Children & Food Additives: Information & Dangers

Children & Food Additives

As parents, you likely strive to make sure your children are kept safe. Have you ever thought about how this extends to the food that they eat? Packaged and processed foods have become a convenient choice for today’s busy families. However, while you are striving for convenience are you considering safety and health related side effects? These foods are oftentimes filled with additives and preservatives to control the color, flavor, aroma, nutrition, texture, and shelf life. This results in an impossibly long ingredient list full of words that are hard to pronounce. Though some of these ingredients are said to be safe, many can have negative effects, especially on children.


Get to Know the Culprits

Artificial Colors

Artificial colors are chemical dyes used to color food and drinks. They can be found in a host of processed foods, beverages, and condiments. Artificial food colors have long been suspected of increasing hyperactivity in children. They are mostly used to simulate the presence of healthful colorful fruits and vegetables. It is important to consider the harmful effect they can have on children.

Here is a list of the artificial colors to be on the lookout for:

  • Blue 1
  • Blue 2
  • Green 3
  • Red 3
  • Red 40
  • Yellow 5
  • Yellow 6
  • FD&C Lakes-Could be a combination of colors
  • Orange B-Found in Sausage and hot dog casings
  • Note: The labeling “dyes” can also refer to artificial coloring

Chemical Preservatives

Chemical preservatives are used in processed foods to prolong shelf life and reduce risk of mold or bacteria. Consuming food preservatives could potentially increase your risk for respiratory, immunologic and other metabolic complications.

  • BHA & BHT: BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are two of the most commonly used preservatives. Widely used by the food industry, they prevent oils in foods from oxidizing and becoming rancid. The International Agency for Research on Cancer which is part of the World Health Organization, consider BHA to be possibly carcinogenic to humans. Some studies have shown the same cancer causing possibilities for BHT. You will commonly find BHT in dehydrated potatoes, cereal, frozen dinners, baked goods, chewing gum, beer, and some fruit drinks. BHT and BHA have both been linked to affecting the nervous system and causing behavioral problems in children. They have also been known to impair kidney and liver function.
  • Sulfites: Another common preservative you will see are Sulfites. They can aggravate asthma in both children and adults. In 1986, they were banned for use on fruits and vegetables. Sulfites may be listed on an ingredients label under the following: Sulfur Dioxide, Sodium Sulfite, Sodium And Potassium Bisulfite, Sodium and Potassium Metabisulfite.

Look out on Ingredient Lists for these other Additives/Preservatives:

  • Artificial Sweeteners – Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin
  • Added Sugar – High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Corn Syrup, Dextrose, etc
  • Artificial Sweeteners Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin
  • Propyl Gallate
  • Potassium Bromate
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
  • Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
  • Potassium Bromate
  • Olestra (Olean)
  • Heptylparaben
  • Sodium Nitrite

Understanding How Additives Affect Your Child

Babies, toddlers, and children are active fun little human beings, and that’s awesome! However, food additives can have negative effects, even more so when it comes to developing young children. It is important for parents to be mindful and recognize that just because ingredients have made their way onto shelves, doesn’t mean that they are safe. In actuality, a number of common additives found in foods have been implicated in triggering symptoms ranging from behavioral disorders to asthma.

The relationship between artificial food coloring and behavioral issues in children has been under examination for over 30 years. After decades of skepticism on the topic, The American Academy of Pediatrics now supports the use of preservative-free, food coloring-free diets as an intervention for many children struggling with ADHD. There have been large scale studies that have concluded that there is a link between hyperactivity in children and the consumption of food dyes. There could also be a potential link between artificial colors and learning disorders, asthma, visual problems and nerve damage.

Moving on from food coloring, the preservative sodium benzoate has also been linked to substantial hyperactivity problems in children. You will find that BHA and BHT could lead to a full range of reactions such as asthma, insomnia, depression, fatigue, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems. MSG is another ingredient that you should watch food labels for. It is added to foods to enhance flavor and increase consumption rates. However, brain damage manifesting in headaches, restlessness, irritability, behavioral issues, difficulty sleeping and digestive issues are all potentially linked to this ingredient.


Limiting Intake

Follow these steps to try to recognize and reduce your child’s intake of these additives and preservatives.

Identify what your child eats: Keep a log, or a food diary of what your child is eating for 5-7 days. Try to record, as best you can, what they are eating out of the home, including school or daycare. In order to be fully aware of what your child is eating, it is helpful to have it all written down or recorded. This allows you to see their weekly intake as a whole, rather than trying to assess each day. Oftentimes, it is easy to feed your kids a quick snack without thinking about what is actually in it. Before you know it they are consuming multiple “quick snacks” and taking in way too many additives as well as preservatives. Since both of these are generally found in processed and packaged foods, it is helpful to get a good idea of what is being consumed. This should make it easier to reduce or climate intake of additives or preservatives.

Incorporate more whole foods into their diet: Encourage your child to eat a diet full of fruits, vegetables, complete proteins and unprocessed whole grains. Whole foods will always, undoubtedly, be a much healthier option than processed foods. It doesn’t need to be complicated, try swapping out their processed snacks. If you are opting for a processed snack, head extra caution and look for options that are preferably organic and contain little or no added synthetic colors or preservatives.

READ LABELS! This is the most important step you can take to avoid unnecessary additives and preservatives. Refer to the above reference sheet, consider saving it into your phone so that you have something to refer to while you are grocery shopping.

TIP: To help with the process of tracking your children’s food intake, consider a food journal app such as Myfitnesspal. Though this app is geared towards adults, it can be used as a great tool for recording what your child is eating.

 

Product Recommendation

 It is important to remember that most organic snacks that you find in the store are still processed, even if they contain no additives and preservatives. However, if you need a quick snack on the go check out brands like Sprout Organic Foods. They offer a wide variety of snack options for kids of all ages, and their products contain contain delicious combinations of fruit, veggies and grains and do not contain additives or preservatives, artificial colors or flavoring.


If you are considering foods with additives or preservatives that have been touted as “potentially safe,” “not yet tested,” or “tested with varied results,” it is important to remember that these are not clean and pure ingredients. They are in fact chemicals or additives and the only way to be sure they don’t negatively affect your family is to avoid them as often as possible. So what should you eat? Well, always read ingredient labels. Make it a point to choose preservative-free bread. Always buy color-free yogurts and ice cream. Encourage your children to drink water as their main drink and be sure to bring our cheat sheet food shopping with you!

For more information on feeding your children a healthy and well balanced diet, free of the ingredients their growing bodies do not need be sure to check out our article on Children & Sugar:The Not So Sweet Side.

Photo Credits:Its A Logical Life, Cereal by PD Bics, Cereal by Nana B, Mauren Veras

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Jessica

Jessica is a holistic health counselor and work from home mom living in the middle of nowhere USA with her sweet little boy! She suffers from a serious case of compulsive globe-trotting and is always counting the days until her next move or adventure. You can often find her trying to get in her exercise in by lunging through the park while chasing after her very energetic little boy! She is constantly fueled and energized by her love for healthy eating and occasionally copious amounts of caffeine.

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