Could the foods your child eats cause bad behaviors?

If you’ve noticed your child behaves differently after a vacation full of food you don’t normally eat or a birthday party filled with treats, your child may be sensitive to the foods he eats — specifically the food additives.

Dyes, preservatives and sugars are often taken out of diets for children with autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorder, but should sensitive kids be the only ones exempt from these potential health and behavior hazards?

Sugar is not the only culprit

Food additives such as chemical additives, artificial dyes, high fructose corn syrup and preservatives are often identified as a culprit for some children’s behaviors. Parts of Europe are seemingly one step ahead of the U.S. when it comes to this controversial, hot topic. The UK Food Commission recently announced their support on banning food additives and artificial dyes in children’s food and drink. The ban is in response to a recent study, which was published on UK’s Daily Mail website.

Erin LaFarge, mom of four — one of whom is already on a dye-free diet — found the pink dye in her youngest daughter’s antibiotics caused her behavior to change. For the 10-day duration her daughter was on the medication, she was “hyper, yelling, obnoxious and mean to other kids at school.” Erin, already abreast on how additives can cause behavior changes, knew exactly what was going on with her daughter, but the teacher and her child’s pediatrician were not convinced.

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Parents must advocate for their kids

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to take limited action on banning or limiting additives in children’s food and drink. Because of this, it’s up to parents and supporting physicians to educate themselves and advocate for children both at risk and in the low-risk category for sensitivities and allergic reactions to potentially harmful food additives.

Five additives your child should avoid

  • Added sugar: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dextrose, corn syrup, etc.
  • Added salt: Select foods and drinks with the lowest sodium amount
  • Artificial sweeteners: Saccharin, aspartame, Acesulfame-K
  • Artificial colors: Anything on a nutritional label that begins with FD and C
  • Chemical preservatives: Sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

Healthy Child’s checklist for parents

Identify what your child eats

For about one week, keep a food diary of everything your child consumes. Identify which foods have additives and limit those foods to cut down the amount of additives your child is getting. Foods with the highest amount of additives include: processed foods, packaged foods, candy, soda and “junk” foods.

Opt for organic and whole foods

Certified organic foods have little or no preservatives or additives, including dyes. Eating a balanced diet full of fresh produce and whole grains will help your child be free from additives.

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Choose products preservative free

Buying food and drinks with the label “preservative free” ensures you and your child will not be consuming added preservatives. Healthy Child warns parents to be cautious against labels that claim “no added preservatives” because certain ingredients could have been preserved prior to the final product.

Read your labels!

Some of the items listed below can cause allergy-like symptoms or are suspected carcinogens.

  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) 
  • Propyl Gallate
  • Potassium Bromate
  • Sulfites
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) 
  • Sodium Nitrate/Nitrate
  • Acesulfame-K
  • FD and C Blue No. 1 
  • FD and C Blue No. 2 
  • FD and C Green No. 3 
  • FD and C Red No. 3 (Erythrosine) 
  • FD and C Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine)
  • FD and C Yellow No. 6

Source: Dr. Alan Greene and Healthy Child Healthy World

More on foods and the influence on children

How eating organic improves your child’s health
Special diets for special kids: Autism and casein — and gluten-free diets
Beyond baby food