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The Dr. Feingold diet is a diet that eliminates many different forms of additives and other compounds from the diet. It is intended to reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Many proponents of the diet suggest that it can be used to improve other common problems as well.
The Dr. Feingold diet was developed by Dr. Ben F. Feingold during the 1970s. Dr. Feingold was born on June 15th, 1899 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1921, and his Medical Degree from the same institution in 1924. Following this, he did an internship from 1924 to 1925 at Passavant Hospital, also in Pittsburgh, and then a fellowship in pathology at the University of Goettingen in Germany. He then spent 1928 and 1929 working with children in Austria before returning to the United States to be an instructor of pediatrics at the Northwestern University School of Medicine.
Dr. Feingold continued to work with children, specifically in the developing area of allergy studies. During World War II he was a commander in the US Navy, and then returned from the war to be chief of pediatrics at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, California. He worked at various other hospitals and established all of the Departments of Allergy for Northern California for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Permanente Medical Group in 1951. He died on March 23, 1982.
During his career Dr. Feingold mainly studied allergies in children. He noticed, however, that during his career the increase of children exhibiting symptoms of hyperactivity seemed to correspond with the increased consumption by children of various food additives. He hypothesized that these food additives were what was causing the symptoms he observed. During the 1970s he set out to study this relationship, and believed he had found a link. In 1975 be published the book “Why Your Child is Hyperactive,’ laying out his beliefs. The Dr. Feingold diet is derived from this book. Since then, the children he called “hyperactive’ have been identified as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Although Dr. Feingold died in 1982, his followers and adherents continue to update his diet and ideas. Although he intended his diet only for the treatment of hyperactivity, the Feingold Association of the United States has identified many other problems that my be alleviated by the diet. They have also continued to update the foods and additives believed to cause behavior and other problems in children.
The Dr. Feingold diet involves eliminating from the diet all forms of additives and chemicals believed by its proponents to be the cause of a variety of diseases and disorders, most generally ADD and ADHD. The diet occurs in two stages, the first stage involves eliminating all of the offending foods, and the second stage involves reintroducing one substance at a time to see which can be tolerated.
There are four main groups of chemicals and additives that are eliminated during the Dr. Feingold diet. The first of these are all forms of synthetic coloring. These are often made from by-products of petroleum and are believed to be one of the causes of hyperactivity. This means that any food products that have artificial colors (which include many popular children’s foods and treats) are strictly forbidden.
The diet also requires that all forms of artificial flavoring be removed from the diet. The Feingold Association believes that many of these additives have not been studied carefully and can cause unwanted behaviors in children. Of special concern is the artificial vanilla flavoring vanillin, which is often made from by-products of paper production.
The Dr. Feingold diet also requires the elimination of aspartame, an artificial sweetener sold mainly under the brand name NutraSweet. This restriction is not as limiting as it may have been in the past because of the introduction of low calorie sweeteners derived from sugar during the mid 2000s.
Artificial preservatives are also eliminated completely when on this diet. These include the preservatives BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), which are derived from petroleum. The purpose of these preservatives is mainly to delay the oxidization of fats in foods. It is this oxidization that makes fats go rancid, so these preservatives give foods a longer shelf-life.
During stage one of the diet many salicylates are removed from the diet, but may be reintroduced later during state two. Salicylates are a group of chemicals, some of which are naturally occurring, which are related to aspirin. This eliminates certain natural foods such as apples, berries, grapes, oranges, peaches, plums, tangerines, and tomatoes, along with many others.
The Dr. Feingold diet can be very time consuming to follow, especially at first, because many of the forbidden substances occur under a variety of names on labels, all of which must be learned. The Feingold Association of the United States produces a set of materials intended to help people beginning the diet, including an 150 page food guide. These can be ordered for a fee from their website, www.feingold.com
The Dr. Feingold diet is generally used for children, although it may be effective for adults as well. It is intended to remove substances that some people believe cause ADD and ADHD. According to the Feingold Association of the United States it can also be effective in reducing or eliminating impulsiveness, compulsive-ness, disruptive behaviors, poor self-control, abusive or unpredictable behavior, and destructive behaviors. They also believe it can change workaholic habits, chewing on clothing or other inappropriate objects, depression, frequent crying, irritability, panic, low self-esteem, mood swings, impatience, distraction, inability to follow directions, poor muscle coordination, speech difficulties, tics, seizures, and difficulty with comprehension. The association also states that it can help physical problems such as ear infections, asthma, bedwetting, and constipation, and sleep problems such as resistance going to bed, difficulty falling asleep, and nightmar! es.
There are many benefits for children who eat a balanced diet including many fresh fruits and vegetables. Because the Dr. Feingold diet excludes many forms of artificial additives, it may limit the amount of processed food available to consume, leading to a more balanced diet with more healthful food. This is not necessarily the case however, as many fresh fruits must be eliminated during stage one because of naturally occurring salicylates. The diet may result in reduced symptoms of ADD and ADHD and is reported by the American Feingold Association to be able to resolve other psychical, emotional, and sleep complaints.
One problem some families may find when on the Dr. Feingold diet is that it is very time intensive. For adults who go on the diet there are significant amounts of time required to learn all the rules of the diet, and to learn to identify the various forbidden additives in all of the forms in which they may appear on labels. For parents putting a child on the diet, the time required is even greater. Not only must the parent learn to identify which foods are allowable for the child, but the time must be taken to educate the child on this complicated issue as well. This is especially true for older children who may make more of their own eating decisions outside of the watchful eyes of their parents. Children have to learn which foods can be eaten and how to read labels. They also need to learn coping skills to be able to explain to other children and any adults who might be offering them food (such as their friend’s parents) which foods are not allowed. It may be a! dvisable also to go over some skills to help children explain to friends and classmates why they are on a special diet in a way which is not upsetting or embarrassing to them. Many people also choose to make chidlren’s teachers, babysitters, and others aware of the new diet which can take time as well.
Although there are no specific studies investigating the social effects of the Dr. Feingold diet on children, there are many pieces of anecdotal evidence illustrating some of it possible negative effects. One concern for some parents may be that being an such a strict diet, that has to be followed all of the time including at school and at friends’ houses, children may feel different than their peers. It can be very hard for children who feel or seem different than those around them, and other children might not understand why they cannot have the same candy, or have to eat special meals brought from home. Another issue brought up by some people who were on the diet as children is that it puts children who do give into temptation (and there are many temptations for children on this diet) into a very difficult position. Because the Feingold Association maintains the diet must be followed exactly at all times to be effective, children who have eaten something forbi! dden must decide whether to admit it or lie to their parents. It can also.
put children and parents into an antagonistic relationship because often if the diet does not cure the disease or disorder, it is assumed that it is because forbidden foods have been consumed. This can lead to a negative spiral of accusations, guilt, and anger. These problems certainly will not occur with every child in every family, but it may be something that parents considering this diet for their child or children would want to consider.
There are some risks associated with starting any diet. Although there are no significant scientifically documented risks for starting this diet there is some chance that it may cause feelings of isolation in the child because he or she feels different than those around him or her. There is also some risk that this diet may put significant stress on the family because it is very time intensive and must be followed strictly. The diet may also cause some tension in parent-child relationships because the child may react negatively to being put on the diet or may be tempted to eat forbidden foods.
Some health professionals however, are not convinced that the diet can help children with ADD or ADHD. One common argument against the effectiveness of the diet is that there may be other causes for the improvement shown in children on the diet. Because the diet is extremely complicated and involves reading labels carefully, and closely monitoring everything that is eaten (as well as exposure to some things such as soaps and perfumes), parents are forced to become extremely involved in their child’s life while their child is on this diet. Some experts have argued that any improved behavior is probably a result of this increased parental participation, and not a direct result of the diet. Another critcism of the studies on the effectiveness of the diet is that often the behavioral changes are reported by parents and are not confirmed by outside, unbiased observers.
Feingold, Ben F. Introduction to Clinical Allergy Springfield, IL: Thomas, 1973.
Feingold, Ben F. The Feingold Cookbook for Hyperactive Children, and Others with Problems Associated with Food Additives and Salicylates New York: Random House, 1979.
Feingold, Ben F. Why Your Child is Hyperactive New York: Random House, 1975.
Hershey, Jane. Why Can’t My Child Behave? Alexandria, VA: Pear Tree Press, 1996.
Shannon, Joyce Brennfleck ed. Diet and Nutrition Sourcebook Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2006.
Willis, Alicia P. ed. Diet Therapy Research Trends New York: Nova Science, 2007.
American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <http://www.eatright.org>
ADHD Diet: Comprehensive Program for Dietary Management 2007. <http://www.feingold.org> (April 12, 2007).
Helen M. Davidson
Dr. Kushner’s diet see Personality type diet