The Dr. Feingold diet is a diet that eliminates many food additives and other compounds from the diet. It is intended to reduce the symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 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 Pittsburgh, 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 U.S. 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 that 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, he published the book Why Your Child is Hyperactive. The Dr. Feingold diet is derived from this book. Since then, the children he called “hyperactive” have been identified as having ADD or ADHD.
The Dr. Feingold diet involves eliminating from the diet all forms of food additives and chemicals believed (by the diet's 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 them one at a time to see which ones can be eaten without causing symptoms.
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 some people believe that they cause hyperactivity. This means that any food products that have artificial colors (which include many popular children's foods and treats) are strictly forbidden.
The second group is artificial flavorings. 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 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 number of non-aspartame sweeteners now available.
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. Oxidization makes fats go rancid, so these preservatives give foods a longer shelf-life.
During stage one of the diet many salicylates are removed, but they may be reintroduced during stage two. Salicylates are a group of chemicals, some of which occur naturally, that are related to aspirin. Foods that contain salicylates include 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, http://feingold.org .
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, compulsiveness, 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 states that it may help physical problems such as ear infections, asthma, bedwetting, and constipation, and sleep problems such as resistance going to bed, difficulty falling asleep, and nightmares.
When starting any diet there are some risks, especially when beginning a diet that is very restrictive. The Dr. Feingold diet is inflexible on the point that all foods containing offending additives or compounds be completely eliminated from the diet. It is important for all adults to eat a balanced diet, but this is especially important for children. Not getting the right amounts of vitamins and minerals each day can have negative effects on a child's growth and development. This may be a concern for children on the Dr. Feingold diet because stage one limits many healthy fruits such as apples, oranges, and grapes.
One problem some families may find when on the Dr. Feingold diet is that it is very time intensive. A significant amount of time is required to learn all the rules of the diet and to learn how to identify the various forbidden additives in all of the forms in which they may appear on labels. 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 advisable to go over some skills to help children explain to friends and classmates why they are on a special diet in a way that is not upsetting or embarrassing to them. Parents may wish to inform their children's teachers, babysitters, and any other caregivers about the diet.
One concern for some parents may be that being on such a strict diet may make children 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 eat 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 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 forbidden on the diet must decide whether to admit it or lie to their parents. It can put children and parents into an antagonistic relationship because sometimes, 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 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 if he or she feels different than other children. There is some risk that this diet may put significant stress on the family because it is very time intensive and must be strictly followed. 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.
Many health professionals 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 closely monitoring everything that is eaten (as well as exposure to some things such as soaps and perfumes), parents have to be 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 criticism 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.
See also ADHD diet ; Artificial preservatives ; Food additives ; Hyperactivity .
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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 South Riverside Plz., Ste. 2000, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, http://www.eatright.org .
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, 8181 Professional Pl., Ste. 150, Landover, MD, 20785, (301) 306-7070, Fax: (301) 306-7090, (800) 233-4050, http://www.chadd.org .
Feingold Association of the United States, 11849 Suncatcher Dr., Fishers, IN, 46037, (631) 369-9340, (800) 321-3287, http://feingold.org .
Helen M. Davidson