Research has shown that the food additives used in hundreds of children's foods and drinks can cause temper tantrums and disruptive behavior. A Government-funded study confirms what many parents have long suspected about the effect of chemicals put into sweets, biscuits and foods. Colorings in products such as Smarties, Jelly Tots and fizzy drinks could spark behavior changes in up to a quarter of toddlers.
Research into a group of three-year-olds found they were more likely to lack concentration, lose their temper, interrupt others and struggle to get to sleep when they drank fruit juice dosed with colorings and preservatives.
Following the study, food watchdog the Food Commission has found that 200 children's foods and drinks contain one or more of the additives called into question by the research.
The Commission is calling for the additives to be removed from the everyday foods and drinks which appeal to children. Even youngsters with no history of hyperactivity can be affected, said the scientists. They concluded that all children could benefit from the removal of specified artificial food colorings from their diet.
The Food Commission claims it is the first time a Government-sponsored scientific study has corroborated the link between food colorings and preservatives and changes in children's mood and behavior.
A group of 227 three-year-olds from the Isle of Wight took part in a month long project by the UK Asthma and Allergy Research Center. For two weeks the children drank a daily fruit juice dosed with 20mg of artificial colorings and 45mg of preservative, which are either equal to or below permitted levels. The additives tested were the artificial food colorings Tartrazine E102, Sunset Yellow E110, Carmoisine E122, Ponceau 4R E124, and the preservative Sodium Benzoate E211. All five were given at the same time in a single drink.
For the other two weeks the children drank a fruit juice which was identical in appearance but without the additives. Parents filled in reports assessing their child's behavior on criteria such as interrupting, fiddling with objects, disturbing others, difficulty settling down to sleep, concentration and temper tantrums. The report said the results showed the artificial food colorings and sodium benzoate preservative had 'substantial effects' on behavior.
The scientists concluded that significant changes in children's hyperactive behavior could be produced by removing colorings and additives from their diet. They added: 'The findings suggest that benefit would accrue for all children from such a change - and not just for those already showing hyperactive behavior or who are at risk of allergic reactions.'
The Food Commission wants a ban on the additives and says the colorings tested have been restricted in other countries to protect children.
A spokesman for the Government's Food Standards Agency said the research was not conclusive. Nestlé Rowntree, which makes Smarties, Fruit Pastilles and Jelly Tots, said food additives it used were permitted by European and UK laws and any additives or colors had been tested to the highest standards. GlaxoSmithKline, which produces Ribena, said: 'We certainly wouldn't use any additives unless they were approved as safe.' Burton's Foods, which makes Jammie Dodgers, said its biscuits contained only half the amount of Carmoisine stated in legal guidelines. Cadbury Trebor Bassett, which makes Maynard Wine Gums, said: 'Carmoisine is a permitted coloring which has been used for many years.' Campina UK, which produces Yazoo Milk Drinks, said it used only approved ingredients.
Which Additives Do We Need To Look Out For?
(in sweets, drinks, takeaways, cereals and many processed foods)
- 102 tartrazine,
- 104 quinoline yellow,
- 107 yellow 2G,
- 110 sunset yellow,
- 122 azorubine,
- 123 amaranth,
- 124 ponceau red,
- 127 erythrosine,
- 128 red 2G,
- 129 allura red,
- 132 indigotine,
- 133 brilliant blue,
- 142 green S,
- 151 brilliant black,
- 155 chocolate brown Natural color,
- 160b annatto (in yoghurts, ice creams, popcorn, etc. 160a is a safe alternative)
- Preservatives200-203 sorbates (in margarine, dips, cakes, fruit products)
- 210-213 benzoates (in juices, soft drinks, cordials, syrups, medications)
- 220-228 sulphites (in dried fruit, fruit drinks, sausages, and many others)
- 280-283 propionates (in bread, crumpets, bakery products)
- 249-252 nitrates, nitrites (in processed meats like ham)
- Synthetic antioxidants - in margarines, vegetable oils, fried foods, snacks, biscuits, etc
- 310-312 Gallates 319-320 TBHQ, BHA, BHT (306-309 are safe alternatives)
- Flavor enhancers - in flavored crackers, snacks, takeaways, instant noodles, soups 621 MSG 627, 631, 635 disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, ribonucleotides
Table compiled by Sue Dengate, author of the bestselling book and film 'Fed Up: Understanding how food affects your child and what you can do about it.'
Our food has changed so drastically in the last few decades it is no wonder that food-related behavior and learning problems in children are increasing. Contrary to what many parents think, additives - more importantly than just sugar - are to blame for behavior problems. Reactions are related to dose, so the more additives children eat, the more likely they are to be affected.
Additives are now used widely in foods such as bread, butter, crackers, yogurt, juice and muesli bars as well as in junk food. Parents who say ‘we eat healthy food’ are generally shocked to find that their children can be consuming 20 additives or more per day.
Irritability, temper outbursts, oppositional defiance, restlessness and difficulty falling asleep are the main behavioral effects of additives. But parents rarely realize that food chemicals can be associated with many other effects including arguing with siblings, making silly noises, speech delay, anxiety, depression or difficulty concentrating. Additive-free children are generally calmer, happier and more cooperative.
Rashes, headaches, bed wetting, stomach aches, sneaky poos, constipation or asthma can also be a problem. Parents of asthmatic children are usually unaware that sulphite preservatives (220-228) in foods such as dried fruits, sausages, cordials and some fruit drinks can irritate airways.
So what can we eat? Read ingredient labels. Choose preservative-free bread. Buy color-free yogurts, ice creams and lollies such as caramels and toffees. Choose plain rather than flavored chips, crackers and noodles. Encourage your children to drink water as their main drink.