And other questions answered about food additives, artificial ingredients, and ADHD
In recent years we’ve seen the world become more aware of the dangers of too much sugar.
But the links between food additives and poor health outcomes extend far beyond that.
Processed and packaged foods have become commonplace in the diets of Australian children, and so too have behavioural and neurological disorders.
Which leaves many people questioning – is there a link between the foods we eat, and conditions like ADHD?
Growing research suggests there might be, and confirms what parents have always known – that these preservatives and additives can be harmful to our children.
Does red cordial really change my child’s behaviour?
Most likely! And it’s not just the sugar – although that doesn’t help either. Red cordials often contain a cocktail of artificial ingredients including flavours, colours and preservatives, that are all known to cause behavioural changes. Just one popular Australian cordial brand contains:
- Citric acid: Created by fermenting molasses or corn with a type of mould, known for causing allergic reactions and gastrointestinal ailments;
- Sodium benzoate: Derived from petroleum and linked to hyperactivity, asthma and learning difficulties;
- Sodium metabisulphite: A synthetically derived preservative linked to asthma, behavioural problems, gastrointestinal ailments, headaches and hyperactivity;
- Colour 122: A petroleum-derived colour linked to a range of health issues which has seen it banned in the USA, Canada and Japan, and can only be used only with a warning label in the European Union, but can be used without restriction in Australia; and
- Flavour: Australian food labelling regulations don’t require a detailed description of added flavours, but even the term ‘natural flavours’ can indicate harmful additives like MSG, aspartame and other enhancers – all known neurotoxins linked to headaches, muscle cramps and neurological disorders.
If flavours, colours, preservatives, and artificial ingredients are contributing to ADHD, why are they allowed in our food?
A review of 35 years of research has found a high correlation between artificial food colouring and ADHD symptoms, with up to 89 per cent of children surveyed developing ADHD symptoms after exposure to just 100mg of artificial colours.
Various studies have also found beneficial behavioural effects from eliminating dyes and preservatives from the diets of children with ADHD.
Artificial substances are added to most processed and packaged foods to:
- Increase shelf life
- Improve taste and texture
- Prevent mould and bacteria growth
- Enhance colour and appearance
What other symptoms can food additives cause?
According to the study titled Artificial Food Colors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Symptoms: Conclusions to Dye for, artificial food colours may even cause children to develop ADHD.
Aside from this direct link between food additives and ADHD, many additives can also cause behavioural changes in children.
The study also shows that artificial colours may disturb gut health, impairing absorption of nutrients and affecting the brain as well. They are also linked to:
- Sensory issues
- Behavioural challenges
- Depression or anxiety
- Sleep issues
- Concentration issues
How do I reduce harmful additives, improve nutrition and regulate behaviour?
Now that we know and understand the risks of food additives, the best option is to avoid them. You can do this by:
- Choose wholefoods and prepare more meals from scratch
- Offer nutritious real foods over canned, packaged, and processed food products
- Buy local and organic produce
- If you must use colour in your foods, use natural wholefood-based colours (beetroot for red, spinach or matcha for green)
- Avoid all artificially coloured foods
Of course, it’s difficult to eliminate packaged foods entirely, but it is possible to make better choices. Don’t be fooled by clever marketing, fresh fruit pictures or words like natural and real. To really know what a product contains, you need to read the labels.
If the labels contain numbers, ingredients you don’t understand or can’t pronounce, don’t buy them. They are likely to contain preservatives, colours and other artificial ingredients. Over a period of time, these can have a cumulative and negative effect on health.
Many additives are routinely used in foods. Just some of the numbers that indicate potentially harmful ingredients include:
- 621 – msg or monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancer
- 102 – tartrazine
- 2G107 yellow
- E10 – sunset yellow FCF
- 120 cochineal
- 210, 211, 213 benzoates;
- 249, 250, 251, 252 nitrates;
- 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225, 228 sulphites (all different preservatives)
- 951 – aspartame, an artificial sweetener
If you notice your child’s behaviour has inexplicably changed, check the pantry (or their lunchbox) for foods containing too many artificial colours and other additives.