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How to Treat ADD/ADHD with the Feingold Association

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Everyone probably has seen children become out of control after a birthday party, Halloween candy or other event laden with sugary treats. We have also heard studies prove that sugar is not the cause. Parents are not wrong about this : children can become out of control after consuming sugary treats, but it isn’t the sugar that causes it – it’s the additives that frequently accompany those items. Even if your child does not eat a lot of “junk”, food coloring and other additives can be present even in “healthy” foods such as pickles, low fat dairy products and “egg” breads. In many instances symptoms Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other behavioral issues can be reduced or eliminated by simple dietary and household product changes which eliminate synthetic additives (and some foods for a trial period). A more extensive explanation of the process is available on the Feingold Program web site (www.feingold.org). The instructions which follow are a “Cliff Notes” version.


  1. 1
    Join the Feingold Association. The program can be partially implemented by following the rest of the instructions (and not joining), but results may not be satisfactory due the presence of hidden additives and failure to eliminate potential problem foods. Read further down for more details on this.
  2. 2
    Clean out your pantry and fridge using the Feingold Food list or the following guidelines.
  3. 3
    Get rid of all food coloring (dyes) (Blue Lake 5, Red 40, etc). This is not just all the neon colored cereal and candy. Dyes are in many unlikely places such as marshmallows (blue), pickles (yellow, blue), frozen pie shells (yellow), waffles (yellow), toothpaste(red). Take a hard look at EVERYTHING, even things appearing to be white or pale in color. Note: carmine coloring, annatto, titanium dioxide and caramel color can be listed as “artificial” but they are actually okay.
  4. 4
    Get rid of all artificial flavors (including vanillin – imitation vanilla). Again, it’s not just in the obvious places. Read all labels carefully. Desserts and sweet treats are especially prone to artificial flavors, but they can be in items like bacon or breads.
  5. 5
    Get rid of artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, Nutra-sweet, etc). If low-calorie sweeteners are desired, use stevia or agave syrup.
  6. 6
    Get rid of the petroleum based preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ. Other preservatives such as sodium benzoate, sodium nitrate, and so forth may be problematic, but do not need to be avoided initially. This is where joining Feingold is really important for success in managing ADD/ADHD with diet. Labeling laws are not consistent for these preservatives and they can be hidden in other ingredients or sprayed on packing materials. Without contacting the manufacturers (which is what Feingold does for you), you can’t be sure. The most common sources of hidden preservatives: Vitamin A fortification: breads, cereals, dairy products… Oils: shortening/hydrogenated oils, frying oils, pan sprays …. Packaging sprays: shelled nuts, cereal, string cheese… sausages, pepperoni, etc
  7. 7
    Get rid of synthetic fragrances (look for lotions, bubble bath, laundry soap, candles, air fresheners, dryer sheets…)
  8. 8
    Replace all the stuff you just got rid of with natural versions. Use the Feingold food list or read those labels carefully. This is not as bad as you think. Given any product on the grocery store shelf there is almost always at least one natural version. Some specialty items (e.g. marshmallows) might require a trip to the “health food” store (or natural foods isle in your regular store). When in doubt, organic items are generally free from synthetic additives, although they tend to be more expensive and are not a requirement for the program.
  9. 9
    Now about the foods: Some Feingold members find that in addition to having issues with synthetic additives they also have problems with some foods which would otherwise be healthy for the general public. If this seems strange to you, think about peanut allergies: Most people are just fine with peanuts, but some have a real problem. Information on which foods to try avoiding is provided for free on the Feingold web-site and is too extensive to go into in this article. This is another reason to join the Feingold Association: it is very difficult to avoid some or all of the potential problem foods if you use any processed items due to labels listing things like “spices” and “natural flavors”. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell whether avoiding the foods is worth the effort unless you try it. The standard Feingold Association advice is to eliminate the foods initially and then re-introduce them. However, the opposite approach can also be taken, which is to not eliminate the foods unless just eliminating the additives does not achieve the desired effect. This is not suggested due to the fact that it may significantly lengthen the time until results are seen and may lead you to the conclusion that the Feingold program is not working. If there is sufficient family resistance to eliminating the foods, then it is probably better than not trying at all.

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  • This isn't nearly as difficult as it sounds. In recent years many major brands have started offering natural versions of many common foods and household products.
  • Handle birthday parties and other food events by bringing cupcakes or brownies to share. That way your child can have treats and not feel left out.
  • Some people have seen results in days! For really severe cases it could take up to six weeks.
  • Put the whole family on the program. Singling out your problem child will invite rebellion and cheating. Who knows, you might just see an unexpected improvement in yourself or the other kids.
  • For best success: don't try to change the kinds of foods you eat. Make comparable product substitutions. Your children will probably never notice you switching from one sugary cereal to another or from one frozen waffle variety to another.
  • Yes, you can eat out. The Feingold Association publishes a “fast food” guide which tells you what items are additive free and includes many major national brands.
  • Managing the food is a lot easier than dealing with the problem behavior!
  • Don’t eat the school lunches!


  • Never start, stop or change medications without medical advice and supervision. This article is not intended to be a substitute for any treatment plan or medical advice. Consult with your personal physician about any dietary changes.

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Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders

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