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.
I 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.