Feingold Diet for ADHD and Healthy Living

Where do food dyes come from? Those pretty colors that make the “fruit punch” red, the gelatin green and the oatmeal blue are made from petroleum (crude oil) which is also the source for gasoline.You will find them on the ingredient labels, listed as “Yellow No. 5,” “Red 40,” “Blue #1,” etc. The label may say “FD&C” before the number. That means “Food, Drug & Cosmetics.” When you see a number listed as “D&C” in a product, such as “D&C Red #33” it means that this coloring is considered safe for medicine (drugs) and cosmetics, but not for food. See more about colorings.

What are artificial flavorings?

They are combinations of many chemicals, both natural and synthetic. An artificial flavoring may be composed of hundreds of separate chemicals, and there is no restriction on what a company can use to flavor food.

Those initials stand for three major preservatives found in many foods, especially in the United States. Like the dyes, they are made from petroleum (crude oil). Often, they are not listed in the ingredients.These chemicals may be listed as “anti-oxidants” because they prevent the fats in foods from “oxidizing” or becoming rancid (spoiling). There are many natural, beneficial anti-oxidants, but they are much more expensive than the synthetic versions.

Last month I promised Jane Hersey of The Feingold Association, that I would post an article all about their foundation. You might have seen the communication back and forth on another post. ADD or ADHD? Diet or Drug? Drug Side Effects. She requested that they write an article themselves for me to post, but I insisted on writing my own so that it would be a fair review and told her that I would notify her of when the article was published allowing her to correct anything that might be incorrect. After further consideration I have come to the conclusion that you should hear about the diet from the horses mouth, so to speak. I just like to inform the public of truth and alternatives to psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin®, Concerta® Adderall®, amphetamines and other stimulant medications. I did, however, add my two cents in, which I believe Jane will appreciate.

Jane stated in the article above:

“It [the Feingold Diet] involves using foods that do not contain:

Food dyes such as Yellow 5 and Red 40, etc.
Artificial flavors, including vanillin
The preservatives BHA, BHT and TBHQ

At the beginning of the program we also recommend avoiding aspirin and “natural salicylates.” This refers to plants that create their own chemical, which is similar to aspirin. These plants include many common fruits like apples, oranges and grapes, and a few vegetables.

Once you see a good response, you can begin to reintroduce the salicylates, one at a time, and test them out to see if you are sensitive to them.

That’s the diet in a nutshell.

But food labels are not always complete or accurate, so we research brand name foods in order to be sure that a product (that might look good on the label) is free of even trace amounts of the additives.

We have been conducting this research for over 30 years and use it to publish books listing thousands of acceptable brand name foods. Our newest books are approaching 200 pages of just lists of brand name products that are okay.

This way, you can just find the category of food you want — maybe mac & cheese mix, or cookies, or hot dogs — and the list will tell you which brands/versions/flavors are okay to use. We have 7 different books for the various regions of the US.

We also research non-food products and supplements, and compile a list of menu choices at the major restaurant chains…this is to give our members a fighting chance!

Now the complicated thing about food is that it changes, and labels don’t always tell you this. So when a new product is found acceptable and may be added, or when a current product is changed and must be removed, we provide this information so the Foodlists will stay up-to-date. We feel this is important since using the wrong product can mean a bad reaction for some people.

This information is sent out to our members 10 times a year via our paper newsletter, Pure Facts, and our email newsletter. (The email newsletter is free.)

The cost of membership goes primarily to cover the expenses of researching, printing and mailing this material. It is also used to do outreach, including renting tables at conferences, printing handout materials, and paying basis costs for volunteers who represent us but are not able to cover the travel and hotel expenses themselves.

We mail free literature to anyone who asks for it, including doctors, teachers, students and parents.

We do our best to raise funds, but even a non-profit organization has a lot of expenses to cover, including office rent, auditing, paying clerks, holding our annual meeting, etc.

The good news is that anyone who is willing to make some of their food from scratch can easily use the Feingold diet. The Foodlist is a wonderful resource but is not essential. All of part one of my book (Why Can’t My Child Behave?) can be read on our website, and it provides a great deal of information, including a 4-day suggested diet, with brand name products (which have not changed in many years).

Thank you for your interest in featuring the Feingold diet on your site, I would be more comfortable if we could write the description, rather than use the site you suggest, which I believe is a little too complicated.

I’d be glad to mail you some of our materials, including the above book and various newsletters, which conver a lot of related topics. Each newsletter contains a blurb inviting people to reprint articles.


You will find a lot of information about Jane Hersey, The Feingold Association and diet below. I suggest that all parents visit The Feingold Association’s webstie. Do not wait until a teacher or doctor tells you that your child has ADHD. Remember, a change in diet, talking to your child and obtaining a non-psychiatric physical exam should be the first steps taken before ever considering psychotropic dugs. The diet can be applied to anyone, adult or child.

While searching the internet for reviews of the Feingold Diet, there were none in which I could fully agree. One stated listed pros and cons listed it a con being “difficult to avoid food additives” and that you would have to read all food labels. I had changed my eating habits not too long ago and perhaps the first two weeks were time consuming in reading labels, but after you know what you can have reading labels are not really necessary unless you are adding a new food to your menu. Another found it a risk “Teaching children that their behavior and school performance are related to what they eat rather than what they feel.” This is not a risk. It is true education. If your child drank coffee all day long and it caused them to be nervous and effected their school performance you would educate them about that. It is a parent’s job. The Feingold Diet is just additional education on diet, something most American families are lacking.

Dr. Ben F. Feingold, former Chief of Allergy at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, California, has helped to transform many families through his Feingold Diet. The Feingold Diet, sometimes called the ADHD Diet, is a healthier way of eating, achieved through an elimination diet. Dr. Feingold attests, along with many others, that through his program children facing certain behavioral issues can improve through simple dietary changes. Dr. Feingold passed away in 1982 but his legacy lives on through the Feingold Association of the United States.

Jane Hersey is a mother, author of several books and editor of the Pure Facts, the Feingold Association’s Newsletter and is from The Feingold Association U.S.:

  • Why Can’t My Child Behave? Read Part I – free online
  • Healthier Foods for Busy People
  • What are all those funny things in food? … and should I eat them?
  • Jane Hersey has almost 30 years of experience in helping families dealing with hyperactivity and ADD. Her area of expertise is non-medical treatments, her main interest being in diet. In her position of editor of Pure Facts, she pursues information on cutting-edge as well as family-tested therapies. Read a reprint of a Pure Facts free copy here.

Jane Hersey’s Story (from the Feingold Association’s website):

“I complained a lot to friends about my daughter’s behavior, and in the spring of 1975 a friend – whose husband worked for a congressman – went to a certain amount of effort to get Dr. Feingold’s book, Why Your Child Is Hyperactive, from the Library of Congress for me. She suggested I read it. I took one look at the title and thought “This doesn’t apply to us,” because we aren’t dealing with hyperactivity per se, and ADHD had not yet been invented.I read the book to please my friend, and I found it a little shocking and interesting, but I didn’t see a connection. My husband Harry, being the reader he is, read it while I had it, and he saw a connection between his own symptoms – particularly back when he was a child – and what Dr. Feingold described in the book. At that point he had been suffering from migraine headaches which were getting worse each year and becoming more frequent. So he began to pay attention to the synthetic additives and trying to avoid them. Meanwhile I gave it a half-hearted attempt and changed a few of the things I was giving to my daughter. I thought if I changed some of the foods, I should see some improvement – but I didn’t. I figured when I saw no improvement “Oh good – I didn’t want to do this anyway.”Then one day Harry, who was being more careful than me, ate lunch at work, including cottage cheese with a maraschino cherry on top. Even though he removed the cherry, he ate the little bit of colored juice left on the cottage cheese. About 2 hours later he could feel another migraine starting. We were both stunned, because it was only a few drops – that was when we both realized that for a sensitive person it only takes a tiny little bit.So I decided I really had to give it a fair try for Laura too. The next morning when she got up I gave her very plain food that I knew would be OK, but I didn’t know what I was looking for in the way of symptom change. The following morning when she woke up, there was a profound difference in her: She could make eye contact, she heard what I said. She gave me answers that made sense. Things continued to improve. The diet continued to work – except on the occasions we went off it or made mistakes. We got along on our own for about a year, and we did well, but we were not in contact with anybody else on the program. It never occurred to me to write to Dr. Feingold.One day Harry was back in the cafeteria again, eating lunch, and he heard somebody say “Dr. Feingold.” He went over to the man who said that and introduced himself, asking “What about Dr. Feingold?” It turned out that there was going to be a meeting of volunteers who had formed support groups throughout the country. This was going to be their first conference, gathering in Washington, DC to form a national organization. He encouraged us to attend, and gave us the name of other parents in the area, so we called these folks and we made plans to go to the conference, right nearby in Washington, DC. We figured we would join one of the local support groups, but when we got there the closest support groups were in Philadelphia and Florida – and we were in Virginia. So before the conference ended, we had met with other parents from our area and we knew if there was going to be a support group in the DC area, we had to create it.I had never been involved in anything quite like that, and had no idea what to do, but some of the other parents who had more leadership experience took the lead, and I contributed what I could. To my amazement, I gradually became very involved, learned how to give a Feingold presentation, learned how to give a radio interview, how to write newsletters, and how to deal with printers, which in itself is a challenge.I had never intended to get so involved in the organization but it’s such an exhilarating and rewarding thing to do that I found it awfully hard not to do it. In those times when I would get angry and frustrated with the way families and children are being treated, I would use the anger as energy to propel me to do more. Today I find that it would be very difficult to not do this. There is still so much work to be done. I just can’t not do it.I continue to look forward to the day when the work I am doing will be unnecessary and irrelevant because the link between diet, behavior and learning will be so well recognized that everybody will know what we have known for so long.”

Overview of the Feingold Diet (from the Feingold Association’s website)

“Numerous studies show that certain synthetic food additives can have serious learning, behavior, and/or health effects for sensitive people.

The Feingold Program (also known as the Feingold Diet) is a test to determine if certain foods or food additives are triggering particular symptoms. It is basically the way people used to eat before “hyperactivity” and “ADHD” became household words, and before asthma and chronic ear infections became so very common.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is the term currently used to describe a cluster of symptoms typical of the child (or adult) who has excessive activity or difficulty focusing. Some of the names that have been used in the past include: Minimal Brain Damage, Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD), Hyperkinesis, Learning Disability, H-LD (Hyperkinesis/Learning Disability), Hyperactivity, Attention Deficit Disorder, ADD With or Without Hyperactivity.

In addition to ADHD, many children and adults also exhibit one or more other problems which may include: OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), Bi-polar Disorder, Depression, Tourette Syndrome (TS), and Developmental Delays. These people often have food or environmental allergies. Many have a history of one or more of these physical problems: ear infections, asthma, sinus problems, bedwetting, bowel disorders, headaches/migraines, stomachaches, skin disorders, sensory deficits (extreme sensitivity to noise, lights, touch), vision deficits (the left and right eyes do not work well together, sometimes nystagmus).

While all the above symptoms might be helped by the Feingold Program, generally the characteristic that responds most readily is behavior. Although the symptoms differ from one person to another, the one characteristic that seems to apply to all chemically-sensitive people is that they get upset too easily. Whether the person is 3-years-old or 33, they have a short fuse.

Dr. Feingold began his work on linking diet with behavior back in the 1960’s. He soon saw that the conventional wisdom about this condition was not accurate. At that time most doctors believed that children outgrew hyperactivity, that only one child in a family would be hyperactive, and that girls were seldom affected. Parents using the Feingold Diet also saw that these beliefs were not accurate. Years later, the medical community revised their beliefs, as well.

Another change in the medical community has been the increased use of medicine to address ADHD. In the 1960’s and 1970’s medicine was used with restraint, generally discontinued after a few years, and never prescribed to very young children. If there was a history of tics or other neurological disorders in a family member, a child would not be give stimulant drugs. The Feingold Association does not oppose the use of medicine, but believes that practitioners should first look for the cause(s) of the problems, rather than only address the symptoms. For example, ADHD can be the result of exposure to lead or other heavy metals; in such a case, the logical treatment would be to remove the lead, arsenic, etc.

The Feingold Association believes that patients have a right to be given complete, accurate information on all of the options available in the treatment of ADHD as well as other conditions. Sometimes, the best results come from a combination of treatments. This might include using the Feingold Diet plus allergy treatments, or plus nutritional supplements, or plus a gluten-free/casein-free diet, or even Feingold + ADHD medicine. We believe that it’s useful to start with the Feingold Diet since it is fairly easy to use, not expensive, and because removing certain synthetic additives is a good idea for anyone.

Used originally as a diet for allergies, improvement in behavior and attention was first noticed as a “side effect.” It is a reasonable first step to take before (or with if already begun) drug treatment for any of the symptoms listed on the Symptoms page.

The Feingold Program eliminates these additives:

  • Artificial (synthetic) coloring
  • Artificial (synthetic) flavoring
  • Aspartame (Nutrasweet, an artificial sweetener)
  • Artificial (synthetic) preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ
In the beginning (Stage One) of the Feingold Program, aspirin and some foods containing salicylate (Suh-LIH-Suh-Late) are eliminated. Salicylate is a group of chemicals related to aspirin. There are several kinds of salicylate, which plants make as a natural pesticide to protect themselves. Those that are eliminated are listed in the salicylate list which is included also in the Program Handbook. Most people can eventually tolerate at least some of these salicylates.You will notice this dietary program is often referred to as a program because fragrances and non-food items which contain the chemicals listed above are also eliminated.There are other undesirable food additives (MSG, sodium benzoate, nitrites, sulfites, to name a few) but most of the additives used in foods have not been found to be as big a problem as those listed above. See more about these preservatives.

Food additives are not new.

Artificial colors have been around for more than 100 years. (Originally they were made from coal tar oil.) And children have been eating artificially colored and flavored products for decades.But then . . . most children ate these additives infrequently. They got an occasional lollipop from the bank or barber shop. Cotton candy was found at the circus. Jelly beans were given at Easter, orange cupcakes at Halloween and candy canes at Christmas. Today . . . the typical child growing up in the United States is exposed to these powerful chemicals all day, every day.

What the child growing up in the U.S. in the 1940’s got:

What the child growing up in the U.S. today gets:

White toothpaste Multi-colored toothpaste, perhaps with sparkles
Oatmeal Sea Treasures Instant Oatmeal (turns milk blue)
Corn flakes Fruity Pebbles
Toast & butter, jam Pop Tarts
Cocoa made with natural ingredients Cocoa made with artificial flavoring, & some with dyes.
Whipped cream Cool Whip
No vitamins (or perhaps cod liver oil) Flintstone vitamins with coloring & flavoring
White powder or bad-tasting liquid medicine Bright pink, bubble-gum flavored chewable or liquid medicine
Sample school lunch:
Meat loaf, freshly made mashed potatoes, vegetable. Milk, cupcake made from scratch.
Sample school lunch:
Highly processed foods loaded with synthetic additives, no vegetable. Chocolate milk with artificial flavor.
Sample school beverage:
Water from the drinking fountain
Sample school beverage:
Soft drink with artificial color, flavor, caffeine, aspartame, etc.
Candy in the classroom a few times a year at class parties. Candy (with synthetic additives) given frequently.
Visit The Feingold Foundation website at http://www.feingold.org to find out more about their program.
Sneak a peak at the Feingold food list.
In addition, check out this book, “The Feingold Cookbook for Hyperactive Children” by Ben F. Feingold and Helene S. Feingold.
Additional References:

This website may contain some copyrighted material. We reserve the right to reproduce such material under the Copyright Act, Title 17 US Code, Section 107, “Fair Use”, as we believe the public should be informed of such information so they can think for themselves rather than rely on advertisements. We gain no profit from such articles. http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107

6 Responses to “Feingold Diet for ADHD and Healthy Living”

  1. Jane Hersey Says:

    Thank you so much for allowing us the opportunity to describe the Feingold diet as it really is. So often people describe this program in ways that make us wonder where on Earth they got such an idea. Often, the Feingold diet is described as being “sugar-free” or maybe “organic” or as “eliminating all additives” or “eliminating white flour” or “all processed foods.” Worst of all for a chocoholic like myself, some say we cannot eat chocolate! Imagine that!!
    The truth is that if you ran into me at the supermarket and took a look in my grocery cart, you would probably have no idea that I was on a special diet….in fact, I’m not on a special diet. I eat food, not what one writer described as “edible food-like substances.” Sadly, most of the families in this contry are on a special diet of peculiar chemicals, and most of them are made from petroleum!

  2. Your Friend Says:


    You are very welcome!

    Keep up the great work!

  3. diet Says:

    Hi, Very recently I heard about the Feingold diet is a food elimination program, which eliminates a number of artificial colors and artificial flavors, aspartame, three petroleum-based preservatives, and (at least initially) certain salicylates. I think it would also help in case of obese patients in order to deal with their weight problems.

  4. Your Friend Says:

    Hi diet,

    You are probably right. From what I have learned from a nutritionist is that the less you aggravate your body the easier it is to lose weight. And since our bodies are not built to digest anything artificial there is no doubt that these items are aggravating the tissues, the organs and who knows what else.

    When I went on Allergy Elimination Diet removing these very same items and more from my diet I lost weight, depression immediately disappeared (prior to weight loss) and I had more energy. One thing that really helped was not waiting to eat when I was hungry.

    The nutritionist also stated that if you wait to eat when you are hungry that it is too late because your blood sugar has already lowered. You want to eat often and be careful of your food choices. I kept almonds and walnuts in my desk draw at work and helped myself mid morning, mid afternoon and right before I left for the day. High in protein, it gave me that boost I needed. I lost weight and never went hungry.

    I love food packages that just list one ingredient such as “raw almonds”. Then I know I am getting what my body needs.

  5. Julie Says:

    Where can I find the lists of brand name foods that are OK to eat? Are they in an article or a book? Thank you.

  6. Your Friend Says:

    Hello, Julie,

    You just go to the Feingold website and click on Program Material and you can see a sample of their book. It is at: http://www.feingold.org/pg-program.html. You can also visit their bookstore. One of the sections is “Cook Books”. You can probably find more online that suggest recipes which are good for this diet. This would enable you to get an idea of what is on the list of foods. The easiest way to get the list is just order the material from the Feingold website. They use their profits for getting the word out to others. They are a non-profit organization.

    Your Friend

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