If like most busy urban parents you stock up your pantry with processed foods, we suggest you reconsider. Have you thought that the processed contain food additives harmful for kids?
These additives are often described as substances that improve and maintain the texture, colour, appearance and taste of processed foods. However, the reality is that most of them are dangerous, especially to kids.
Are food additives harmful for children?
Several studies have proven that food additives can harm a child’s physical and psychological health. The studies conclude that additives lead to disruptive behaviour, temper tantrums, hyperactivity or even cancer.
Just a few years back, in a UK government-funded study, scientists found that additives used in children’s foods and drinks led to temper tantrums. Researchers also noticed a significant increase in disruptive behaviour in the children. This study forced the country’s food agency to roll back certain processed foods and drinks.
Unfortunately, additives are used in so many products that it’s not realistic or even possible to completely avoid them.
So the next best option is getting to know the culprits.
Avoid these 9 food additives that are harmful for kids
Most fast manufacturing consumer good (FMCG) companies add food additives to their ready-to-eat products. These include cereals, candies, crisps, soft drinks as well as ‘natural’ juices. Basically most packaged foods.
So how do you avoid additives? The solution is to read labels carefully.
Fortunately, we have already done the legwork for you. We have a list of 9 food additives you must watch out for. In addition, we’ll also tell you why your kids need to avoid them.
- Artificial sweeteners: No points for guessing that this item is the first on the list! Most ‘sugar-free’ candies, soft drinks or low-calorie beverages have one or more food additives. Read the labels and look out for saccharin, sodium cyclamate, aspartame, acesulfame-K (also called acesulfame potassium) and high fructose corn syrup. While all of these have the scientific community divided over safety, researchers are united in categorising corn syrup as responsible for increasing obesity.
- Artificial colours: These are chemical dyes that add colour to food and drinks, that make food additives harmful. Before purchasing any food item that looks excessively colourful and vibrant, look out for colour additives. Read the labels for Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 3, Red 40, Green 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 as well as FD&C Lakes (combination of colours) and Orange B (mostly found in sausage and hot dog casings). Most of the colour additives have long been suspected to increase hyperactivity in kids.
- Trans fat and partially hydrogenated oil: Have you ever wondered how several pickles and oil-based foods remain ‘fresh’ and ‘preserved’ for so long? It’s all because of partially hydrogenated oils. When your child consumes these trans fats, he raises the bad LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and lowers the good HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in his body. Studies suggest that this increases the risk of coronary heart diseases as well as diabetes.
- Sodium benzoate: This preservative is present in soft drinks and acidic food like pickles and salad dressings. Although it is a naturally occurring chemical, when mixed with vitamin C it turns into a carcinogen called benzene. A study has found a possible link between sodium benzoate and hyperactivity in kids. That is why doctors often ask parents to avoid giving soft drinks to kids. It’s not only because of the sugar, but also because of sodium benzoate.
- Chemical preservatives: Keep your eyes peeled for chemical preservatives including BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). Many companies use both to prevent oils from oxidizing. In fact, you will commonly find BHT in cereals, baked goods, chewing gum, dehydrated potatoes, beer and even some fruit drinks. However, both are labelled as carcinogens in several studies. They also affect the nervous system as well as impact liver and kidney function in kids. Hence making these food additives harmful.
- Sulfites: Another common preservative found in several processed foods is sulfites. These add a salty taste in fruits and vegetables and increases their shelf-life. They are labelled- Sodium Sulfite, Sulfur Dioxide, Potassium and Sodium Bisulfite Sodium, and Sodium and Potassium Metabisulfite. Some studies have found that this causes asthma in kids and adults. Hence sulfites are food additives harmful for kids.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): This additive is commonly found in instant noodles, processed meat, soups and spices. It is also notorious for being used in many Asian restaurants. Although it has been approved by the Food and Drug Adminsitration as ‘safe’, studies suggest that it can lead to ‘MSG symptom complex.’ In this condition, a child may experience headaches, chest pain, sweating, nausea and even weakness.
- Potassium bromate: This is an oxidizing agent used in bread. It strengthens the dough and enhances its elasticity. However, just last year the Indian government reportedly ordered a ban of potassium bromate as a food additive. This happened after a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that it was causing cancer in many cases. Naturally, now it has been labeled as a carcinogen. Informed parents should avoid giving it to their children.
- Olestra: Now comes a real trouble maker. If you haven’t stopped your kids from consuming potato chips, perhaps you will after reading this. This particular additive is a fat substitute and claims to remove fat from processed foods. However, Olestra, or Olean as it is also known, can reportedly cause extreme gastrointestinal problems like gas and cramping. Definitely not good for kids make food additives harmful.
As companies launch more processed foods, there is greater need for parents to become more vigilant. After all, nobody wants their child to suffer from hyperactivity, temper tantrums, gastrointestinal problems as well as strokes and cancer.
So the next time you head to the supermarket, make sure that you check every label. But that’s not all. There are still a few more things you can do to avoid having your kid fall into the food additives ditch.
How do I limit my child’s intake of food additives?
- Prepare a food log: Make sure to maintain a food diary for you kid. Take note of what he has eaten for a minimum of 5-6 days per week. Make a list of the foods he may be eating at school, at daycare, and at home. This will allow you to check his weekly intake of food so you do not serve ‘quick meals’ laced with additives.
- Change their diet: Incorporate more whole foods into your child’s diet. Keep it fresh and simple. Add as many vegetables and fresh fruits as you can. Do not depend on processed foods for snacks. Instead, make simple fruit salads or fresh sandwiches your options.
- Read labels: This is the most important step and the one that will truly make a difference. Avoid unnecessary additives and preservatives by checking this list we just made for you. You can save it on your cell and refer to it when you go for your next shopping trip.
- Check organic food labels: While you’re at it, make sure to check labels of ‘organic’ foods as well. Many of them also contain preservatives that may be harmful for your kids. Remember, labels with ‘potentially safe,’ ‘yet to be tested,’ as well as ‘tested with varied results’ are not really safe.
So what should your child eat?
Make it a point to choose preservative-free foods including colour-free ice creams and yogurts. And encourage kids to drink water as opposed to soft drinks. Most importantly, be sure to bring this list along whenever grocery shopping.