The Feingold Diet: Food List, Effectiveness, and Safety

Medically Reviewed on 9/14/2022

What is the Feingold diet?

The Feingold Diet
According to the Feingold diet, restricting certain food additives may improve the behavior of children with ADHD.

Nowadays, additives are used in foods frequently. This, according to some, may not be suitable for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Therefore, to curb the symptoms of ADHD, a pediatrician named Dr. Benjamin Feingold developed a diet that, according to him, would reduce the symptoms.

The Feingold diet was initially used in children with asthma, and once improvements were observed, the diet was introduced to children with ADHD.

The Feingold diet is a diet in which certain foods are avoided by replacing them with safer choices of food additives.

  • Various foods can be included in the Feingold diet such as snacks and desserts.
  • The diet can also be used as a diagnostic tool to determine the foods causing allergies.

The following are the improved symptoms in children whose parents have included the Feingold diet:

  • More patience
  • Decreased irritability
  • Improvement in following the instructions
  • Better attention and enhanced focus
  • Improved sleep habits
  • Decreased hyperactivity
  • Improved self-control
  • Identification of danger
  • Improved muscle coordination
  • Increased hand-eye coordination
  • Improved gross motor and fine motor skills
  • Reduced compulsive repetitive behavior

How does the Feingold diet work?

Some research claims that restricting food additives will improve the behavior of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) although current studies do not report concrete evidence. Therefore, a pediatrician's advice should be taken before starting this diet.

The diet removes food additives such as:

  • Colors
  • Sweeteners
  • Preservatives such as
    • butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
    • butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
    • tert-butrylhydriquinone (TBHQ)
    • salicylates

Feingold believed avoiding these substances would reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms. Fruits and vegetables are considered to trigger some gastrointestinal discomfort. This may lead to food intolerance, which will lead to an increase in irritability and other behavior problems in children with ADHD.

To confirm the child's sensitivity toward artificial colors, sweeteners, and preservatives, they should be removed entirely from the child's diet. If the child shows an improvement in the behavior, it is ascertained that the child could benefit from such a diet. Afterward, the parent should slowly reintroduce salicylates, as these are found in natural foods such as fruits and vegetables. You would not want your child to be deprived of these unless they have salicylate intolerance.


The abbreviated term ADHD denotes the condition commonly known as: See Answer

Foods that are recommended and food considerations

The Feingold diet allows the following foods:

  • Whole foods such as broccoli, sprouts, and sweet corn
  • Fruits such as kiwi, bananas, and pears
  • Cabbage
  • Fresh fish
  • Eggs

Feingold did not see any advantage in excluding sugar from the diet. If required, sugar can be replaced by stevia, a plant-derived sweetening agent, or sorbitol and xylitol as artificial sweeteners.

Food considerations

  • In some children, you may want to follow a diet without all the artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and salicylates for the child's benefit.
  • Food labels should be monitored to know the preservatives they contain and abstain if they have the above substances.
  • Parents must cook carefully, taking notice of all the ingredients in the meal.
  • Some of the other ingredients that need to be avoided are:
    • flavoring substances such as vanilla, peppermint, strawberry, and raspberry
    • almonds
    • cereals
    • spices such as cinnamon, ginger, thyme, and rosemary
    • beverages such as tea, coffee, diet soda, and fruit juices
    • jams
    • jellies
    • chewing gums
  • Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may sometimes be intolerant to a milk protein called casein and wheat (gluten-containing foods). However, before you start foods specific to this condition, talk to your pediatrician. 
  • Perfumes and deodorants are also to be avoided.

What are the disadvantages of the Feingold diet?

  • Although diet restrictions were followed in the early 1980s and the results were published, currently, many critics have started to question the feasibility of following such a program.
  • Many believe that restricting the child to foods of nutritional value, such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables, would not be entirely beneficial for them. Elimination of such foods at a time when the child is growing could affect their health more.
  • Although initial research had shown promising results, the current study has not been so in favor of following such a regimen.
  • However, more studies need to be conducted to provide conclusive results on the association between artificial sweeteners and preservatives and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • It is not easy for parents to prepare and cook food according to the Feingold diet. Parents must first shop according to the list and adhere to it strictly. Then it is a task to cook food, ensuring that the added ingredients are from the approved list of food substances.
  • Tensions arise when the child has to attend parties or go out to eat restaurant food. Here it may be impossible to impose any restrictions on food intake.

Parents must first consult a doctor before considering such a diet for their children with ADHD. A health professional such as a dietician will have a better outlook on the restrictions. 

Self-proclaimed conditions are sometimes unfavorable because every food preservative is not harmful. Some food preservatives are allowed by the FDA, and these have not been linked to the shape of ADHD. Unfortunately, many parents may not know this and may lack the child's proper nutrition.


Although initial research was fruitful toward following the Feingold diet, current research shows otherwise.

  • Parents are discouraged from pursuing the diet plan, as there is no concrete evidence showing the association between these foods and behavioral problems.
  • If the parent has seen any benefits from such a diet, it can be followed and provided under the care of a health professional. This becomes essential when the child is under medications for health problems. Hence, a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism may undergo treatment with drugs, and the parents should have patience and belief regarding the same.
  • Experiencing such a strenuous diet regimen cannot replace medical treatment. Instead, both can be administered simultaneously, provided it has been helpful and under the guidance of a medical professional.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/14/2022
Image Source: iStock image What is The Feingold diet? improved symptoms of The Feingold diet.