The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Feingold diet and bread

arzajac's picture

The Feingold diet and bread

(edited due to grave inaccuracies)

I friend of ours asked me about making bread without yeast or wheat.  The rationale is that one of her kids may have ADHD and there are many sources on the internet which suggest that a change in diet may provide an alternative to pharmaceutical treatment.

According to Google, Wikipedia and the remainder of the Sum of human knowledge found on the internet, it *may* be beneficial to eliminate things in the diet that can cause or worsen ADHD.  Some websites cite the Feingold diet and say that (commercial?) yeast can cause some of the same bad reactions that food additives cause.  The Feingold website itself, however, does not mention yeast and wheat specifically.

So does anyone have any experience with this?  Is stone-ground whole wheat less "processed" than white flour and therefore acceptable?   If not, what about spelt sourdough?

Any ideas?


jeb's picture

Diet may make a difference, though I doubt it. A blinded study of kids that were given sugar containing foods/drinks versus a group that were given non-sweetened snacks, were indistinguishable from their teachers.
A recent article on abcnews,
reported that kids on ADHD medications did better in school.

If your friend's child were mine, they would be medicated (I have 2 sons that are treated for ADHD.)

Janknitz's picture

Most don't hold up to real scientific study. But dietary changes generally won't hurt to try, especially when they are aimed at less processed & more whole grain foods.

sourdough still contains yeast but a different strain than commercial breads. Sourdough leavens more slowly and the enzymes change the bread chemistry some. Sourdough, for instance, is less likely to spike your blood sugar, and it contains "beneficial" bacteria.

Whole grains in general are better for you than refined white flour but present some challenges in baking because they have less or no gluten.

You'll find many sourdough, whole grain, and alternate grains here if you look around.

tananaBrian's picture

Can you provide a source for your information on sourdough breads having a lower glycemic index than breads leavened with commercial yeast?  That's a new one on me.

And in the "because they have less gluten" statement, I'm sure you just meant to say that the gluten is less available in whole or cracked grains versus ground flour.  Whole or cracked grain has everything in it that whole-grain flours have.



tananaBrian's picture

Thanks soo much for those links!  It's important to me since a) I love sourdough, and b) I tend to be hypoglycemic and need to manage my diet for 'steady blood sugar' ...which boils down to always eating in balance (approx. 30-40-30 calorie content for fat-carbs-protein) and never eating high-glycemic index foods.  In reality, I do fine if I eat protein and any fat-containing food first, then low glycemic index fruit/veggies, then higher GI foods last ...the higher GI foods are OK if they are no more than about 50% of my carb intake and if I eat in the right order.  That's a lot better than not getting them at all.  Now that I know sourdough has a GI index in the 50-ish range (which works fine for me), it means I can enjoy it more!  Life is goood....


TeaIV's picture

I think there was a post somewhere on here where someone read something about people who think they're allergic to gluten, but are actually allergic to the commercial yeast, and that wild yeast doesn't provoke thier allergies. perhaps you could suggest straight SD to her? kind of likw what janknitz suggested.

dmsnyder's picture

According to Google, Wikipedia and the remainder of the Sum of human knowledge found on the internet, the key is to eliminate things in the diet that can cause or worsen ADHD.

This statement does a disservice to both the internet and to human knowledge. Almost all scientific journals, including medical journals, and scientific societies, including professional medical organizations, have an internet presence. Maybe that's what you refer to as "the remainder."

For the lay person, especially a parent with a typical American understanding of the standards of scientific proof, sorting out "knowledge" from anecdote and, worse yet, knowledge from self-serving assertions by those promoting particular unscientific treatments is a challenge. All have a presence on the internet.

I would recommend your friends consult the web sites of the following organizations:


The last is an organization of lay people (largely parents of children with ADHD and adults with ADHD) and professionals. The former are governmental or professional organizations. They all are good sources of knowledge regarding ADHD.
Last but not least, I recommend they discuss their concerns with their child's pediatrician or with a board certified physician in developmental-behavioral pediatrics or child psychiatry.
Disclosure: I am a member of the AAP and the SDBP. I have been a speaker at CHADD meetings. I have no financial interest in any of these organization or in any company that markets or sells any treatment for ADHD.


arzajac's picture

Thanks for the links, they are excellent.

My statement was not only tongue-in-cheek, but mis-worded.  Of course, I am not implying that the only worthwhile treatment for ADHD is through the adoption of a strict diet.  Although there are some web sites that want you to beleive that - and I strongly agree that they are usually only based on anecdotal evidence.

That phrase should say "It may be beneficial to eliminate..." instead of "the key to eliminate".  (Terribly sorry!)

When our friend called and asked to speak to me (instead of my wife), my first reaction was to suggest she have this discussion with her family doctor.  In light of my poor choice of words in the above posting, I repeat that suggestion to anyone who is facing this issue - get advice from a doctor.

That being said, the raison-d'être for this thread is because there seems to be some suggestion that some patients benefit from the adoption of a strict diet that avoids "processed" food (this is an oversimplified description, of course).  There seems to be enough evidence out there to cause a reasonable, well-educated person to want to find out more.

I guess I should have named this thread "the Feingold diet", since that's what my question is about.  Only her physician will be able to recommend a treatment plan, but if that plan includes dietary changes, that brings up a lot of questions. 

After a few hours of searching the internet, the answere we were finding were conflicting, hence the attempt to find answers here.


jbaudo's picture

I want to start by saying that I am not a doctor and do not claim to have all the answers but still wanted to share my experience with this type of diet/problem.  My middle son is on a diet similar to the Feingold diet and it has been a miracle for him.  We started to get worried about his behavior when he was 1 1/2 - 2.  He didn't speak, hug, kiss, make eye contact, respond to his name, violently banging his head, basically he was our walking crier.  Always miserable, but we couldn't figure out what was going on.  I took him to our pediatrician and she said he was at risk for autism.  So we went to a specialist and she confirmed that he was at risk.  I can't remember why but I started looking at all the labels on the food we were eating and I started looking up any ingredients that I didn't recognize as "regular".  I came across "annatto" and googled it and found out it can be responsible for head banging - and not just in children.  Also some people are very allergic to it.  It is one of the ingredients in gold fish crackers that he was eating everyday.  I removed all annatto laden foods from his diet (its apparently in many things you wouldn't think would need to be colored orange) and the head banging began to gradually lessen within a week or so.  It was as if he began to  "wake up" and began to act like a real person. 

I bought a book (from the web site that gave me the info about the annatto) called Fed Up.  It recommended taking all kinds of additives out of children's diets and listed each one giving info about possible effects and problems with them.

After taking all this garbage out of his diet he finally began to act "normal" and became more social, slowly started talking more, kisses hugs, eye contact, the works.    I had another appointment to see a more special specialist and she treated me like I was the dumbest mom in the world.  She told me to get off the internet, there was nothing wrong with my son, and that there has been no "scientific proof" that diets like these do any good.

I decided to see if she was right (she had me doubting myself) and bought some goldfish and began to let him eat them.  Within less that a two days he was back to his old behavior and miserable all over again.

I am not sure that a scientific study would do much good for a problem like this because apparently this kind of thing is pretty rare and the statistics wouldn't look very good in proving my case that this diet is helpful.  And from what I understand different children may not react the same to an additive or certain food, each child's body chemistry is different.    BUT I wouldn't go back to the diet he used to eat for anything in the world because I have tried giving him certain things (to test them out) and see if he has a reaction.  He has had reactions to preservatives and artificial colors and flavors, even tomatoes,  the exact things the Feingold diet and  Fed Up (called the Failsafe diet) tell us not to give our kids. 

Tell your friend not to dismiss the diet thing so quickly.  Even though it is not endorsed or believed in by many drs, it may be one step in helping her son with his issues.  I am not saying it is the whole solution,  we have done speech therapy and other treatments to help him recover but the diet was the one that had the most dramatic results.


Yerffej's picture

Harmful additives and toxic laden foods are at the root of the vast majority of today's health problems.  Your story makes perfect sense. 


jeb's picture

There is no question that some pesticides/herbicides/fungicides have harmful effects. So also do the pests that they are treating. Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by some fungi. They are among the most carcinogenic substances known. I'd just as soon take my chances with a fungicide that "might" cause a malignancy, as to eat peanuts/grains that have aflatoxin producing fungi. You can pick your poison.

I disagree with additives and toxins being the root of today's health problems. I think, and the convincing evidence suggests that excess is the root of the vast majority of today's health problems. Not additives. We eat too much. We don't exercise enough.

photojess's picture

that I don't have any children with this problem, and can't comment specifically to this situation, but commend you for reducing processed foods in your son.

If most Americans would adopt a whole food concept, we could see probably a lot of improvement in the general health overall.

I became vegetarian in Feb, after reading The China Study, and read about the corrolation of heart discase, diabetes, and cancer and our Western diet that we are so accustom to.

Again, going back to whole foods....hope he continues to do well for you. 

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, jbaudo.

I am not going to disagree with your son's reaction to goldfish crackers. I would point out that products like that have a variety of "junk" in them besides annatto, and you can't know that his reaction was to that specific ingredient. My understanding is that annatto is another name for achiote, which is a spice very commonly used in Latin American cooking. I know of no evidence that autism or head banging is more common in those that regularly consume this spice.

You are correct that small numbers of children may have idiosyncratic reactions to specific chemicals and that, because these numbers are small, research on these reactions is challenging. You may be interested in knowing that The M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine is actively engaged in research on the relationship between a variety of environmental toxins, including those in processed foods and pesticides, and autistic spectrum disorders. The MIND Institute is another excellent source of reliable information on neurodevelopmental disorders, by the way.

Regarding the Feingold diet: There is a ton of research on this, and, partly because of the difficulty of studying low-incidence problems you mentioned, you can find results of all sorts. The study that settled the matter for me was done sometime around 1980 by Keith Conners, an eminent authority on ADHD. As I recall, he studied several hundred children's response to the substances Ben Feingold felt caused ADHD symptoms, using a double blind, cross-over treatment design. His results indicated that approximately 5% of children with ADHD had a very small but statistically significant increase in symptoms when they ingested these substances. Again, the differences were small and, while measurable, were not dramatic.

Now, goldfish crackers are not an essential nutrient. If you believe they increase your child's behavioral symptoms, by all means don't feed him goldfish crackers. Personally, I only advise parents to avoid unproven "treatments" when they are potentially harmful, for example chelation therapy, or when they are substituted for treatments with well-established efficacy, for example behavior therapy based on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) principles.

Having a child with autism is a challenge for a family, to say the least. The good news is that there are effective treatments which are increasingly available. And there are very active research programs being conducted by some of the smartest people I know to better understand the causes and to find the best way of matching individual children with the treatments that work best for them.

My best wishes to you and to your son.


Yerffej's picture

The goldfish cracker ingredients list includes "autolyzed yeast" which contains free glutamic acid much like MSG and I would suspect that this is the real culprit in severe adverse effects on the human body.

Porkys's picture

I am a firm believer in that your blood type, A, B, AB or O, is very important with respect to diet.  You can look it up on Google at Peter D'Adamo.  Each blood type needs a different diet.  That is why the South Beach diet only works well on blood type O.  The blood type A should have a vegan diet.

My cousin was also a real problem when younger.  He would beat his legs with his fist if something was unsatisfactory.  Finally, his Mom, a nurse, treated him for alergies and changed some diet and he straightened up.  When he was 5, I thought he would spend the rest of his life in jail.


jbaudo's picture


Thank you for the information.  I will definately check out those sites.  But I actually do know for a fact that his headbanging was directly related to the annatto.  The autolyed yeast may have been harming him too but the annatto is what causes headbanging in a very small population of people.  This has been confirmed by our current Dr and although not widely known by the medical community (because of its rarity) can easily be looked up by any one of them in a medical book.  Annatto can also cause anaphylaxis in an equally small population of people even though it is commonly used in cooking and food products.  We have removed (per the Drs orders) all yeast, and gluten from his diet to repair his digestive tract and immune system.

He has never been labeled as autistic because he is not.  He is considered chemically sensitive.  I couldn't get any help from conventional medicine.  I am sure that there are some really helpful behavioral therapies out there for children but we were never offered any of them because apparently there WAS nothing wrong with my son according to pediatric neurologist who saw him last.

If anybody reading this has experienced any weird symptoms (behavioral or otherwise) I urge you to look to what you are eating as a possible  cause.  It may not be but if it is then changing your diet is an easy change to make.  Like one poster already stated we don't NEED to eat junk food anyway so cutting it out isn't going to harm us one bit.

Yerffej's picture

"The autolyed yeast may have been harming him too but the annatto is what causes headbanging in a very small population of people. This has been confirmed by our current Dr..."


Thanks for this info, I will look further into the subject.


LeonU4's picture

I think this also depends on individual cases. The best thing is to ask a doctor what he thinks about such diets. You can also just check out what happens after the diet but that's not really a very sophisticated way.

alinehuey's picture

It is so hard to control what kids eat but I think you can go a long ways experimenting and getting a good result with diet

Sugar makes my Fibromyalge very painfull  to manage. I knew two children,25 yrs ago allergic to milk along with other foods that made thier behavior impossible to deal with, night and day difference when they ate the foods.

My family full of brain disorders. I can't imagine living with each other unmedicated!!!! but I think diet helps. I think it is possible our american  is creating a lot of health problems.

It is my experience that conventional doctors know little about alternative medicine and there will be little encouragement

EvaB's picture

Having read tons of things on diet,and living with several people in the family whose disorders did respond to diet, and eventually winding up with disorders myself, I wish to state, that diet can and does play a huge role in many of our lives.

However what works for one doesn't always work for another, for instance, the blood type diet, which I looked into, and half of what was listed for my type A I can't eat, it causes an adverse reaction to my system. And I am always being told to drink soy milk, (I have lactose intolerance to commercial milk but not to whole unpasturised milk or goats milk) soy makes me sick! I cannot eat tofu, soy or anything with soy in large amounts. Have tried this and it doesn't work for me.

My daughter went to school with a child who reacted to cheese, he loved it, but if he ate it he wound up with the worst migraine headache for a week! That from a less than 2 ounce chunk of cheese. So there are all sorts of things out there, that cause all sorts of problems. The key is to find out what works for your diet, your child and then try to stick to it.

By the way do you have any idea how difficult it might be to be on a blood type diet, when you have three differnt blood types in the same house? I know because when we were looking into this, my husband is O I'm A+ and my brother who lived with us and ate with us was an AB- just about nothing in those types are the same for the diet. No way, too expensive to labour intensive and too restrictive!