The Feingold Protocol as a Gateway Diet
What?! You allow white sugar? You allow refined flour? You call this a healthy diet?” Well, no, a healthy diet was never the aim. We prefer to call it a “healthier” diet because it’s healthier than the way most Americans eat.
The year was 1976 and parent volunteers from around the country met in Washington, DC. We created a national support group to help other parents of children whose behavior was out of control. They were good parents, doing “all the right things,” but their best efforts were not working, and the professionals they consulted were not helping. Like us, they had tried nearly everything they could think of, although most had not tried drugs since these were not as widely used back in the 1970s. But we volunteers were the lucky ones. Thanks to the work of a remarkable doctor, we learned that the majority of children like ours would improve (often dramatically) if we removed a group of synthetic chemical food additives. The doctor was Ben Feingold, MD, chief of allergy at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco. He had already been working with what he dubbed the “K-P Diet” for over ten years, had conducted clinical studies and written the book, Why Your Child is Hyperactive.
Dr. Feingold encouraged us to reach out to other families and use the practical experience we had gained to help them test out the program. We knew how to do this since we had received a crash course in what would later be called the Feingold Diet. None of this knowledge was available in other books or at universities; I often tell people that the supermarket was our classroom and our kitchens were the labs (and the guinea pigs were our kids!)
ADDITIVES AND DYES
The diet focused primarily on eating food that is free of synthetic dyes and artificial flavorings. As an allergist, Dr. Feingold knew that a person can be sensitive to or allergic to virtually anything. But unlike foods such as wheat or peanuts, these additives offer no benefit to the consumer, and simply enable food manufacturers to increase profits by making food with fake ingredients in place of the real thing. In addition, dyes are generally easy to identify in food. Removing them was a good first step as parents looked for the cause(s) of their child’s abnormal behavior.
Dr. Feingold’s primary intent was to show that food (and especially the chemicals added to food) can have a profound effect on behavior.
Dr. Feingold also recognized that the use of food additives had increased dramatically beginning in the late 1940s and had continued to accelerate. A child growing up prior to World War II ingested food dyes and artificial flavorings in the occasional lollipop or Halloween candy; but now these chemicals were added to countless foods. It wasn’t only breakfast cereal, fake orange juice, toothpaste, vitamins and snack foods that contained dyes, but unlikely foods such as applesauce were given strange colors. As with drugs, the dose determines the outcome, and children were being overdosed on these potent chemicals. He saw that the rapid increase in the use of additives coincided with the rapid increase in the number of children who were having serious behavior and learning problems.
The program needs to be simple enough that even the most exhausted mother can try it. A switch from one version of an Eggo frozen waffle to another version is a simple step to take, even for a stressed-out mom. We parents who used Dr. Feingold’s program learned how to provide alternatives to the things that had previously filled our shopping carts. This was key to our success; we knew that taking away the foods our children enjoyed would fail, but substituting similar products free of the additives would not “leave a bad taste in their mouth.”
In the 1970s most of us were stay-at-home moms, so a little more food preparation was very doable. The dramatic, often rapid change in our children made it more than worthwhile and we were no longer worn down by the daily struggles we once faced. Even if a child accidentally ingested one of the no-no’s and had a reaction, we no longer worried that it was because we were bad parents. We generally could figure out what caused the problem so we could avoid it in the future, and we knew that it wouldn’t be long before the reaction would be over and our real child would be back.
The new regimen brought other benefits. Our formerly picky eaters soon were enjoying the real food we provided, and because they were typically bright, they quickly understood how additives were affecting them. Even three-year-olds, who were not able to pronounce the words, were telling people that they don’t eat “ficials”—artificial additives.
Our kids enjoyed being in control of their own bodies, getting good grades, winning at sports, having friends, and just feeling good. They were happy to eat Mom’s homemade cookies instead of the ones from a package; in fact, their friends also preferred the natural versions.
For many parents, the long-term goal of better health is not enough to convince them to improve their diet, but the prospect of three days with a hyperactive child is a terrific motivation!
Despite the joy of finding solutions to our child’s behavior problems, we still wanted to be able to use processed foods. It soon became apparent that we needed to have a way to systematically research brand name products, and so our Product Information Committee was formed. Like all of the other aspects of our volunteer work, we taught ourselves how to do this. As food companies became better at hiding ingredients in their foods and in the components of the foods, we have become more skilled at discovering their secrets.
We pooled our knowledge about which processed foods our children tolerated and we developed a detailed questionnaire for the manufacturers. This enabled us to create lists of “safe” brand name foods and made it easier for the new family to use the program. The food list grew to become a book, and we began to investigate restaurant food, especially the major chains that provided detailed lists of their ingredients.
THE WHOLE FAMILY
The Feingold emphasis is not on eating better so you won’t get cancer in the future, it’s about preventing your child’s meltdown right now.
As the diet became more “user friendly,” it attracted a larger number of interested parents. Even the more stressed-out mothers saw that they could change from the mac and cheese mix with the dyes to the ones without them. They were able to find most of the foods they needed in their local supermarket and it usually involved a simple change in brands. These small steps generally brought about big improvements in their child, and for the first time it became clear that food really matters!
Happily, most of the children on the diet show clear—sometimes dramatic—improvements quickly. It’s not unusual for a child to respond in a matter of days. This gives the family a terrific motivation to pay close attention to what they are eating. Many go from drive-through dinners to home-cooked food, and they soon see that it isn’t just the child who was being harmed by petroleum-based additives. Any time there is a sensitive child, we know that at least one parent shares many of the symptoms. It is also typical that siblings show positive changes on the program, even if parents previously thought they “didn’t have any problems.”
Some families start with the Feingold “baby steps” and move on to progressively healthier food, eventually becoming Weston A. Price Foundation members.
Once the child calms down and the family becomes comfortable with the new way of eating, they are ready for the next step.
The key to improving our food supply is numbers. Back in the 1970s the typical “health food store” was small, dark and smelled of carob. Most shoppers never ventured in. But the huge success of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s is due to their ability to provide better versions of the foods people enjoy eating. We were doing this in our kitchens long before John Mackey opened his first Whole Foods Market in 1980. Finally, enough people are now ditching the junk so that—for the first time ever—the Food Giants are being hurt where it counts (in dollars).
The Feingold Association has always focused on teaching people about dyes, not because they are the only harmful additive, or even the worst. But the thought of eating a petro-chemical that offers no benefit to the consumer, and lots of danger, is a compelling reason to take a closer look at what is going into one’s shopping cart. Even if a parent does nothing more than ditch the synthetic dyes, they will automatically get rid of a host of toxic chemicals that usually accompany the dyes.
When a child’s behavior improves dramatically, it can have a big impact on everyone who knew him “before.”
Another benefit from this quick course in food additives is that it creates a healthy skepticism. Feingold members begin to question authorities—their doctor, the Food and Drug Administration, their child’s school, among others. Tony the Tiger and Ronald McDonald don’t look so cute anymore. It becomes clear that the drug companies aren’t really concerned about keeping us healthy. Vaccines might not be safe or necessary. Our government agencies aren’t always working in our best interests.
The newly-informed family is much more open to understanding why GMOs are a problem, why butter is better than spreads, why factory-farmed meat is a bad idea and why it’s worth it to pay more for organic milk—or even seek out real milk. They are ready to appreciate Dr. Price’s ideas and understand the fine work of the Weston A. Price organization.
THE FEINGOLD DIET
The Feingold Program is a form of elimination diet, a test to determine if certain foods/food additives are triggering a variety of symptoms. The main focus is on eliminating synthetic dyes, artificial flavors, three preservatives and synthetic sweeteners. Most of these are petrochemicals and are both toxic and unnecessary. At the beginning of the program a group of foods, primarily common fruits, are removed and can later be reintroduced and tested one at a time. Since these foods contain a chemical that is similar to aspirin, they can be problematic for some people even though they are healthy for most.
Dr. Feingold, who was chief of allergy at the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, found that the above additives and foods can affect people in many ways, depending upon their individual sensitivities. Any system of the body can be impacted, which is why they can trigger so many different symptoms involving learning, behavior and
Although the Feingold Diet was designed to help individuals track down offending foods and chemicals, it is also a simple baby-step into healthier eating. The Feingold Association researches brand name foods and provides lists of thousands of acceptable products.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2017.