In the 1970s, Benjamin Feingold M.D., a pediatrician and allergist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, introduced an eating plan that he said could help alleviate symptoms of ADHD. The Feingold Diet forbids artificial food colors, flavorings, sweeteners and preservatives, as well as salicylates, naturally occurring compounds found in some fruits and vegetables.
Studies failed to uphold Feingold's claims when he first made them, and most ADHD experts still dismiss the Feingold diet as ineffective. Yet some recent research suggests that the Feingold diet may be beneficial to the 5 percent or so of children with ADHD who seem to be sensitive to chemicals in food.
One study, published in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, analyzed 15 previously published studies and concluded that artificial food colors can lead to hyperactivity, irritability, and insomnia in some kids with ADHD.
Many parents use the Feingold diet with their kids who have ADHD, saying there are obvious benefits. Marilee Jones of Oakdale, Connecticut, put her son, now 17, on the Feingold diet when he was a toddler. Prior to the diet, he was hyperactive and had dark circles under his eyes from not sleeping. "We put him on the diet, and everything changed. He became a normal 18-month-old," says Jones, who now works for the Feingold Association.
Even now, says Jones, her son notices that if he strays too far from the diet and, say, indulges in a soft drink with artificial food coloring, his personality changes.