements we save only occured after we basically eliminated everything from our child’s diet except rice. It’s not Feingold success to eliminate every thing you eat and then say, see, it works.

    • Rebecca

      The Feingold Program does not advocate not eating anything but rice. It advocates eliminating the most common triggers for undesireable symptoms, many of which are not even food but chemicals derived from petroleum. Some people find they need to go “beyond Feingold” and eliminate more foods; it is not appropriate to defame the Feingold Program in this case.

  • Robyn Iuliano

    This diet has been a life changer for my family ever since 1996.

    • Cheryl

      This was a life changer for my parents too. I’m now in my 40’s, and still hear the stories of my uncontrollable hyperactivity (due to food colors and flavors). My mom put me on this program back in 1974. They say I was a new kid after just a short time. It works! It truly saved my folk’s sanity!

      • Wendy MacMillan

        This diet was recommended to us by my mother in 1976. It worked very well for our little whirlwind!

  • Karen

    This diet has been a godsend:). My son began sleeping through the night after 3 days! Through this diet we have discovered that my little junk food junkie could not eat that stuff anymore. He is sensitive to any chemical additives in food.
    We generally also try to stick to the first level of Feingold although food choices don’t affect my child nearly as much as chemical additives, we do feel there is a difference between level one and two FG.

  • Gale Atkinson

    I pit this diet into practice in 1977 I will tell anyone who will listen it was by far the best thing I have ever done for my son and my family. Back in the dark ages before Internet (I would be dangous today with all the knowledge that I could find on the Internet today ) but I relied on the fiengold association for recipes and updated information. I’m sure most of my friends and family thought I was the crazy mom until they saw our son after he had eaten a food not on his diet. He would rip curtains down attack people and be self destructive to hisself and all the while he would be crying asking me to help him. He was two years old when first diagnoosed he stopped sleeping until he would be so exhausted he would fall asleep on the floor and u dare not move him are he would be up and running wild again. I found scented candles and fluorescent lighting had a huge affect on him. We stayed on this diet for ten years and the only regret I have is that we didn’t stay on it for life. As a matter of fact I am reinducimg this way of eating to our ffamilu again for my husband and myself but more so for my grandchildren and teaching their mother how to track the foods and keep a food diary on ebruthing they eat it sounds hard but it really is the key to know which food triggers what type of behavior. Ease do this for your child and your family you will not regret it it saved my sons life

    • Rose Harriott

      Good on you Gale, I had similar experience with one of my son’s – not as destructive, but was so upset when he misbehaved. I dare anyone who has a ‘overactive’, ‘hyperactive’ or just generally unsettled child to try this program. Who’d think that eating lollies that were made with ‘natural colours’ could make such a difference! God bless and good luck with the grandchildren!

  • Cynthia

    I put my 5 yr old son on this diet in 1979, he was very hyperactive and not getting enough quality sleep. Within a couple of months his dimished hyperactivity was very noticeable and he was sleeping a good 2 to 3 hours longer at night. It was a Godsend.

  • Kristen

    We have been able to keep my daughter’s ADHD under control until just recently. We will be talking with the doctor and dietician tomorrow about trying to avoid medicine. She has done well with behavior modification until now. I just wish the Feingold program was more affordable.

  • Mary

    We’ve been on Feingold for over a year now and the changes in my family have been amazing. Within one month of starting the diet, my then 3 year old son was a different child. He is now almost 5 and knows more about nutrition than any adult I know. At a recent Easter hunt, he opened the eggs and actually threw the colored jelly beans out because he knows they make him feel sick, keeping only the plastic eggs because those are “fun.” I urge you if you have children to go on this diet program for their long term health and not just to eliminate bad behavior. It is tough at first to learn how to do everything differently, but once you do it becomes second nature.

  • Kellie

    I am interested in doing this for both of my children. I discovered my youngest son who has ADHD symptoms is allergic to yellow 5 and his behavior improves when we eliminate Red 40. My other son who has had a brain injury and is on the autism spectrum does remarkably well without those toxins and with added fish oil to his diet. I can’t believe how much food is “fake”!!!! I want my children to be healthy. It is going to take a lot of time but it will be worth it!! I will keep you updated to our progress!

  • Tara Novak

    Thank you to all of you and your great comments this site has confirmed for me that getting my kids off their ADHD med Concerta is the best choice and put them on the Feingold diet Will change our life I cant wait and its spring break and NO SUGAR here starting today! :)

  • Rachel Goodnow

    My son just started vyvanse for his adhd, we tried many herbs and supplements and the natural route, very hard with a 13 year old so I gave into him taking the meds, I need something to work. he is doing so badly in school. His diet is not bad, I make everything homemade, he eats vegetables, and we don’t eat fast foods. The side affects of the vyvanse is dry mouth, and he is a little irratable, I don’t see that it is working too well, he is 3 weeks into it and he is takin 20mg to start. I need some support from others to talk about this. any help would be wonderful. Thanks

    • Karen

      Hi Rachel,
      My 11 year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD (Inattentive type) for focusing issues.. she has some trouble with comprehension and processing things.. she started about 3 months ago and has been on Focalin short acting which usually last about 5 hours during her school day and I may give her a 2nd dose at 3 if I feel it is needed. I started her at the lowest dose of 2.5mg because I am really against medication. It has made such a great difference and has caused no side effects. Thank goodness.. Did your doctor recommend Focalin to you? If not it is worth checking into.. also why did you start him on 20 mg? If that strong of a dose is not working for him.. I think you should talk to the dr about switching meds or other alternatives.. I wish you and him all the best. :) Take care

    • nikk

      im not saying this will happen to you, but my 6 yr old was diagnosed add last year and her pediatrician placed her on vyvanse. she was on it probably 2 months bc she started having hallucinations and night terrors. she was lashing out at others and became extremely violent, especially towards her little sister. she had never had any of these problems until she started this medication. we ended up taking her off the meds and we are trying to implement a new diet that is gluten and soy free, and we are trying to eliminate all added and unnatural sugars. so far so good, but we will see how it goes. i wish you the best and hope that you can find a solution for your sons sake. high school is going to be difficult if you cant get his behavior under control so i hope for his sake you find something that works.

      • Dawn

        Vyvanse had some effect on my 9yr old daughter. Ritalin was no better. The dr took her off because she was even mutilating her own body! And I really wanted it to work. It was sad day for me because I had tried natural before with only very small results. Introduce the diet of no dyes, preservatives or artificial flavoring along with Omninutritions vitamins, Remind & Phytonutrients and she’s a new child today!

    • Nancy

      Have a sleep study done on him. Our psychologist says that 90% of ADHD is caused by lack of rem sleep, meaning anything that causes him to sleep outside of rem should be addressed: any even small lights on, noises, breathing problems, eating or drinking less than 2 hrs before bed, tv, computer, fluorescent lights, etc. the Feingold elimination is great because it eliminates triggers that block absorption of zinc which can affect rem sleep as well. Also, dig deeper with the elimination. Toothpaste, fluoride rinse, even dye free medicines have preservatives. Fresh salmon, fresh meats, oranges, American cheese, multigrain Cheerios, lots of cereals, all can have dyes in them or preservatives. Some just say color added. Some even use technical names instead of red #5, yellow#, etc. I made a list of all the names to watch for: tartrazine, carmine, potassium bromate, carmoisine, ponceau, are alternate names for the numbered dyes in addition to the stuff listed on the Feingold website. Also watch for potassium sorbate.

      • Karen

        Excellent advice! We are finding the same thing:)

  • Adriennie

    I have a 6 year old that just started Atterol and it’s NOT working. This is the 3rd time we’ve switched meds and I’m frustrated beyond reason.I have been told the Attend is a very good product by a lady at the health foods store but it about $40 a month and I’m not sure if my little budget can keep up with that. This program sounds great but the cost is what gets me. If the information is SOO vital and important and “life-saving” to those with Add/ADHD then WHY is it so darn expensive. Why not just release it to the public for free…for the betterment of humanity. I’m mainly interested in the recipes anyway.

    • Solana

      They have a program to provide free materials to those unable to afford it. Contact the Feingold asssociation about this.

  • Lamonee

    Very intetested in this diet for my 8yr old daughter

  • rachel

    Im looking into this diet because of suspected personal health related issues that i am about certain are related to food. I can only imagine the impact it would have on my family for the better and it appears totally beneficial health wise ~ why would anyone WANT to consume sythetic chemicals or atrificial chemicals? Could anyone please tell me where to get a more precise food list? Ive printed this, but it would be very helpful… Thanx bunches

  • Melanie

    michael michaelson—You absolutely can be raw/vegetarian on Feingold. “Most” fruits and vegetables aren’t actually on the no-no list….only 3 vegetables are outlawed, and I’m sure you eat a wider variety than that already. It’s true that many fruits are eliminated in the first stage, but it’s surprisingly easy to find the good fruits—you may even expand your repertoire. Almonds are the only nuts that are proscribed; all other nuts are ok, as well as all seeds and grains. If you’re raw but still want the protein from animal products, raw milk and raw eggs are great sources of nutrients. Of course, if you don’t feel you need this diet, you don’t have to do it, but for kids like my son, it’s the only answer, Joker.

  • Jeanette

    I am interested in learning about the diet.

  • michael michaelson

    Wait, so I can’t be a RAW foodist, then? Most fruits and vegetables are on the list of things I shouldn’t eat? How am I supposed to get all my nutrients and protien if I don’t eat meat and can’t eat almonds and fruits and some veggies? riddle me that, Batman, cause I wanna know so I can healthy.

  • Jean Chacko

    Interested in all the info that I can get.

  • Megan

    I like the Feingold diet I’m on it myself and have discovered that if I have peaches I forget things. If my sister has apples she gets more bossy, if my brother has grapes or anything he gets more annoying, and if my mom has anything bad she yells more.

  • Jacalyn Dolani

    Dietary changes are helpful but I would say personally the best thing I have used with my son is DMG-Behavior Balance.I have tried what seems like everything under the sun.
    He went from bad reports every day,meetings at school to perfect reports every day for now a month now.Everyone is different but for my son we saw dramatic changes by day three on DMG-Behavior Balance.I would also recommend the supplements called Relax-a-Saurus by KAL and Pedia-Active.I started these two a couple weeks ago because they are have ingredients that relax,help focus.The winner by far is DMG-Behavior Balance if you try nothing else give it a try.If nothing else they will have immune system improvement and better oxygen utilization.

  • Haley

    I was personally on the diet for many years in my childhood. Even though all of it didn’t personally work for me overall, the elimination of especially red dye number 40 (I think) was the most successful in the act of dealing with my ADHD.
    Good luck to all those that are thinking of trying to use this method.

  • Nicole

    Okay. My husband was put on this program in the 1970s for Sleep/attention issues. My son is now having similar issues. We’ve gone ‘cold-turkey’ and removed artificial dyes, flavors and additives. Also, we’ve reduce to the point of eliminated sugar (most corn syrup) from his diet. We’ve also eliminated dairy and are limiting is soy. I have also added magnesium, and Omega 3 to his diet (they’re both calming vitamins)

    We started this last Thursday and today, Tuesday, we’ve already seen tremendous improvement in his ability to focus and stay on task. He, also, doesn’t fidget as much and he’s calmer.

    My suggestion is to find a good organic store, i.e. whole foods. If you can’t read the label. Food does not need to have artificial anything. Find items that don’t and choose them. Also, eliminate chocolate and sugar from the diet as much a possible.

    Good Luck

  • Bonnie

    I just learned of this and had a doctor give my son adderal. I am afraid to give it to him. Can anyone help me? This program seems to cost a bit more than I can afford to learn. Please help me anyway you can with info.


  • carrie

    how do you even know if you should start? and arer the dyes the most important part? I went through the foods we are currently eating and they arent that bad so maby this isn’t his problem..how will I know??

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