By Margie Kelly
Just like you limit the amount of sugar in your child’s diet, you should also keep an eye on their consumption of food additives. Chemical additives in food and drinks have been identified as culprits behind children’s temper tantrums and bad behavior.
In a government-funded study, scientists in the United Kingdom found three year-old children were “more likely to lack concentration, lose their temper, interrupt others, and struggle to get to sleep” when they drank juice containing food colorings and preservatives.
The UK Food Commission, a “food watchdog,” responded to the study by announcing that it supports a ban on food additives and artificial colorings in children’s food and drink.
But in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency responsible for food safety, has taken very limited action on food additives, including dyes such as Red 40 and Yellow 5, which are suspected of triggering hyperactivity in children.
Since it’s perfectly legal in the US to add chemicals that may cause behavior problems for children, it’s up to parents to be on the lookout for risky food additives.
Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene developed a list of five additives you should avoid:
1. Artificial Colors – anything that begins with FD&C (e.g. FD&C Blue #1)
2. Chemical Preservatives – Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Benzoate
3. Artificial Sweeteners – Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin
4. Added Sugar – High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Corn Syrup, Dextrose, etc.
5. Added Salt – Look at the sodium content and choose foods with the lowest amounts.
(You can watch Dr. Greene discuss food additives in this video of his interview with ABC’s Good Morning America)
Additionally, you can refer to this Healthy Child checklist to guide you in limiting your child’s intake of food additives:
● Identify what your child eats. Keep a food diary for a week, noting everything that is eaten – including at school. At the end of the week, you should have a good idea of your child’s exposure to food additives. Food additives are largely present in processed and packaged foods, candy, soda and other “junk” food, so if you limit those foods, you’ll cut down considerably.
● Opt for whole and organic foods. Eating a balanced diet of fresh produce and whole grain foods will go a long way towards keeping additives out of your child’s system. Organic packaged foods have little or no added synthetic colors or preservatives.
● Chose products that are labeled “preservative-free.” Be wary of labels that claim “no added preservatives.” These products may nevertheless contain ingredients that were already preserved prior to inclusion in the final product. For example, almost all lard, used in baked goods, is treated with BHA or BHT.
● Read labels! Particularly keep an eye out for the following. Some of these cause allergy-like symptoms or are suspected carcinogens.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT).
Sulfites (Sulfur Dioxide, Sodium Sulfite, Sodium And Potassium Bisulfite, Sodium and Potassium Metabisulfite)
FD&C Blue No. 1
FD&C Blue No. 2
FD&C Green No. 3
FD&C Red No. 3 (Erythrosine)
FD&C Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine)
FD&C Yellow No. 6
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has an extensive analysis of food additives, including those to avoid and others that are safe.
Do you watch your children’s intake of food additives? Which ones are of particular concern to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Parenting community.