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Last Updated 08/1/11
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Did you know that the brand of ice cream, cookie, and potato chip you select could have a direct effect on the behavior, health, and ability to learn for you or your children?

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.

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.

One source for imitation vanilla flavoring (called "vanillin") is the waste product of paper mills. Some companies built factories next to the pulp mills to turn the undesirable by-product into imitation flavoring, widely used in many cookies, candies and other foods. See more about food dyes and flavorings.

What are BHA, BHT and TBHQ?

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.

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.
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