Posted by: coachingparents | October 2, 2008


Should parents take more concern for what substances are in their children’s food- particularly what are commonly referred to as food additives?

Given the growing concern regarding obesity among children in the United States, it is quite clear that both restaurants and food companies have had little concern for the amount of high glycemic and chemical substances in our children’s food. And despite the concern by certain food manufacturers emphasizing more whole grains in their cereals and such, it is quite true that children’s cereals, in general, and other foods developed for children, are still loaded down with white sugar, white flour and other undesirable substances such as high fructose corn syrup. This being only the tip of the iceberg with regard to chemical food additives.

Why is that?

By adding addictive substances like refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup that cause sharp glycemic spikes, food manufacturers are providing added neurological enjoyment to the unwary consumer, which also include children. This is analogous to enhancing the nicotine affect in cigarettes. The widespread use of sugar, sugar-like substances, and other food chemicals compounds its addictive effect and encourages a return to these less-than-natural products. Unfortunately, young children are jumpstarted on this addictive cycle at an early age, particularly by bonding them early to sugary cereals and fruity juices disguised as if they were the sources of the best liquid vitamins ever.

Further, by adding artificial color, artificial flavor, and texture modifiers, corporations simply make their food look and taste that much more attractive. Besides creating addictive food behavior- and reinforcing branding techniques to court consumers to return to their products, there are economic reasons that food-producing corporations worldwide have an ongoing love affair with chemical preservatives and other additives. The presences of certain additives extend the shelf life of food substances, eliminate waste and increase the sales of their products.

High glycemic substances, chemicals and preservatives make corporations millions of dollars annually, all at a physical, emotional, psychological, and financial cost to consumers. Overall, chemicals and other food additives are used to color food, flavor food, sweeten it, change or cover up smells, emulsify it, bleach it, disguise its bad taste, give food artificial texture, preserve and stabilize it. As consumers, we hardly give chemical food additives a second thought. But should we?

Before we examine the possible effects of these substances on our children, it is startling to examine the quantity of chemical substances which are regularly added to our food supply.

As Frances M. Lappé says in Diet for a Small Planet, “Would you choose to sprinkle 1/4 ounce of pesticides over your food every day? Or to ingest 150 pounds of assorted additives annually? Of course not. But in effect, that’s what the average American – however unwittingly – is doing. As a nation, our annual dose of these sometimes seriously life-altering chemicals is a staggering 2.6 billion pounds, or more than 1 million tons.”

It is difficult to assess the pervasiveness of food additives in the United States food supply. In one officious example, the database maintained by the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) in a program known as the Priority-based Assessment of Food (PAFA) lists information regarding over 3,000 food additives, which includes classifications of direct, secondary “direct,” color additives and Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). The total list is referred to as the Everything Added to Food in the United States (EUFUS). It is in the GRAS area that a great deal of subterfuge takes place- because these additives- regarded as ‘safe’ are not listed as separate ingredients on our food labels. Their chemical contents, surprisingly large in number, are compressed and buried under the label of artificial flavoring, color, or preservative. These are not necessarily listed in detail on the majority of food packaging. Given the potential for adverse reactions, they are the secret scourge of the food supply, and as we shall see, a particular health risk for children suffering from compromises such as autism and hyperactivity.

Paul Chek, a famous fitness trainer, is highly concerned regarding the effects of food products and their chemical additive contents. His concern for the health of his clients, points out that the numbers cited above are just an unrealistic and low estimate. In his book, How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy, he says, “Including chemicals used in food production from ground to stomach, the number rises to between 10,000 and 15,000 food additives regularly ingested by the American Public.”

Several studies have examined various combinations of food chemicals commonly found in processed food items worldwide. The studies suggest that after the consumption of typical snack and drink items common to westernized cultures; the additives affected the nerve cells ability for normal growth and interfered with proper neurological signaling.

This is particularly alarming for small children as their delicate systems are such that the liver is unable to fully detoxify at such a young age and their small size provokes further and compounded toxicity. Because children are small, they are consuming larger amounts of food additives than what most governments dictate as the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) which is based on adult consumption.

Let examine two of these studies.

A study performed by Britain’s Karen Lau and her associates discovered the potentially disturbing consequences to developing brain cells when interacting with combinations involving two common food flavor enhancers with two food colorings. The first food coloring was “Brilliant Blue,” used in the United States but banned by many European countries. The second, “Quinoline Yellow” is banned in Australia, Norway and the United States but is legal in many other countries. Aspartame, a common artificial sweetener and food flavoring that is made from aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. Finally, also MSG, an acronym for L-glutamic acid commonly used in the USA and Europe. Lau then made two ‘cocktails’ of MSG mixed with Brilliant Blue and aspartame with Quinoline Yellow, which were tested on mouse neuroblastoma cells, used as the prototype for neurons.

First testing these substances individually, the researchers found that Brilliant Blue inhibited neural growth the most, followed in order by MSG, Quinoline Yellow and aspartame. But mixed together in their cocktail combinations, the capacity for neural inhibition was much larger for the mixtures than their individual effects on the neuroblastoma cells. Lau’s colleagues stated, “The results indicate that certain combinations are potentially more toxic than might be predicted from the sum of their individual compounds.”

In fact, the MSG/Brilliant Blue presented four times the neuro toxicity as the sum of the individual substances and the aspartame/Quinoline Yellow was up to seven times as toxic in its effects.

Following these findings, the researchers analyzed the contents of five British snacks and drinks and looked at the effect on a 22-pound child. They found that one snack and drink, containing these mixtures, could theoretically cause nerve growth inhibition. This is a startling commentary on the poignancy of common substances to affect nerve cells. Consuming these substances, the researchers said, could have long- term neurological consequences.

According to the editorial comments from the Autism Research Institute on the summary of this experiment from which this account is derived, “This report provides yet more evidence supporting the theory that autism and related disabilities involve “excitotoxins” such as MSG and aspartame—and more proof that junk food, laced with preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and colorings, is a major culprit in the current epidemic of learning and behavioral disorders.” The concerns of the Autism community, in this comment, transcends merely the speculation about food additive affects on autism, per se, but also for other neurogenic disorders which include hyperactivity, of which ADD is the most well-known.

A breakthrough study at the University of Southampton, led by Jim Stevenson, a professor of psychology, has confirmed that certain food additives are a cause of hyperactivity in children. According to Elizabeth Rosenthal, a New York Times reporter, “It was the first time researchers conclusively and scientifically confirmed a link that had long been suspected by many parents. Numerous support groups for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have for years recommended removing such ingredients from diets, although experts have continued to debate the evidence.”

Researchers in the report said, “A mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods increases the mean level of hyperactivity… The finding lends strong support for the case that food additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviors (inattention, impulsivity and over activity) at least into middle childhood.” As hyperactivity is common symptom experienced by autistic children, this finding could explain the beneficial effects achieved by autistic patients when ingesting diets formulated without food additives. But the affect on autistic children is probably a relatively small subset when compared to the prevalence of children with ADD and other hyperactive and developmental disorders. All in all, tens of thousands of children have had their own unique body balance upset by these toxic substances.

Unlike the previous study we have cited, this study directly involved the behavior of children, whose behavior was closely monitored over a six-week period. The children’s reactions were to several food colors and to sodium benzoate, a preservative. These children were given these additives in doses simulating those found in commercially marketed substances. The dosages were comparable to one or two portions of candy daily. The sample consisted of a randomly selected group of several hundred 8-9 year olds and 3 year olds. These substances were provided to the children in an overall meal regimen meant to avoid contamination of their intake by any other food additives or preservatives that could offset the purity of the experimental conditions. At the same time this group was being fed sodium benzoate combined with other food additives, another random group of the same size was fed a placebo of the same size and color.

A group of parents and teachers of school age children, unaware of who had actually taken the real drink or the placebo, then monitored the behavior of these children. Findings were established through a direct study of their hyperactivity, inattention and by a computer test.

The results were startling. After consuming the experimental drink, children became more hyperactive with much shorter attention spans. This happened in approximately one hour after drinking. The study showed statistically significant changes to the behavior of the selected group, but it could not determine the affect of the specific additives. Suffice to say, the cocktail did create hyperactivity and loss of attention, but future studies would be necessary to determine specific causes of behavior and their link to the specific substances used.

Research into the field of testing food additives will probably blossom in further years- but decades after manufacturers and other contributors to the food chain have already contaminated our food supply.


1. ALLURA RED AC (E129) – An orange-red food dye used in foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and some tattoo inks. It is a synthetic azo dye that replaced Amaranth E123 in the U.S. It is not recommended for children in Europe and banned in some countries. Results of a UK study found that a mixture of preservatives that included allura red AC E129 resulted in heightened hyperactivity in children.

2. ASPARTAME: This is a well-documented neurotoxin and exitotoxin that has well-documented and direct adverse effects on brain function. Aspartame accounts for the majority of adverse reaction complaints reported to the FDA. Aspartame is a widely used artificial sweetener.

3. BRILLIANT BLUE- FOOD DYE: This is a food dye used to raise appeal of foods and beverages such as condiments, candies, syrups, dairy products, icings, jellies, extracts, and powders. A study published in The Lancet, a medical journal, revealed hyperactivity in children due artificial food dyes. Dyes have also been linked to migraines, reflux, asthma, and some rashes.

4. BUTYLPARABEN: This is a derivative of a diverse and widely used family of chemicals used as a food preservative. The families of parabens are used as anti bacterial and antifungal agents in food, cosmetics, and medications. Synthetically produced, derivatives of the paraben chemical group can be found in use worldwide.

5. DISODIUM INSONATE: This chemical compound is used as flavor enhancer in potato chips and flavored noodles. It often occurs with MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE.

6. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: This is a form of sugar derived from cornstarch called fructose. It is sweeter than sugar and also less expensive. It is used extensively in processed foods as a sweetener and also a preservative. It is associated with elevated LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, insulin insensitivity, and weight gain.

7. NATAMYCIN: This is an anti-fungal agent produced by fermenting the bacteria Streptomyces natalynsis. This bacterium is commonly found in soil. As a drug, it is used to treat Fusarium corneal infections and Fungal keratitis. Natamycin is used to stop fungal growth in meats and dairy products to include yogurt, cheese, and sour cream.

8. POLYDIMETHYLSILOXANE: (PDMS): This is a silicon-based polymer with applications in the production of silicone caulks, adhesives, lubricants, polishes, and cosmetics. PDMS is used in the treatment of head lice. Its application in food production is that of an anti-foaming and anti-caking agent and is widely used by the fast food industry.

11. QUINOLINE YELLOW (E104) – FOOD DYE with a yellow or green-yellow color. This is found in squash, OTC tablets, smoked fish, pickles, and some sweets – also a tattoo ink color. It is associated with hyperactivity and certain rashes, and could be a cause of contact dermatitis. Usage is not allowed in the U.S. or Japan, but is permitted in the UK.

12. SODIUM NITRITE: This chemical compound is used in the curing of meat in order to prevent bacterial growth and also gives meats their rich dark red color. Sodium nitrite is a well-documented toxin and is lethal in larger doses. August 2008 brings the US based news of a meat packing plant employee who gave her neighbor sodium nitrite capsules; just enough to hospitalize the neighbor, but not a large enough dose to kill her. The point, the employee of the meat packing plant was familiar with the potential toxicity of sodium nitrite and used her knowledge to her advantage to cause harm to another.

14. REDUCED IRON: This chemical compound is produced by the reduction of iron ore via a reduction gas such as natural gas. The end result is a metallic iron. The oxidation state during this process provides the “nutritional iron” found in processed food items. Reduced iron is often disguised as your daily dose of nutritional iron in synthetic vitamin supplements. Reduced iron has industrial applications in the steel industry.

15. MODIFIED CORNSTARCH: This is corn flour, which is used as thickener in processed foods and as talc in baby powder. Corn allergies are rampant in pediatric populations.

16. MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE: A flavoring agent. It is a sodium salt of an amino acid called glutamic acid. It is made by fermentation with products like molasses and food starch from cereal grains or tapioca. The FDA has classified MSG a food additive that is “generally recognized as safe” however, the while recognizing that some individuals have short-term adverse reactions to MSG. The FDA requires MSG to be listed on food ingredient labels and on restaurant menus when used.

17. SODIUM BENZOATE (E211) PRESERVATIVE. It is bacteria static and fungi static in acidic products like soft drinks, condiments, salad dressings, pickles, juices, jams, squash, cough syrups, and mouthwash. Research by the South Hampton University study for the Food Standards Agency found that along with other additives, this preservative was found to affect behavior problems and affect intelligence in children. According to claims from a professor at Univ. of Sheffield, Sodium benzoate may have an adverse affect on DNA, which may play a part in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, plus help accelerate the overall aging process.

18. SUNSET YELLOW (E110) V – FOOD DYE. An orange-yellow color used widely in drinks, sweets, and other foods. Included as 1 out of 6 artificial colorings, in the study for the FSA in September 2007, that may induce hyperactivity in children.

19. TARTRAZINE (E102) FOOD DYE. Synthetic lemon yellow dye from coal tar and found in snacks, drinks, powders, and condiments. Found to cause hyperactivity in children when mixed with several other food additives and certain preservatives.

The fact that chemical additives cause problems related to neural transmission is further enhanced with the understanding that certain mixtures of various additives significantly increase the possible effect on a child’s state of hyperactivity. The full extent of this phenomenon leaves much to be examined scientifically since most additives occur in mixtures when consumed in food products. With the science largely unknown, do we have time-bombs hidden in our refrigerators and pantry shelves that have caused and will cause increasing damage to our children?

A review published in the February 2008 edition of the AAP Ground Rounds, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, contains a profound statement by, Alison Schonwald, MD, FAAP, cited as “an expert in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Boston.”

“Despite increasing data supporting the efficacy of stimulants in preschoolers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) parents and providers understandably seek safe and effective interventions that require no prescription. A recent meta-analysis of 15 trials concludes that there is “accumulating evidence that neurobehavioral toxicity may characterize a variety of widely distributed chemicals.” [Schab DW, et al. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2004;25:423–434] Some children may be more sensitive to the effects of these chemicals, and the authors suggest there is a need to better identify responders. In real life, practitioners faced with hyperactive preschoolers have a reasonable option to offer parents. For the child without a medical, emotional, or environmental etiology of ADHD behaviors, a trial of a preservative-free, food coloring–free diet is a reasonable intervention.”

Jane Hersey, the director of the non-profit Feingold Association , an organization that directly encourages the use of a preservative-free, food coloring-free diet, recently wrote about the link between hyperactivity and children in a feature article in the November/December 2007 journal about how school behavior changes when diet changes. She cited a study of what happened “when 803 New York City public schools eliminated certain artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from their breakfast and lunch programs.”

This four-year study conducted by Stephen J. Schjoenthaler under the auspices of California State University showed a dramatic shift from scores on the California Achievement Test from the 55th to the 39th percentile. This was an upward shift of almost 16 percent.” Almost 75,000 children, who had been considered learning disabled or very low achievers, were now able to perform at their age level, with the only difference being some dietary changes,” said Hersey.

Again, while everyone, perhaps, needs to avoid food chemicals at all costs, our children’s sensitive neurological systems are at stake. Quite disturbing is the issue of the combinations of food additives that have been explored in the recent studies we have just examined. How these agents react together is fueling further concerns as to the continued neurotoxic effects on our nation’s children. It appears that certain combinations of chemical food additives have a potent and negative effect on nerve cells than each chemical would have if ingested alone.

While everyone needs to reduce or eliminate their exposure to food chemicals, this is particularly true with regards to children suffering the symptoms of some form of autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD), ADHD, and other developmental delays. This is the group that seemingly is more sensitive to food chemicals than others. Unfortunately, of all populations, it is predominantly children that will have immediate reactions upon the ingestion of processed foods laden with artificial substances. While artificial colors and sweeteners have proven particularly problematic for children, it would be safe to surmise that all food chemicals simply be avoided; in particular where young children are already experiencing neurological challenges.

Perhaps an examination of some of the diets recommended for children in the autistic spectrum- the Feingold diet, the Body Ecology Diet, the Specific Carbohydrate diet and the Gluten Free diet- might produce some beneficial paradigms for children in general. Whatever diet is labeled or pursued, a fresh whole food, organic diet laden with natures natural vitamins and with chemicals, preservatives, food colors, food flavors, pesticide residues removed, modified for the needs of the specific child under the guidance of a trained health professional, is undoubtedly the safest, most conservative food route to pursue, given both the anecdotal and scientific findings of today.

Dr. Linda Posch MS SLP ND



  1. Dear Dr./ Linda
    It is a very good article, but you didn’t mention the safety limit per each additive. For example, concerning the parabens as preservative, what is the safety mg to be added per each ml, or per each unit dose if I add it in a pediatric syrup, also what is the permissable daily quantity if I add it as a food preservative in pediatric food supplement. Thanks for your help.

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