The Failsafe Diet Explained

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

Babies and Small Children

Babies and small children can be very vulnerable to the effects of additives, salicylates, amines and glutamates. They have tiny bodies and developing organs, so relatively small doses of food chemicals can produce disproportionately dramatic effects. Typical symptoms experienced by babies and small children who are sensitive to food chemicals include colic, crying, fussiness, tantrums, grizzliness and unhappiness, spitting up, refusing to feed or constant hunger, upset digestion, failure to thrive and underweight, insomnia and inability to settle, strange rashes, unexplained eczema that fails to clear, and the first signs of hyperactivity and pervasive developmental disorders.


Breast Feeding

When it comes to food chemical intolerant babies, the motto 'breast is best' stands true. However, caffeine, salicylates, amines, and other food chemicals are very small molecules and are known to pass through the breast milk to baby. For example, if mum drinks a caffeinated drink, baby will get a dose of caffeine too and be hard to put to sleep. The same is true of salicylates. Breast feeding mothers with sensitive babies are advised to follow the failsafe diet themselves for this reason, as this prevents baby from getting a dose of food chemicals each time he or she feeds. Mothers usually report success with this approach. As food intolerance usually runs in families, they may discover that their own chronic symptoms of ill health clear up too.

Colic is extremely common – almost universal – in individuals who later receive a diagnosis of food intolerance. Colic regularly used to be regarded as being caused by the breast feeding mother's diet. More recently, studies have shown no difference in colic rates between breast fed and formula fed babies. This has led to the mistaken conclusion that the diet-colic link is a myth. In actual fact, systematic elimination/challenge diets like the failsafe diet have shown that diet is significant, and that the ingredients in baby formula can be just as problematic for sensitive babies as breast milk.

Baby Formula

Food chemical sensitive babies often have problems tolerating commercial baby formula.

Baby formula usually consists of whey powder and skimmed cow's milk, with vegetable oil added as a fat source. Fat is essential in babies' diets. Without fat, development (particularly of the brain and nervous system), becomes stunted. There is no scientific support for the use of vegetable oil as the fat source over cream or animal fat in commercial baby formula. Animal fats more closely mimic breast milk fats than vegetable oils. Vegetable oil appears to be used because it is a cheap source of fat, effectively turning a waste product from the manufacture of cheese (whey), into a food product with little additional cost. Any baby formula containing vegetable oil is liable to contain salicylates which can produce the whole range of fussy/colicky/sensitive baby reactions.

Baby formula can contain soy products, which are a strong source of pseudo-oestrogens. This may be in the form of soybean oil in cow's milk formula (often just labelled as 'vegetable oil'), or an entirely soy milk based formula. Babies who do not tolerate cow's milk-based formula are often put on soy milk formula instead. There is some evidence that when pseudo-oestrogens are given to babies they can affect sexual development in later life, so it may be wise to avoid formula containing soy/soya for non-failsafe related reasons. Goat's milk formula can be a much safer and more nutritious option for babies with cow's milk intolerance.

Partial hydrolysation of cow's milk proteins has been put forward by some manufacturers as a way of preventing cow's milk allergy. The claim is that one in ten bottle fed babies will develop a cow's milk allergy and that the hydrolysation (breaking down) of cow's milk protein into individual amino acids can help to prevent allergies from occurring. This is technically correct but it is only a small part of the story. Experts in food intolerance know that some free amino acids such as glutamate and aspartate can produce symptoms virtually identical to allergy, as well as a wide range of other symptoms. Unfortunately these symptoms are usually written off as allergy by non-specialists without proper diagnosis. Babies sensitive to glutamate and aspartate will likely become more tearful or irritable, or excessively sleepy or wakeful. Large doses of glutamate can produce strange heavy sensations in the limbs and an uncomfortable feeling of pressure across the face. They can also produce heart arrhythmia and palpitations, and seizures in some individuals.

Casein-based formula, sold as 'hungry baby' formula contain the same number of calories as whey based formula, however the casein is simply harder to digest and this is thought to be the reason that babies feel fuller for longer. There are questions about the use of casein-based formula, as theoretically there is more risk of dehydration and kidney problems. Hungry baby formula is given to babies who remain hungry after feeding but are unable to cope with additional volume of liquid without being sick. One simple way to decrease hunger in babies without increasing the volume of liquid by much is to add fat calories (for example cream) to baby formula or breast milk. Women's breast milk can vary in fat content by a significant percentage and is highly dependent on the mother's diet.

For those failsafers who are sensitive to opioid-like peptides, formula containing A1 cow's milk casein can produce a range of effects. Some adults experience a sense of fullness or nausea, others extreme hunger. Opioid-like peptides can produce strong cravings in sensitive individuals, and a range of symptoms very similar to a mild morphine addiction. Opioid-like peptides act as a pacifier and demotivator, and by affecting endorphin production are a common cause of withdrawal headaches, pain syndromes and irritability. Opioid-like peptides are also a notorious cause of constipation (frequently) and diarrhoea (rarely). Advice about baby formula often warns of casein-based formula causing constipation in babies, unwittingly blaming this on the casein 'being harder to digest'. The real reason may be the opioid-like peptide content adversely affecting bowel motility by triggering opioid receptors in the intestines.

Supplementary Feeding

It is not necessary to feed babies commercial baby formula for optimal health. Breast milk contains the correct ratio of vitamins and minerals, and numerous immune system factors and hormones not present in commercial formula. If breast milk alone will not do, there are a variety of alternate choices for sensitive babies. There is no reason why real whole milk should not be fed as a supplement to breast feeding.

Goat's milk and sheep's milk are usually well tolerated by babies sensitive to cow's milk and may be the preferred option (see the gluten and casein page for more information on this). Though goat's milk and sheep's milk are lower in B12 and folic acid than breast milk, adding a little meat to baby's diet will more than compensate for this. For a milk-based substitute that more closely mimics breast milk, add a small amount of extra lactose and fat to whole milk. Multivitamin powders can be obtained online and added to milk for those particularly worried about nutrition.


Unfortunately current weaning advice is very harmful for food chemical sensitive babies. The current fashion promoting the consumption of fruit and vegetables means that babies are often pushed straight into a diet very high in natural chemicals like amines and salicylates. This can make weaning a very unhappy and frustrating process for both parent and child, as mysterious bouts of rashes, eczema, crying and upset stomach come and go with no apparent pattern.

Pre-prepared commercial baby foods from jars (even organic ones) are wholly inappropriate for food chemical sensitive babies. They are typically very high in salicylates and amines, being largely fruit-based. Fruit is typically not peeled before being pulped, and salicylates are largely found in the skins of fruit. In addition, most tropical fruits naturally contain amines. Meat in baby food products cannot be trusted to be low in amines unless you are familiar with the supply chain for the product. Popular commercial formulations include 'carrots and sweetcorn' (salicylates), 'apple and banana' (salicylates and amines), 'cauliflower cheese' (salicylates and amines), 'cheesy potato bake' (amines), 'strawberry and apple compote' (salicylates), 'mango, peach and banana melba' (salicylates and amines). An informal survey of the supermarket shelves by this author demonstrated that not one single jarred baby food product would have been suitable for a failsafer with moderate tolerance. One can only imagine the disproportionate reaction in a sensitive baby.

Diarrhoea is a common symptom of both fructose and food chemical intolerance in babies being weaned. Diarrhoea is not normal – just extremely common due to the current fashions in diet. Typically tropical fruits are the worst offenders with bananas being high on the list. Bananas are notorious for causing diarrhoea in babies, despite their common usage as a baby food. Unrelated to food chemical intolerance is fructose and FODMAPs intolerance. Believe it or not, babies and small children have a very poor ability to digest fructose and FODMAPs and the result is usually diarrhoea and upset stomach, so do not assume the worst if your infant does not tolerate fruit. A comprehensive elimination/challenge diet like the failsafe diet will soon make it clear whether your infant's problem is food chemicals, or the fructose and FODMAPs in fruit.

Time-tested advice for feeding children comes from older sources, such as Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, from the Victorian era. In Mrs Beeton's day, infants were fed very bland foods like oats, biscuits and semolina, and were not fed fruit or vegetables at all. This advice holds true for food chemical intolerant children today. Food chemical intolerant babies do best when weaned onto the blandest failsafe foods, such as mashed potatoes, pudding rice, and small amounts of fresh meat. It is wise to test tolerance for gluten and casein early, as tolerance will make the diet much easier to follow. Shortbread biscuits, porridge, rice pudding, whole milk, cream and non-probiotic yoghurt are all good weaning foods for food chemical intolerant babies, as long as they tolerate gluten and casein.

Environmental Factors

Babies who suffer from colic, and older children and adults who receive a diagnosis of food intolerance and/or ADHD or a pervasive developmental disorder have both been shown to have personality features in common. They are easily over-stimulated by their environment and very sensitive to the sounds, sights, sensations and smells around them. They usually have personalities that make it hard for them to calm down when excited or distressed. This may be a feature of genes involved in food chemical tolerance whose job it is to break down neurotransmitters. Individuals with food intolerance are not solely affected by food, but also the world around them. Food chemicals and environmental stimulation tend to work in a feedback mechanism. Food chemicals lower tolerance to the environment, and environmental stress can make food chemical symptoms appear worse. Minimising exposure to stressful or exciting environmental settings can be helpful, but is rather like fighting the tide when undertaken without the aide of the diet. Ideally, environment and food should both be tackled together for maximum effect.