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Feingold Diet and Autism Ranking: No evidence

Current Research

We have been unable to identify any studies into the effects of the Feingold diet (or other additive-free diets or low-salicylate diets for people on the autism spectrum published in English-language, peer-reviewed journals.

The Feingold Association of the United States website lists various research studies but none of these appears to be an efficacy study of the Feingold diet for people on the autism spectrum.

We found a number of research reviews which looked at the Feingold diet for people with other conditions, particularly attention deficit hyperactive disorder. In general, these reviews concluded that the Feingold diet is unlikely to provide any significant benefits.  For example, 

  • Harley and Matthews (1978) reported “Experimental studies on Dr. Feingold's hypothesis are reviewed and the evidence fails to support the dramatic anecdotal reports of behavioral change, either qualitatively or quantitatively. Suggested sources for the discrepancy between the clinical anecdotal reports and experimental findings are presented.”
  • Kavale and Forness (1983) reported “The primary finding indicates that diet modification is not an effective intervention for hyperactivity as evidenced by the negligible treatment effects which are only slightly greater than those expected by chance. When the data were refined into groupings related to outcome and design variables, support was rendered for the primary finding. It is concluded that extant research has not validated the Feingold hypothesis and that diet modification should be questioned as an efficacious treatment for hyperactivity.”
  • Mattes (1983) reported “A review of all published, completed controlled studies, however, indicates that the Feingold diet is probably not effective, except perhaps in a very small percentage of children. The positive results in a few studies have been inconsistent between studies and greatly outnumbered by negative results. Even among children whose parents feel the diet has helped them greatly, the improvement seems more often a placebo effect, e.g., due to the increased attention the child is receiving, than a true effect of artificial colorings or flavorings.”
  • Wender (1986) reported “The claimed therapeutic effects of this diet have been investigated in a number of well-designed studies reviewed here. These studies generally refute a causal association between food additives and behavioral disturbance in children.”
  • Williams and Cram (1978) reported “A series of clinical studies of the Feingold diet have produced mixed results. More recently, there have been four sets of experimental studies which have resulted in rigorous tests of the original diet and a modified diet with salicylates included but artificial additives excluded. None of the studies give unqualified support for the hypothesized diet effects, and there are reports which refute the thesis. There are findings which suggest that some hyperactive children (10 to 25 percent), particularly younger ones, respond favourably to a diet free of artificial additives.” 

We identified a single review which looked at salicylates as a treatment for various conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

  • Perry et al (1996) reported “There is much (renewed) interest about the effects of salicylates on food intolerance, attention-deficit disorders, and cardiovascular disease. Current evidence for the efficacy of salicylate-elimination diets in the treatment of attention-deficit disorders and hyperactivity is weak, and further investigation is required on the relationship between salicylates and cardiovascular disease.”

The Food Standards Authority website, accessed on 28 June 2017, reported that there is some research to suggest that certain artificial food colours and the preservative sodium benzoate could be linked to increased hyperactivity in some children (irrespective of whether they happen to be on the autism spectrum). 

Updated
01 Nov 2017
Last Review
01 Sep 2017
Next Review
01 Sep 2020