Prevent violence with diet


Staff at four New South Wales juvenile justice centres walked off the job recently to fight for their safety after two violent attacks on officers in two days, including the 21-hour riot at the Frank Baxter juvenile justice centre where six inmates were taken to hospital.

The Public Service Association general secretary, Stewart Little, told reporters “We have a juvenile justice system that has descended into chaos” and called for an urgent review.

I'm betting no-one will consider diet, yet diet trials since the 1970s have shown that violent, aggressive, destructive and angry behaviours in children and adults can be managed by diet - and our readers agree.

"Our 12 yr old son  ...experienced over 15 school suspensions between year 1 and 2 due to periods of uncontrolled violence. Since we found the Failsafe diet 7 years ago, our lives have turned around ..." - Natasha [1273]

It started in the U.S.

In the 1960s, when highly processed food became widespread, pediatrician and allergist Dr Ben Feingold was the first to report behavioural effects of the new additives in these foods. In 1979, he published an article about dietary management of juvenile delinquency with 3 successful case studies using the Feingold diet. This diet - additive free and low in salicylates - was the forerunner of the diet we have found to be the best in the world: the RPAH Elimination Diet (also called failsafe eating).

"A 15 year old boy [with a history of frequent stealing and getting into trouble with police] ... was to be sentenced to one year in a juvenile detention centre. Prior to sentencing, the court was requested to remand the boy to the custody of his parents who were eager to establish a regimen of dietary control. This request was granted. Within two weeks [on the Feingold Diet] the boy showed a dramatic response in his entire behavioural pattern. He continues to do well, but the slightest infraction induces a return of his behavioural deficits. With the recognition of cause and effect when an infraction occurs, he is kept under strict surveillance for a few days, which permits a return to his normal behavioural pattern".

At that time, most probation officers had success with only 15% of their parolees. However, in Ohio, a probation officer named Barbara Reed had an extraordinary success rate of 85%. She had found they lived on processed foods and instead she recommended a simple diet of whole foods eaten as fresh, unprocessed and pure as possible. After 20 years as a probation officer, she married biochemist Paul Stitt, owner of Natural Ovens bakery, and they worked for 5 years on a diet program at Appleton Alternative School in Wisconsin, a school for troubled teenagers. At the beginning of the program, the students were described as “rude, obnoxious, and ill mannered.” The police officer on the staff described Appleton as a school out of control because of serious problems with discipline and weapons violations.

After 5 years of Barbara's diet changes, the students were calm and well-behaved and the number of students who had dropped out, been expelled, been found using drugs, carrying weapons or committed suicide dropped to zero.

See video (1:40 min) 
More info

Diet trials with U.S. juvenile offenders

In the USA during the 1980s, there were numerous open trials of diet. A review of 813 juvenile correctional facilities found that up to 50% of antisocial acts could be prevented, simply by changing what inmates ate. The dietary changes involved introducing more "nutrient dense" foods and reducing ultra-processed foods and drinks high in sugar and food additives e.g. candy and soft drinks. Later trials involved vitamin-mineral supplementation. Researchers weren't clear whether the results were due to adverse effects of additives, too much sugar, malnutrition or a combination. The diet changes resulted in 

         “significant reductions in serious rule violations involving violence, theft and other infractions"

Police study with U.K. chronic juvenile offenders

In the UK in the 1990s, Superintendent Peter Bennett of the West Yorkshire police used the Few Foods elimination diet with a group of nine "worst of the worst" chronic juvenile offenders. After 3 weeks on diet, 100% of the offenders improved significantly.  Videos shot by a BBC film crew showed "uncontrolled, violent, anti-social" behaviour before diet.  Afterwards, in contrast, participants were "controlled, cooperative and sociable".

See video (4:56 min)

In Australia

In 2002, while giving a talk to staff at the Don Dale Detention Centre in Darwin, I was surprised by their strong reaction to my display of a bottle of cordial containing 2 artificial colours and 2 preservatives. They explained this had been a favourite item provided in large amounts to the inmates until about a week before my visit, when it had been withdrawn as a punishment. Staff had been congratulating themselves ("this punishment is really working") until they realised during my talk that the improvement was more likely due to the withdrawal of artificial colours and preservatives - and as I left were on the phone cancelling their regular order for the cordial.

Like Barbara Reed Stitt and her husband in the USA, my food scientist husband Howard and I then carried out a number of additive-free trials in schools, including:

2004 - Acton Primary School, Burnie, Tasmania - The school principal reported:

"suspensions are well down this year and many of our challenging children have settled to good learning habits in the classroom" - from Acton school adopts additive-free food policy, Gill Vowles, The Advocate, 8/10/2004.

2007 - Nana Glen primary school, NSW . The school principal reported:

"the students became calm and the number of detentions per week dropped from an average of six per week to zero."

See video (3:07 min) 

Best diet

We have found that while removing additives makes a big difference fin a school, there will still be some kids (the "worst of the worst") who are affected by natural foods as well - from wheat and dairy to natural food chemicals such as salicylates and amines in "healthy" foods like fruit, vegetables, cheese and chocolate. As the UK police found - and as our readers describe - these children will do better on a comprehensive elimination diet. In our experience, the RPAH elimination diet is much easier to follow and gets equally good results as the Few Foods diet used by the UK police.

Why doesn't everyone just avoid food additives?

Increasingly, studies show that ultra-processed foods are linked with ill-health including overweight, illness including asthma, early death from all causes, and most recently, depression. Globally, these foods are considered to account for up to 60 per cent of daily energy intake (in Australia they account for about 35 per cent).

Hiding the additives

Since the widespread introduction of highly processed foods in 1970s, the food industry has worked hard to hide the behavioural effects of food additives by funding research that usually had negative results, although it is now recognised that results are likely to favour the funder.  As the "father of ADHD" and creator of the Conners rating scale, Dr C Keith Conners explained in his 1989 book Feeding the Brain (p245): 

"After listening to many parents, I believe the failure of some experiments to validate parental observations about food and behaviour is the fault of the studies, not the parents."

As well, the food industry has realised that consumers don't want to eat food additives that make them sad, bad, mad, fat or sick. So they are now switching to "natural" additives (despite adverse reactions) or hiding additives using a so-called "clean label" strategy. Three of the worst examples:

What you can do

Given the lack of support from most teachers, doctors, psychologists and the government,  it is up to individual parents - and adults - to change diet themselves (for depression or violence, we strongly recommend the supervision of one of the many supportive dietitians who can supervise this approach. Our readers show it is possible and worthwhile:

"I am happier and I can find joy ... I only wish I had known this 30 years ago" - David from story [1434]

Reader reports

Our readers have reported hundreds of cases of children - and adults - whose angry, violent or aggressive behaviour is linked to diet. As usual with food intolerance, everyone is different. In particular, annatto 160b natural colour seems to be a major problem, and its use is increasing.  The mother of a 16 year old known to be sensitive to annatto wrote:

He was .... at a Scout Jamboree, and recorded as Annatto sensitive for his dietary requirements ... .After a couple of days, his friends were so concerned at his tears, agitation and aggression, that a group of them .... took him to First Aid ...  His diet was reviewed by a nutritionist ... who found the unlabelled jelly cups contained Annatto .... I do wonder what is happening in the mental health, prison, and medical institutions.  During a recent visit to the Children's Hospital he was offered custard with Annatto and cheese with Annatto.  How many troubled teens ... are undiagnosed Annatto reactors, who are then institutionalised, and fed a diet containing Annatto?  How much is Annatto sensitivity costing Medicare and our legal system? - Anne, from story [1333]

But annatto isn't the only culprit. See more reader stories below and in our new violence and aggression story collection


Colours, flavours and preservatives make my son go nuts but his worst reaction ever was to some blue pain medication after he had his tonsils out - he grabbed a knife and started stabbing the sofa - Breanna [1535]

Last weekend I assaulted my wife and did horrific damage to her face. I have deep regret, humiliation, shame and remorse for my actions. I had been drinking most of the afternoon, then consumed two strawberry sundae tubs of icecream ... from the ages 18-25 I experienced panic and violent moods, then I started to look at my diet. Cordials with artificial colours especially red had been a part of my diet and I noticed a link. Since then I have avoided food colours where ever possible, however I simply overlooked the strawberry sundae  ... Graeme [304]

I am a 42 year old male that has bad reactions to annatto as well as other colors. I have suffered depression/anxiety ... angry obsessive thoughts ... By not eating or drinking foods with color I am happier and can find joy. I only wish I had known this 30 years ago - David USA [1434]

Annatto (natural yellow colour 160b)

I have 2 daughters that become violent and angry after consuming 160b (annatto natural colour) - Rebecca [1352]

Annatto (160b) is one of the main things that I need to keep out of my son's diet, he cannot control his temper when he eats something containing it and is generally cranky and violent - Kristy [1352]

My daughter reacts to 160B, at 10 months old she would bounce her head off our tiled floor and was all round violent and aggressive. Even now at 3 1/2 if she starts acting out ...160b is always the culprit - Jennifer [1352]

Through the elimination diet and challenges we found out that annatto 160b causes a severe reaction in our 7 year old daughter. Symptoms include migraine, loss of fine motor control, head banging, violence and aggression, screaming and yelling, loss of rational thought and temporary memory loss, beginning 24 hours after ingestion and gradually diminishing over two weeks. Luckily for us (and by chance) I seldom purchased products containing annatto prior to the challenge, I shudder to think where we would have ended up if she had been consuming annatto regularly all her life – anon [611]

... I react to Amines as well as the artificial stuff and especially annatto160b ... I get very sick when I eat stuff with 160b which is advertised as natural, which I guess it is ...  When I eat these types of foods, I get very irritable, cranky, aggressive, violent, black bags under my eyes and sometimes would bang my head against things to try and make the pain go away. I do not mean to do this but I cannot stop myself from doing it - 10 year old Anita (from her speech to an audience of 380 people at her school [599] )

MSG and other glutamates

My ASD son, now 18, is never violent to people, but often throws things, smashes things, slams doors etc ... definitely sensitive to glutamates, both artificially added and naturally occurring. His tolerance has improved ...he can have small amounts without too much effect ... Artificial glutamates are another story - definite behavioural changes with these. I have even noticed changes after eating certain rice crackers that have soy sauce in the ingredients list - Leanne [1508]

Our boy had aggressive behaviours come out when he did the glutamates challenge when he was 2. He scratched me, bit me, growled like a tiger and threw a kids chair at me. Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, salt and vinegar chips were the worst - Tina [1511]


Today I saw an 11 year old boy who had been so depressed and anxious that the paediatrician had prescribed anti-depressants. Everyone was at their wits’ end - there had been quite a rapid onset over 9 months or so of bedwetting,violence at school, terrible anxiety and sadness. We delayed starting the anti-depressants until he had tried salicylate exclusion and 4 weeks later, he sat in my consulting room laughing and smiling ... . All bed wetting had ceased and mood was back to normal.  He said to me “I am not going to eat those salicylates ever again- they make me feel so bad”! His mum said “I have my beautiful boy back” – from a supportive GP [1417]

My son Chris was labelled ‘naughty, disruptive, hyperactive and violent’ by daycare when he was only 10 months old. ...  Since that time he has been variously diagnosed by health professionals ... I found the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s elimination diet for food intolerance ... showed that most people with food intolerance react to the salicylates in fruit. I had been loading Chris up with cherries and nectarines ... Gradually, as we removed foods from the diet ... Chris’ behaviour improved email from Sydney [575]


My 14-year-old son ... experiences arrhythmia and severe heart palpitations every time he consumes any additives 211 (benzoate preservative), 282 (propionate bread preservative also called cultured dextrose, cultured or fermented wheat, rice or others), 220 (sulphite preservative) etc ... .He gets more aggressive and violent once it accumulates... like Jekyll and Hyde. Sadly it is so hard to convince and be believed by doctors and his psychiatrist that these additives affect him. - Therese [711]

I removed the bread preservative 282 from my 7 year old son's diet ... He was extremely defiant, ...loud, argumentative, talked non-stop, very anxious, had frequent bad dreams and was prone to angry outbursts ...   The difference once we started making our own bread was astounding. He immediately became so much calmer and quieter ...  He became much less defiant and argumentative ...much more polite and affectionate -   [355].

My children have severe intolerances to preservatives and colours but not amines. I have been going very well, until the last couple of days when my children started yelling, hitting, slamming doors and just generally being violent with horrible mood swings. I had purchased ham (supposedly free of nitrate preservative) from my usual shop a few days before. The kids had a bit that night, and a bit each day since. By yesterday they were both shocking, particularly my 3 year-old daughter, who had had more... I went back to the shop to check .. .He said no, that the nitrate-free ham is not being stocked anymore. I told him what had happened and he apologized. I told him how severe the reaction has been and how that my children will be like this for a week now... - Michelle [701]


We lasted 3 days until I called off (the amine challenge), OMG, huge meltdowns, aggression and behaviour. My son is 7 and there was already talk of being expelled from school because his behaviour was so extreme. He is a different child on FS. His response to amines was huge. – Zoe

Who knew a banana, some cheese and chocolate could have such an extreme reaction!! Aggressive behaviour, terrible language, not listening to instructions ... Basically a little devil moved into my son and went nuts – Natalie

Amine challenges were horrific for us as well. Lasted 3 days and took a week to get out of his system ..– Ash

- above from Amines: take challenges seriously - facebook thread [1437]

My daughter is 23 ... with a long history of extreme highs, lows and over reactions. This morning she lost the plot more than probably ever before, literally turning her room upside down, screaming, hitting herself repeatedly in the face with both hands, while attacking me verbally and even threatening to kill herself ...  I would bet everything that she has eaten chocolate in the last 48 hours, and possibly a fair bit of it. My sister and I, both in our 40's, gave up chocolate at least 15 years ago, and literally never touch it, because it makes us angry, and my daughter knows this ... Later .... She came home last night full of apologies and tears, and willing to admit that she's had chocolate over the weekend ... Kathy [1438]

Additives, salicylates and amines ... dairy, gluten ...

... your book Fed Up ....has proven a godsend to our lives ...  My daughter would have been expelled last year (1st term Kindergarten) for her aggressive, violent and unruly behaviour ...  GPs, specialists and paediatricians could find nothing wrong. She even attended a behavioural management unit for 20 weeks at the request of her school. ... no-one wanted to believe that her access to food from the school canteen)  ... was when her behaviour went off track. ... We know that she is intolerant to additives, salicylates and amines  ...  she ate a packet of noodles with the chicken flavour sprinkled on top yesterday and then reacted severely to the point of injuring her favourite teacher twice and being suspended for a day. ...another problem ... someone shared a packet of lollies and she came home proudly saying that blue is OK, the reaction is all here (pointing to her head). 5pm that night, blue was not OK ... - Alex [003]  

My son is 6 years old and was sort of handleable until he started school ... He had no concentration, was violent, destructive, uncooperative and withdrawn at times ... I bought your book ... We started the elimination diet .... The change has been amazing ... . 3 months later: My son reacts to just about everything! Salicylates ... amines ... antioxidants .... dairy ... and now I use wheat-and-gluten-free flour .... I believe that food intolerance is responsible for most of my son's problems and that if I had known he would not have wasted four years of his life ....[075]

Violent behaviour improves on diet 

It's been about 6 weeks now that we've had our soon to be 5 yo son eating failsafe ... He was diagnosed with Conduct Disorder over a year ago - hitting/kicking/swearing/yelling/pushing etc. Considerably violent and unpredictable outbursts. We've been to see all kinds of people, Paediatrician, Psychologist, the Children's Developmental Service, more recently a Psychotherapist ... This last weekend has been one of the best we've had in two years, we have our beautiful, kind and gentle son back ... If only we had looked more closely at his diet two years ago - Megan [1125]

..Pre-diet, in Kindergarten - my 5 year old son had been suspended 7 times for violent behaviour. Since the diet, he hasn't even been sent to the Deputy ...  Basically this diet has saved him just in time from starting at a special school for behaviour disorders [217]

My 9 year old nephew's violent behaviour, which only ever occurred at school, included pushing over desks, tearing up paper, pulling phone connections out of walls, pulling plants out of the garden and hurting a teacher when being restrained ... Over the last six months he has been failsafe while being homeschooled and there was an incredible difference within two weeks. In four months he covered nearly 12 months school work and is improving rapidly. He has always been quick to lose his temper at home with his brother and sister but since he started on the diet we have not seen him angry ... .He is now a healthy, happy little boy with a great sense of humour. It is frustrating to say the least that so much of the trauma this little boy and his family went through was to do with food additives [408]

My 7 yo son has gone from ... meanness, virulent on-and-off ODD, and actual violence showing the world and his school the all-around nice, bright kid I knew he was ...[1295]

Your books and DVD have been a Godsend! We've noticed a HUGE difference in our son's temper tantrums and violent tendencies! [1194]

My son's behaviour was so bad ... My husband and I still have marks on our bodies from his bites. He was violent, kicked and hit us ... We got no help from doctors or specialists at the Royal Children's Hospital.  ...  After a week on the RPAH elimination diet, family and friends asked if I had sedated him. His behavior had settled so much - Irene [717]

My seven year-old had got to the point of having no friends, was to be suspended from school, was continually at the principal’s office, hitting and biting both parents etc ... he was seeing the school counsellor, psychologists, psychiatrists, social skills training, but no change was occurring ... This is the 5th week he has been on the diet, and he is becoming the lovely child I always knew he could be. He's affectionate, quietly spoken, well behaved and non-violent - Merill [645]

We have been through the whole thing of oppositional, erratic and violent behaviour ...This all was cured with the invaluable assistance of your books, and a profound response to the elimination diet especially for our  7 year old daughter, Lily. She is extremely sensitive to everything – salicylates, amines, chemicals ...  Our family wouldn't have survived without Fed Up ...[539] 

Diet gives hope

Since we are going on the diet next week, we let our son have some things that we haven't allowed for a long time including bacon, tomatoes, ham and a doughnut. This morning I had a raging child, who was refusing to go into his classroom and throwing punches at me. Since we have cut a lot of nasties out of his diet he has not been violent at all until this morning!  The only good thing to come of this is now we are absolutely convinced it's his diet that's causing the grief - [415]

My son aged 14 is a state ward and has been for 18 months. His behaviour at home was violent, aggressive and surly to such an extent that my safety was threatened. He had damaged property, harmed pets, broken my bones ... He was 12 when he went into care and this behaviour had gone on since the age of 7. He tried to kill himself a number of times, initially playing chicken with cars, starving himself, much self harm behaviour and nearly succeeded last year .... I got your book Fed Up from the library ... I should have figured out the food connection earlier ... We noticed if he had certain foods he would be worse ...  His doctors knew this, the psychologists knew this but NOBODY made the connection  ... Anyway at least I have hope now. Hope that he won't end up in the justice or mental health system....[418]


For best results, we recommend that people with symptoms such as depression, anger and aggression do the RPAH diet under the supervision of an experienced dietitian

I'm sure I speak for all failsafers when I say that it would be very helpful if schools, teachers, doctors and the community actually supported failsafe families rather than denying the fact that diet affects behaviour, as many still do.

More info

Our list of supportive dietitians (in every state and overseas)
Intro to food intolerance
How to start failsafe eating 
Our school trials and support for schools
Reader stories in our updated violence and aggression story collection


Violent behaviour in juvenile detention centres

Ohio probation officer Barbara Reed Stitt's book: Food and Behaviour

Feingold BF, Dietary Management for Juvenile Delinquency, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 1979,23(1);73-84.

Discusses the effect of food additives and foods high in natural salicylates on juvenile behaviour and presents three case studies

Diet intervention in US juvenile detention centres and schools

Schoenthaler, S. J. (1983). Diet and crime: An empirical examination of the value of nutrition in the control and treatment of incarcerated juvenile offenders. International Journal of Biosocial Research, 4(1), 25-39.

... the incidence of antisocial behavior resulting in formal disciplinary actions was lowered 48% using a double-blind design over a 2-yr period with a sample of 276 incarcerated juveniles by reducing the quantity of sugar Ss consumed. The primary dietary revisions involved the replacement of soft drinks and "junk" food with fruit juices and nutritious snacks and the elimination of high sugar content desserts and cereals. The percentage of well-behaved Ss increased 71% and the percentage of chronic offenders decreased 56%. Adding controls for gender, race, age, and type of offender (violent, property, or status) did not diminish the reduction in antisocial behavior. (37 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Stephen Schoenthaler, Diet and delinquency. A multi-state replication, Pers Indiv Diff, 1991, V12(4), 336.

In 1982, a juvenile detention home lowered the frequency of antisocial behavior resulting in formal disciplinary actions 48% during the 12-mo experimental stage of a 2-yr double-blind study by using dietary intervention. Widespread dissemination of this study resulted in numerous states adopting similar or identical programs: Nine additional institutions, involving over 5,000 institutionalized juveniles. All 10 facilities were successful in significantly reducing their institutional behavior problems from a low of 21% to a high of 54% under controlled experimentation. The primary dietary revisions involved reducing foods and liquids high in sucrose and food additives (e.g., candy and soft drinks). These foods were replaced with e.g., fruit juices and vegetables ...
Schoenthaler SJ, Bier ID. The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on juvenile delinquency among American schoolchildren: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial.Altern Complement Med. 2000 Feb;6(1):7-17.

UK Police trial of Few Foods diet

CPW Bennett et al, "The Shipley Project: treating food allergy to prevent criminal behaviour in community settings," Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 8, 1998, pp. 77-83, as seen in the BBC TV's 1993 "Little Monsters" - This research involved nine children, between the ages of 7 and 16, with histories of "persistent anti-social, disruptive and/or criminal behaviors." The nine subjects had collectively committed 67 crimes, and note that "all the subjects regularly displayed irrational aggression and violence."

Nine children with persistent anti-social, disruptive and/or criminal behaviours were assessed and treated for food intolerance and allergy. All were found to have a number of food allergies or intolerances ... The children remained at home in the care of their parents while undergoing a restrictive dietary regime with the avoidance of identified problem foods. The health and behaviour of all nine subjects improved both physically and psychologically. However, three children abandoned the dietary regime, two of whom re-offended ...  After 2 years, five of the nine had not re-offended ... . The feasibility of applying nutritional and biochemical assessment and treatment in the community to divert young offenders and disruptive schoolchildren from criminal behaviour was demonstrated. Criminal justice, education and health agencies could incorporate and develop this approach in furtherance of their statutory objectives.

CPW Bennett and Jonathan Brostoff, "The health of criminals related to behaviour, food, allergy and nutrition: a controlled study of 100 persistent young offenders," Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 7, 1997, pp. 359- 366. offenders were far more likely than controls to report stomachaches, lethargy, eye and nose problems, poor sleep, abnormal thirst, poor concentration, and poor memory, and to be hyperactive,  symptoms that are often linked to food allergies or food intolerance.

In Australia

Our submission to A Continuum of Care to Prevent Youth Offending and Re Offending, Children and Youth Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmania 2013
Ultraprocessed foods

Moufidath Adjibade et al, Prospective association between ultra-processed food consumption and incident depressive symptoms in the French NutriNet-Santé cohort, BMC Med. 2019; 17: 78.

"Once upon a time they were a treat, but consumed habitually in excess, ultra-processed foods have become toxic  ... " Sarah Berry, Just four servings of ultra processed food a day is still too much, Sydney Morning Herald, 30.5.2019

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