kids, food, nutrition, adhd

How Food Additives Could Be Disrupting Your Child’s Behavior

As published on Zhou Nutrition

Most of the food consumed today is fast food, processed, and packaged food with artificial additives and pounds of added sugar. Eating this way is a huge cause of nutrient deficiencies; and the sugar and additives tax and deplete the system more.

Additives in Food and Its Effect on Your Body Health

Many children today do not get the minimum requirement of nutrients that are needed for brain development including zinc, iron, calcium, B6, omega 3s and more. Since the body and brain are connected, learning and behavior are affected by the state of health our bodies are in.

There is more and more scientific literature being published saying negative childhood behaviors and symptoms associated with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders can be improved through nutrition. Poor diet and digestion can cause inadequate absorption of critical nutrients. This can also lead to a condition known as leaky gut- marked by malabsorption of nutrients, inflammatory responses to foods that are not broken down, and a burden to the detoxification pathways in the body.

What additives should you look out for?

Whole foods are best to consume but when you are eating foods with a label, steer clear of these ingredients:

Artificial Colors

Anything that begins with FD&C (e.g. FD&C Blue #1)

Several countries require any foods containing food dyes to have warning labels and many are actually banned from use, however, they are still used in the US regularly.

Even very small amounts of artificial dyes can negatively affect some children but research has found that a significant number of children are affected by amounts over 35 mg per day. Just one bowl of brightly colored cereal or many candies typically exceeds the 35 mg threshold.


We all know about “sugar highs” and the short term effects sugar can have on a child’s behavior, but there are many problems associated with excessive sugar intake over time as well. A 2011 study published in “Postgraduate Medicine” found correlations between excessive sugar intake and behaviors associated with ADHD. The reason may be related to a disruption of chemicals in the brain affecting the reward –related areas of the brain. Sugar can come in many forms added to foods such as dextrose, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).


Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Benzoate, Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Sulfites (Sulfur Dioxide, Sodium Sulfite, Sodium And Potassium Bisulfite, Sodium and Potassium Metabisulfite)

Be wary of labels that report “no added preservatives.” They can still contain ingredients which were already preserved before the final product. Choose “preservative free” instead.

Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin

It is estimated that up to 40% of children in America consume aspartame. Dr. Blaylock, Neurosurgeon, writes in his book “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills” that aspartame can lower the seizure threshold and deplete serotonin levels. Low serotonin can trigger Bipolar, anxiety, depression and mood swings.


Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer that can cause mood and behavior changes, including headaches and hyperactivity. Like aspartame, it is a known excitotoxin which means it can cause severe damage to cells throughout the body. MSG can be hidden in labels under other names such as hydrolyzed, autolyzed, natural flavors, and more, making it very difficult to identify.

Removing MSG, food colors, and other additives has been shown to improve behaviors such as hyperactivity, sleep disorders, irritability and concentration. Sticking to whole, organic foods as often as possible helps to increase the absorption of critical nutrients leading to better overall health and behaviors.

Stevens, L. et,al., Amounts of Artificial Food Dyes and Added Sugars in Foods and Sweets Commonly Consumed by Children, CLIN PEDIATR April 24, 2014
Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Dyes: A rainbow of risks, June 2010
Millichap, J. G., and M. M. Yee. “The Diet Factor In Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder”. PEDIATRICS 129.2 (2012): 330-337. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Breakey, J., “The Role Of Diet And Behaviour In Childhood.” J Paediatr Child Health 1997 Jun;33(3):190-4.
Rowe, KS, Rowe, KL, Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study, J Pediatr. 1994 Nov;125(5 Pt 1):691
Johnson, Richard J., Mark S. Gold, David R. Johnson, and Takuji Ishimoto. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Is It Time to Reappraise the Role of Sugar Consumption?” Postgraduate Medicine 123.5 (2011): 39-49.
Blaylock, Russell L. Excitotoxins. Santa Fe, N.M.: Health Press, 1998. Print.

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