Could Food Additives Cause ADHD?

The availability of behavior-modifying drugs is common knowledge. There are drugs that stimulate, drugs that depress, and others that modify the subjects mood. It is not remarkable that among thousands of additives in the food supply there may be compounds with similar effects upon behavioral and emotional patterns. -Dr. Feingold

Dr. Feingold was a pioneer in recognizing and researching the dietary components of behavior disorders. His groundbreaking research that dates back to the 1970’s, found that hyperactivity can be triggered by synthetic additives, more specifically, synthetic colors and flavorings, the preservatives BHA, BHT, and TBHQ, as well as a group of foods that contain a natural salicylate radical. The response that is triggered is an immunological response, not an allergic one.

According to the University of Arizona,

A food additive is any substance added to food that changes its characteristics. There are two types of food additives, direct and indirect. Direct food additives are those added to a food for a specific purpose in that food, such as sugar or salt. Most direct food additives are listed on ingredient food labels. On the other hand, indirect food additives are those that become part of the food in trace amounts due to package storing or other handling.

The FDA allows many additives into the food supply, I couldn’t find an accurate number amount of different chemical additives currently used but back in 1976, Dr. Feingold stated that there were 2,764 intentional food additives in the food supply, and that was when food still was mostly food, I can only imagine the amount now. While the FDA does require testing of food additives now, many of the additives identified as triggers for negative behavioral responses are still in use today.The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations on the additives BHA, BHT, and TBHQ are as follows, the food additive BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) alone or in combination with other antioxidants may be safely used in or on specified foods, dehydrated potato shreds, active dry yeast, beverages and desserts prepared from dry mixes, dry breakfast cereals, dry diced glazed fruit, emulsion stabilizers for shortenings, potato flakes, potato granules, and sweet potato flakes. The food additive BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), may be safely used in or on specified foods as well. The food additive TBHQ, which is the chemical 2-(1,1-dimethylethyl)-1,4-benzenediol (Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number 1948–33–0), also known as tertiary butylhydroquinone, may be safely used in food when it is used as an antioxidant alone or in combination with BHA and/or BHT.

If your child has ADHD and you are concerned that food additives may be influencing the condition, or if you are considering medication to treat the symptoms, try the KP diet first.

The KP Diet

Omit the following completely from the diet:

1. Foods with natural salicylates

  • Almonds
  • Apples (Including juice, cider, and cider vinegar)
  • Apricots
  • Blackberries
  • Cherries
  • Cucumbers & Pickles
  • Currants
  • Gooseberries
  • Grapes & Raisins (Including wine and wine vinegars)
  • Mint flavors
  • Nectarines
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Plums or Prunes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • All varieties of tea
  • Tomatoes
  • Oil of wintergreen

The above foods may be restored if there has been 4-6 weeks of favorable response;  provided no history of aspirin sensitivity exists in the family.

2. All foods containing artificial colors and flavors

3. All aspirin containing compounds

4. All medications with artificial colors and/or flavors

5. Toothpaste (Try my all natural toothpaste recipe)

6. All perfumes or perfumed products

While adhering may prove daunting, and it will require preparing food at home, the benefits may become apparent rather quickly. In his research, Dr. Feingold reported that children with hyperactivity or ADHD, would show a marked improvement in behavioral patterns within 3-21 days depending on age. I am a fierce believer that anytime you can achieve the desired results with diet or lifestyle modification rather than relying on synthetic drugs, the better off your health will be overall.

Image courtesy of Keattikorn /


6 thoughts on “Could Food Additives Cause ADHD?

  1. You’ve shared some really valuable research! I wish I’d known all this when I was teaching! So many parents were struggling with how to best assist their ADHD children. There is a lot to consider here! D

    • Thanks for the kind comment! I am still so surprised that even though this research is from the 1970’s, it is not more widely known, I know so many families that could have happier healthier kids without using medication- if only they had better information.

  2. Pingback: Eat Real! Food Day 2012 | Enlightened Lotus Wellness

  3. The K-P diet was the name with Dr. Feingold used it at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Francisco. It is now goes by the Feingold Program. The Feingold Association of the United States formed in 1976 and continues the work of Dr. Feingold. It is a non-profit foundation dedicated to helping children and adults apply proven dietary techniques for better behavior, learning and health. It publishes Pure Facts, an informative newsletter; the regularly updated brand-name Foodlist & Shopping Guide; and other information on diet for ADHD, autism, PDD, asthma, etc. It’s wonderful website is

  4. Pingback: Kids & Food Education: How much do they really need to know? | Enlightened Lotus Wellness

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