May Eats: Feingold Diet for ADHD

3 May

While working as Chief of Allergy at Kaiser Permanente in the 1970s, Dr. Ben Feingold created a hypothesis about the connection between certain compounds in the diet and behavioral patterns.  After observing changes in his patients, he speculated that hyperactivity could be triggered by synthetic colors, flavors, & preservatives, and certain artificial sweeteners.

“Stage One”, as it’s referred to on the Feingold program, also excludes aspirin and some foods with high amounts of naturally occurring salicylates, a group of chemicals related to aspirin.  Plants make salicylates to serve as natural pesticides.  It has been proposed that some people with ADHD may not process salicylates normally.  “Stage Two” of the program systematically reintroduces high salicylic foods to gauge a response.

Like the Candida diet, the efficacy of the Feingold diet is a controversial topic.  There is some evidence of behavioral reactions to artificial colors and preservatives, and many parents have reported notable benefits in their children while following such an approach.  However, only a handful of studies appear to show strong support for the Feingold diet in its effectiveness for the treatment of ADHD.  Without sufficient scientific evidence, many conventional practitioners are not convinced.  My general attitude is that if one can follow a diet that is safe and may prove to be helpful, why not give it a shot before assuming medications are the only reliable route?

To the Average American, the Feingold diet is probably a daunting endeavor.  Luckily for moi, I’ve eliminated most processed foods from my diet already.  I’ve also become somewhat of a master at interpreting ingredient lists.  In this regard, I’m at a bit of an advantage when it comes to making the following dietary adjustments.  I utilized a few different sources to compile this salicylate-restricted list.  I have ordered the book written by Feingold himself that should provide clear cut rules.  Until I’ve had a chance to glance through it, view this list of restrictions as a work in progress…Ugh I’m tired of trying to figure out what I can and can not eat!!!

Off the Menu: (All bold items are those that I currently eat on a regular basis and will be the hardest for me not to eat!)

*Dairy: milk (due to addition of vitamin A palmitate which may be preserved with BHA)

*Grains: cornmeal, cereals fortified with vitamin A palmitate

*Vegetables: cucumbers, bell peppers, chili peppers, alfalfa sprouts, chicory, endive, gherkins, radishes, zucchini, olives, potato skins (peeled potatoes are okay), water chestnuts

*Fruits: cherries, dates, avocado, guava, watermelon, cantaloupe, currants, grapes, nectarines, peaches, apricots, kiwi, pineapple, tangerines, apples (except for peeled red/green golden delicious), plums, raisins, grapefruit, oranges, prunes, all berries 😦

*Meat, poultry, eggs & fish: lard (if preserved with BHT)

*Nuts/Seeds: almonds

*Legumes/beans: fava beans, peanuts with skins on

*Spices & herbs: aniseed, cayenne, celery, cinnamon :(, cloves, chili, cumin, curry, fenugreek, five spice, turmeric, garam masala, mace, mustard, oregano, hot paprika, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, & dill powders

*Condiments: apple cider vinegar

*Food additives/misc: Avoiding specific food additives is at the heart of the Feingold approach, so definitely NO artificial colors or flavors of any kind, such as vanillin, preservatives: BHA, BHT, & TBHQ.  “Natural flavors” are not specifically mentioned but since those can be derived from any ungodly chemical, I’m going to assume those are unacceptable.

*Fun Stuff: tea, coffee (decaf is apparently okay, but what’s the point in that? ;-)), honey, apple cider, licorice, peppermint, wintergreen oil, cucumber pickles, aspartame, shortening (if contains BHT), wine & wine vinegar (Blast!  A couple of friends gave us a bottle of sparkling wine I was hoping to dip into for Derek’s birthday!  Le sigh…I’ll just have to be patient I guess :()

What I ate my first day on the Feingold Diet:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with vanilla (here’s where that real vanilla extract comes in handy) soy milk, pecans, & 1 brazil nut

Snack: Banana & handful of walnuts

Lunch: Sprouted grain tortilla with chili beans, tahini, bean sprouts, spinach, raw mushrooms; kale chips (made with macadamia nut oil)

Supper: Banana + sprouted grain tortilla with chili beans, bean sprouts, spinach, raw mushrooms; (Feeling crazy creative as evidenced by almost exact same meal as lunch ;-))


Aitken, K. (2009) Dietary Interventions in Autism Spectrum Disorders.  “The Feingold Diet”. Pgs. 101-107.

Haynes, A. & Antoinette, S. (2005) The Food Intolerance Bible. “Appendix V: Foods Containing Salicylate”.  Pgs. 307-312.

Vickerstaff Joneja, J. (2003) Dealing with Food Allergies. “Salicylate Intolerance”. Pgs. 255-264.


One Response to “May Eats: Feingold Diet for ADHD”

  1. Markey May 4, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Thank you for your article about the Feingold diet. The book you should get is Why Can’t My Child Behave? by Jane Hersey. Dr. Feingold’s book are outdated and this book is the update. It looks like you are trying to combine at least two diets — the Feingold diet and another. I encourage you to join the Feingold Association which continues the work of Dr. Feingold. The membership materials will make your journey so much easier.

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