The Failsafe Diet Explained

An introduction to the failsafe diet for ADHD, with diet charts

Advice for Super-Responders

Some very sensitive individuals with food intolerance require a diet that is restricted beyond the level required by the failsafe elimination diet. This is particularly true of individuals who have severe/chronic symptoms, autism or autistic-like traits, and of those with chronic pain, fatigue syndromes, and underlying endocrine problems like untreated hypothyroidism.

Before introducing further restrictions, it may be worth trying the following:

Improving Tolerance


Foods to Test

If you continue to have chronic symptoms on the failsafe diet, it is essential you try the following before giving up:

Salicylate Super-Responders

General Tips

This should help to clarify whether you react to very small amounts of salicylates and SLAs, as you may notice digestive upset, or a 'hangover' reaction on the day after eating salicylates. Please do not restrict foods unless absolutely necessary. Failsafers must continue to eat meat, eggs, and dairy (if tolerated) whilst exploring super-sensitivity to salicylates.

White sugar is the safest sweetener, followed by maple syrup, then golden syrup.

A number of gluten-free grains/seeds can be problematic. Gluten-free flours are notorious for causing digestive problems due to the gum additives, so stick to unprocessed grains to begin with. Quinoa can cause reactions in some individuals, and amaranth is thought to be safer than quinoa. Buckwheat has been reported to cause urticaria in some individuals.

Potatoes must be large, mature, brown skinned, white fleshed, and thickly peeled. They must not have green patches or sprouts. Sensitive failsafers do not tolerate new potatoes and potatoes with skins. Trying different varieties can help a lot. For example, this author tolerates Maris Piper very well, but some creamy tasting baking potato varieties give her salicylate/solanine symptoms like heart palpitations.

Brown split lentils are tolerated better than red split lentils. You may find that you tolerate beans better than lentils. White, colourless beans like lima beans and butter beans seem to be more tolerable. Generally, the reactivity of beans and pulses is higher than that of some vegetables.

Buy varieties of pears that do not have a strong aromatic smell. Williams pears have a lemony scent and are more reactive than conference pears, which are relatively safe and subtly flavoured.

Sweet chestnuts have not been tested for salicylate content and do not appear on any failsafe lists, however some varieties seem to be well tolerated and may be useful for those individuals who have to restrict many foods. The wild/châtaigne variety with a number of separate kernels in one nut is safer than the single kernel marron variety.

Rice: remember that basmati and jasmine rice are not failsafe. White rices are safer than brown rices. Short grain rices appear to be safer than long grain rices. The safest rice of all is sushi rice. Super-responders should check the rice table below.

Limiting Salicylates - Stage One (Strong Intolerance)

The following plant foods contain zero salicylates. Although some foods also contain traces of amines and also salicylate-like aromatics, it may be worth restricting allowed foods to those in this list:

Limiting Salicylates - Stage Two (Serious Intolerance)

As many fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds contain other salicylate-like aromatics (SLAs), including colours, flavours and smells, some very sensitive people do not tolerate a zero salicylate diet. This is the next stage of restrictions for those people, based on the accumulated advice of failsafers:

Limiting Salicylates - Stage Three (Severe Intolerance)

White carbohydrates only – no fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.

A number of the white carbohydrates listed above contain gluten, which can be problematic in itself. Not everyone tolerates millet or oats, leaving only potatoes and rice as the safest carbohydrate foods. Please follow the potato and rice guidelines as above. People this sensitive usually only tolerate sushi rice and have to be very selective about potato consumption. Remember: only a tiny number of failsafers have to restrict their diet beyond the normal failsafe diet, and those individuals must ensure that they have accounted for all possible causes of their salicylate sensitivity, such as requesting thyroid and nutritional testing. It is absolutely essential that individuals who are on this diet for more than a couple of weeks take a full spectrum of vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure adequate nutrition.

Fine-Tuning Rice Tolerance

This is a subjective compilation of tolerance levels to different varieties and brands of rice from two severe salicylate super-responders in the UK. Listed from most to least reactive.

Type of Rice L's Reaction E's Reaction
Basmati rice (any brand)   Severe fatigue/exhaustion, brain fog, fibromyalgia symptoms the following day. Worse than a regular salicylate reaction.
Short grain pudding rice (any brand)   Insomnia and nightmares.
Carnaroli risotto rice (any brand)   Insomnia and nightmares.
Arborio risotto rice (any brand)   Insomnia and nightmares.
Paella rice (any brand)   Insomnia and nightmares.
Kokuho Rose Sushi Rice Very aspie/hyper - I found out this one is fortified with folic acid.  
Nishiki Sushi Rice Hypoglycemia, I feel high and clear temporarily.  
Okomesan Sushi Rice Hypoglycemia, I feel high and clear temporarily.  
Sun Rice Sushi Rice Very sleepy, bloated, my head feels fine.  
Yutaka Sushi Rice Head does not feel so clear but otherwise I'm fine. Insomnia for an hour or two on the first night it's eaten, then get used to it.
Clearspring Organic Sushi Rice A bit sleepy but clear headed. No reaction at all.

Amine and Glutamate Super-Responders

General Tips

For a full overview of how to limit amines, please see the guidelines for minimising amines in foods.

Limiting Amines in Dairy Products

Dairy products listed from most reactive to least reactive.

Type of Dairy Product Notes
Strong yellow cheeses The stronger the taste of the cheese, the higher in amines and particularly glutamates it will be.
Mild white cheeses Mild brie and fresh goat's and sheep's cheeses are sometimes tolerable. Feta and mozzarella are not safe for failsafers.
Kefir According to published analyses, kefir cultures are very variable in bacterial makeup. A variety of species found commonly in kefir are known to make free glutamate and amines. Lactococcus lactis (found in cheese and kefir) and a variety of lactobacillus and bifidus species produce amines.
Probiotic yoghurt A variety of species found commonly in "probiotic" yoghurts are known to make free glutamate and amines. Lactobacillus casei, a common probiotic, forms free glutamates. A variety of lactobacillus and bifidus species produce amines.
Fromage frais, fromage blanc, maquée, quark Usually safe, but should not be left in the fridge for too long after opening.
Cottage cheese, cream cheese, crème fraîche Usually safe, but should not be left in the fridge for too long after opening.
Non-probiotic (traditional) yoghurt Traditional yoghurt cultures are made with the species lactobacillus acidophilus, streptococcus thermophilus, and lactobacillus bulgaricus. These three species do not form amines. If the yoghurt is made in a properly controlled environment (not contaminated) it will be safe.
Fresh milk Failsafers sometimes report unusual reactions to UHT milk. Raw milk does not appear to be beneficial. Regular milk is considered safe for those who tolerate dairy products.
Fresh cream Safe for those who tolerate dairy products.
Butter Safe for those who tolerate dairy products.

Gluten and Casein Responders

For a full overview of how to test and limit gluten and casein, please see the gluten and casein responders page.