The Feingold Diet: Our Family’s Experience with a Dye-Free Diet

The Feingold Diet: Our Family's Experience with a Dye-Free Diet.
Last year for Easter, we filled plastic eggs with only Feingold-approved candies, and they were still a hit.

Truth be told, this last year has been a bit of a beating for our family. My three-year-old son has been through the ringer with a myriad of physical and emotional problems. We have taken him to a host of doctors, including a developmental pediatrician, a GI specialist, an eye doctor, a play therapist, and a holistic M.D.

From birth, our son has faced a few challenges. (Click here to read about how a routine vaccination changed, and possibly saved, his life.) When some of these emotional and behavioral issues first became apparent, our amazing pediatrician at Fort Worth Pediatrics recommended we try a diet free of food coloring and artificial flavoring to help manage our son’s anxiety and hyperactivity.

As soon as we left that doctor’s appointment, I raced home to do my homework. I started researching a dye-free diet, and that’s when I stumbled across the Feingold Diet. Here’s the diet in a nutshell: No artificial flavoring, no food coloring, and no preservatives. In the 1970s, a pediatrician and allergist, Dr. Ben Feingold, developed this elimination diet to target ADD and ADHD.

Because of food labeling loopholes in the U.S., a lot of the these ingredients aren’t always listed on the packaging, so that’s where the diet guidelines really come in handy. For a fee (paid to the Feingold Association), I have access to a huge database that gives me brand names of all the foods that don’t have these unwanted ingredients.

Of course, there are lots of foods that I don’t even need to read the label to know it’s off-limits. Starburst? No way. Cherry Jell-O? Not okay. Fruit Loops? Never. Much to my surprise, though, JIF Peanut Butter and Sprite are not taboo. It’s really quite surprising to find out what foods have dyes and artificial flavoring in them and which ones don’t. For us, it also made sense to put the whole family on the diet instead of just our target child.

We eat a moderately healthy diet; cutting out Fruit Loops and Jell-O was a non-issue because I don’t usually purchase those foods. The Feingold Diet gets harder, though, because it restricts certain fruits and vegetables. I don’t quite understand the science behind this theory — and I am probably butchering it here — but it’s something like this: Foods high in salicylates are difficult for some people to digest and can potentially have negative effects on neuron receptors.

Feingold diet treats ADHDI was very skeptical about the salicylates sensitivity; but my son has proven to be quite sensitive to these foods. Here are a few foods that are now off-limits in our homes: grapes, tomatoes (no pizza!), oranges, apples, and raisins. In fact, I have found that my son is more sensitive to these fruits and veggies than he is to a food dye. Pretty crazy, huh? However, we now find it worth our while to substitute pears for apples.

When I first started reading up on the Feingold Diet, I came across many personal anecdotes of how this diet changed their child’s life and gave them the option of treating ADD or ADHD without medication.

From what I can tell, if we cheat a little — a gummy bear here, an apple slice there — our son does fine; but when we go for a few days without following the Feingold Diet, it throws him for a loop. His tantrums get longer and more frequent; and this diet is one way we help him manage these behaviors.

For us, I wouldn’t say this diet has been life-changing, but I am certain it has helped significantly with our son’s anxiety and hyperactivity.

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Emma is the wife of Ford and mother to four: Lewis (2010), Teddy (2011), Archibald (2013), and Addie Cate (2013). She is both a biological and adoptive mom and wouldn’t have it any other way. Emma and Ford tied the knot in 2009, and quickly went from a family of two to six. Before Texas was home, she spent her college years in Mississippi; and her childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia where her parents serve as Protestant missionaries. Though she is fluent in Russian, she doesn’t find much use for it on playdates in the metroplex. When she is not buying diapers in bulk, Emma enjoys re-reading Austen and Bronte novels, napping, and the occasional visit to the Kimbell Art Museum. She dreams of one day sleeping in, but till then she is enjoying the long, lovely days at home with her crew of toddlers and babies.


  1. So interesting! We’ve reduced these a good bit in our house (both food and products like soaps and shampoos), and this makes me want to cut out more. I’d like to read more about the potential problem fruits as well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You may want to check out FoodBabe if you haven’t already. She just came out with a book and has a facebook page with links to all of her blog articles. She has the same theories about how our food affects us, and when I read your post on food dye, I thought of her immediately.

  3. Wow, cutting out berries?

    Those are supposed to be the best for brain development. How long do you keep children off these things before you can add them back in?

  4. I am at the very beginning of this process. Just having discovered this theory. My daughter’s behavior is atrocious and her therapist wants to diagnose her with ODD. But then what? Ugh, it’s been so hard. Any tips for just getting started because obviously this is a little overwhelming.


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