Food additives have been linked to a variety of childhood behaviours including impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention.
If you take your children grocery shopping, you know the draw of brightly packaged food. It doesn’t stop there: inside the packaging you’ll often find additives and colouring to enhance flavour and fun.
Found in hundreds of food products from sugary cereals and juices, to toothpastes and even vitamins, the average child consumes an abundance of food additives.
Why Worry–They’re Happy
Kids may love these fun products, but food additives have been linked to a variety of negative childhood behaviours such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. This potential link was first identified in research by Dr. Benjamin Feingold in the 1970s.
Feingold concluded that much of the hyperactivity connected to learning disabilities could be attributed to food additives. He believed that removing synthetic colours and flavours, as well as certain fruits and vegetables containing salicylates, from the diet could treat behavioural disturbances.
Feingold also speculated that foods such as sugar caused behavioural changes. Unfortunately, because Feingold’s findings could not be reproduced, his research was largely dismissed by the medical community.
Modern Researchproves Link
In 2008 the number of food additives has exploded and the diagnoses of behavioural disorders in North America, including ADD and ADHD, have skyrocketed. Last year British researchers conducted their own double-blind investigation to further test food additives’ impact on behaviour.
The study, reported in The Lancet, found that common food additives and preservatives do increase levels of hyperactivity in children and toddlers. The study involved 153 three-year-olds and 144 children aged eight and nine. The toddlers and children, split into one of three groups, received one of the following:
- Mix A, which contained artificial food colouring
- Mix B, which contained the preservative sodium benzoate and artificial food colouring
- Placebo, a chemical-free drink
Children’s behaviour was measured by a “global hyperactivity aggregate” based on findings from parents and teachers. The researchers found that among the three-year-old children, mix A had a significantly adverse effect on hyperactivity compared with the placebo. The effects for mix B were varied compared to the placebo in this group. Among the eight- and nine-year-old children, a significant adverse effect was reported when given mix A or mix B.
Although the precise behavioural trigger could not be clearly identified, the impact on a child’s attention, mood, and focus was abundantly clear. (For more information about how food and food additives affect hyperactivity see page 87.)
How Much is Safe?
The questions about what is a safe level of food additives for children to ingest and at what age are highly debatable. It must be considered that children are at higher risk when it comes to food chemicals due to their smaller body size and faster metabolism.
Safety levels must also take into consideration the synergistic effect with other chemicals or preservatives, as well as the cumulative effect of eating large amounts of a food containing a specific additive.
Food additives and colouring are a concern when it comes to your child’s overall health and brain development. Making wise food choices will help to reduce the amount of food chemicals in your child’s diet. Try taking her to the produce aisle the next time she wants some colourful fun at the grocery store!
Because we don’t know exactly how much is safe, I believe it is best to reduce your child’s exposure to food chemicals as much as possible. A few tips to help reduce your child’s toxic load:
- Go organic.
- Eliminate processed and boxed foods; opt for nature’s basics–fruit, vegetables, whole grain breads, muffins, and cookies.
- Remove pop and sugary juices with articifial colours from the diet.
- Become a devout label reader–chances are, if you cannot pronounce it, it does not belong in your child’s body.