Is your child hyperactive, can’t sit still or pay attention? Do they have learning or concentration difficulties? Do they take a long time to get to sleep or struggle to sleep through the night? Are they deﬁant or can’t seem to help but misbehave regularly? Does your child get wired at birthday parties or when they seemingly eat a lot of sugar?
For some hyperactive children, it could be the artiﬁcial colours, ﬂavours and preservatives that are hiding in seemingly healthy, every day foods they consume regularly. Hyperactive children are seemingly predisposed to responding adversely to foods containing artificial additives, with some of these children taking up to 3 weeks to return to normal behaviour after a single exposure and extremes of behaviour being documented in some research studies. This problem is so well established in the research literature, that Europe now demands that foods containing certain additives which have been linked to hyperactivity, be labelled with a warning to parents about this effect.
Artificial additives can be found in healthy foods, which makes it difficult for the average parent to realise that their child is consuming them multiple times each day! Some of the more common foods containing additives are:
- Bread and baked goods
- Stone fruits (including grapes) are sprayed with a preservative
- Breakfast cereals
- Deli meats such as ham, bacon and salami
- Premade, packaged sauces or prepackaged spice mixes
- Coloured icings used to ice their birthday cupcakes
- Soft drink, juice and cordial
- Ice creams
- Slices cheeses
- Packaged crisps and snacks marketed at children
- Crackers and biscuits
Many parents of children with learning or behaviour issues suspect that their child is reacting to something in their diet, but are confused about where to start. In actual fact, research shows a large percentage of parents of children with behaviour problems, will try some sort of dietary modiﬁcation with their child to see if it will help. To ensure your child is not at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, please seek the help from a qualified health professional who is experienced in elimination diets for behavioural disorders in children. The best place to start is to become informed about which additives are best avoided (see below for a list).
There have also been studies done, showing that even “normal” (i.e. non hyperactive) children, can have their behaviour affected adversely when they consume these additives. A quick search of Google Scholar will give you many results displaying the evidence that children’s behaviour is affected by artiﬁcial additives.
As a Naturopath and researcher, ADHD, hyperactivity and behavioural disorders holds a special interest for me due to the fact that my own son has issues with additives and behaviour and I have walked this walk as a mother and health professional, so understand the challenges that parents face when deciding to journey down the additive free path. Many of my clients are children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. For an overwhelming majority of my little patients, a strict additive avoidance diet is the single most important step to their improvement. Researchers have shown time and time again, that there is a certain subset of children who “respond” adversely to additives. For this group of children, many of them regress to the “norm” of behaviour, when they withdraw additives from their diet.
Another concern with additives, is that they induce deficiencies of zinc and iron, which are also deficiencies commonly noted in children with behavioural disorders. Deficiencies in zinc and iron can lead to reduced appetite and fussy eating in children, which can compound the problem for many parents, as their child only “likes” foods which contain artificial additives, and they feel they need to feed their child “something”. Animal studies have found that artificial colours cause leaky gut syndrome, which Naturopaths have recognised as a problem in many childhood disorders.
Here is a list of additives to avoid:
COLOURS: 102, 104, 110, 122, 123, 124, 127, 129, 132, 133, 142, 143, 151, 155, natural colour 160b (annatto)
PRESERVATIVES: Sorbates 200-203 Benzoates 210-219 Sulphites 220-228 Nitrates, Nitrites 249-252 Propionates 280-283
SYNTHETIC ANTIOXIDANTS: Gallates 310-312 TBHQ, BHA, BHT 319-321
FLAVOUR ENHANCERS: Glutamates incl MSG 620-625 Ribonucleotides 627, 631, 635 Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP), texturized vegetable protein, yeast extract, natrium glutamate, anything hydrolized, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, textured protein, vestin, ajinomoto, carrageenan (407), maltodextrin, barley malt, protease, seasonings. Some kids need to also avoid “natural flavourings”. Most companies won’t divulge what they use as “natural flavouring”. This is usually a red light. Natural flavourings can sometimes be harmless substances, however if inappropriately labelled, we can’t tell.
ALL ARTIFICIAL FLAVOURS
NOTE: When embarking on this journey, it is imperative that you avoid ALL of the above artificial additives 100% of the time. This is due to children, generally being affected by these additives for up to 3 days after ingestion. If you have an accidental exposure (which you inevitably will in the beginning), you will most likely note a behavioural change in your child. 100% avoidance can make life a little different for you. It means that when going to birthday parties, you will need to be a little more organised, and make a treat bag for them, so they don’t miss out. I recommend feeding your child prior to attending a party, that way they are less interested in food and more interested in play. Many parents will provide a fruit platter at a party, so your child can always eat freely from the fruit platter. Snack ideas include:
- Home made popcorn
- Plain corn chips – check the label for MSG – certified organic brands are safest
- Plain rice crackers – check labels for MSG
- Sultanas – check labels for preservatives
- Home-made baked treat
- Additive free chocolate – health food stores have plenty of great brands!
- Lollies such as The Natural Confectionery Company brand
It is best if your child doesn’t feel like they are missing out on too much. This way it makes the transition easier for them, and for you.
The other barrier to additive avoidance that many parents struggle with, can be unsupportive people around you, particularly if they help with the care of your child. There is no other way to deal with this, but to sit them down and firmly advise them of what you are doing and why you’re doing it. Let them know that they can still treat your child and provide them with the treats that your child is allowed to have, such as any of the ones listed above. Encourage home-made treats, which is also a nice way to spend quality time with children – making food together in the kitchen. There are also plenty of ways to treat a child that don’t involve food, such as painting, colouring and outings just to name a few.
APPS which you might find useful for your journey include: The “Additive Alert” app available through the additive alert website or The “Chemical Maze” app.
BOOKS on this topic: Bill Statham’s The Chemical Maze and Julie Eady’s Additive Alert.
If you can, it is always best to make your own food from scratch, as you then know exactly what goes into it. This can be quite a shift and a challenge for some. It helps to have some good cookbooks to experiment with. Any of the Pete Evans Paleo cookbooks, or any “Paleo” cookbook is generally OK, clean and unprocessed provided you don’t indulge in too many paleo “treats”. Quirky Cooking/Jo Whitton has 2 excellent cookbooks now available. Luke Hines Eat Clean cookbook is a great resource, as is anything by Lola Berry. Most Paleo cookbooks encourage clean eating and making everything from scratch. A Thermomix is also a good investment if you plan to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, as you are able to make your own food from scratch faster and easier.
As mentioned above, many children with behavioural issues also have intestinal permeability/leaky gut. Avoiding gluten and casein (a protein in dairy) while repairing the gut under the care of a qualified Naturopath, can have remarkable results with improving behaviour. In the early days, I do not encourage this as it may be too much of a change for you and your child. Going additive free first and getting that 100% right, is the most important first step, however once you have successfully incorporated additive free eating into your life, you may want to take it one step further by becoming gluten and dairy free while embarking on a gut healing journey.
For more information, an appointment or for a list of scientific references, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org today.
Yours in health,