“Paleo with a twist” is how people often describe the Failsafe diet. Like Paleo, the Failsafe diet emphasizes eating foods in their whole, natural form. See: The way they were before humans messed with them (potatoes instead of potato chips). But Failsafe—an acronym for Free of Additives, Low in Salicylates, Amines, and Flavor Enhancers—also tells people to eliminate ingredients that are commonly considered allergens. It was originally designed for children with ADHD but has recently grown in popularity among adults.
If you’re following the diet, you avoid any foods with artificial colors, flavor enhancers, preservatives, and synthetic antioxidants, and eliminate or reduce your intake of salicylates, glutamates and amines as much as possible. At first glance, this may seem like a good idea. But while it’s relatively simple to eliminate artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives simply by reading labels, it’s a lot harder to ditch salicylates, glutamates and amines. These natural compounds are found in so manyfoods, including perfectly healthy ones, like fresh tomatoes, whole grains, fish, broccoli, and bananas. The idea is that many people are sensitive or allergic to these compounds and may not even realize it. Taking them out, even temporarily, can possibly improve your health and help you identify if a certain food is making you feel meh.
At its core, Failsafe is an elimination diet. Here’s what our experts had to say about it:
“Increasing your intake of whole foods and reducing your intake of highly processed ones is always a good thing,” says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition. But any benefits from this diet are probably due to the addition of whole foods, not necessarily the subtraction of their forbidden foods, she adds. This makes it tricky to determine if you’re actually allergic to those compounds, or simply feeling better because you also eliminated a lot of junk.
Justin Robinson, M.A., R.D., co-founder of Venn Performance Coaching, doesn’t think fresh fruits and vegetables (like broccoli, citrus, tomatoes, and grapes) should be off limits simply because they’re high in salicylates. “I have a hard time fully supporting a diet that eliminates broccoli, one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth,” he says. And this is a point where Failsafe differs far from Paleo: Paleo eaters generally embrace fruits and veggies.
“Some people do have a sensitivity to naturally-occurring compounds in nutritious foods, but it’s not a good idea to blindly remove health-boosting foods from the diet,” says Weisenberger. Even though there aren’t specific caloric limitations, Robinson adds that such a restrictive diet could cause you to undereat if you’re unsure of what foods you can and can’t have.
If you’re suffering from health problems that you think may be food related, Weisenberger suggests seeing a registered dietician instead, adding that elimination diets are meant to be a short-term thing, not a lifelong way of eating. Should you try the diet and feel better, it’s important to introduce the nutritious, whole foods back into your routine and see how you feel. “I see no reason for the average person to give up such a long list of foods,” says Weisenberger. She’d rather you save your mental energy for the big tasks, like breaking your sugar habit.
Another downside: Diets with long lists of restrictions are draining and difficult to stick with. “Eating healthy for a long period of time is better than eating ‘perfect’ for three months,” says Robinson.