Your Child’s School Performance At Risk

Little girl is capricious

5 food additives raising red flags in the scientific community and could be affecting how well your children do in school and their behaviour.

There are currently over 500 potentially toxic food additives legally being used in Canada (many more in the United States), however, the science is just not strong enough yet to get these products banned by our government. This can make it really hard for us to know what to eat and what to avoid. And this becomes even tougher when it comes to our kids—whom a lot of these possibly toxic additives are directly geared at! Although the science is still in its infancy, and a lot of the data is inadequate, conflicting or inconclusive, here are the top 5 food additives that are currently under enough scientific scrutiny to make us say NO WAY to them. While none have been “proven” harmful, they haven’t been “proven” safe, either, so please don’t pack any of them in your child’s lunchbox.

1.  High Fructose Corn Syrup **

High fructose corn syrup (or “corn sugar” as it’s sometimes called to make it seem like a healthful vegetable-sourced sugar) has replaced sugar in snacks and beverages geared toward children in the last 25 years. The science can’t tell for sure yet whether this has something to do with the skyrocketing rates of obesity, type II diabetes, and mental health imbalances that have followed an uncannily similar trajectory as the increased consumption of this additive, but we think there may be a connection.

2.  Artificial Colours

Artificial colours, including Yellow Food Dye #5 (aka. tartrazine), Brilliant Blue FCFC (aka. Artificial Blue 1), Indigotine (aka. Artificial Blue 2), Erythrosine (aka. Artificial Red 3), and Sunset Yellow FCF (aka. Artificial Yellow 6) are often used to make children’s foods bright and appealing. These artificial dyes have been studied primarily with their connection to increased cancer risk, but recently Yellow Food Dye #5 (aka. tartrazine) is implicated it in disruptive behaviour, inattention, difficulty concentrating, and poor memory. It is also thought to play a significant role in learning disabilities and ADHD.

3.  MSG

Monosodium glutamate (aka. MSG) is found in lots of child-friendly pre-packaged lunch foods, snacks, salad dressings, and frozen or canned goods. It often masquerades under various “kid-healthy” aliases including: “vegetable protein,” “autolyzed,” or “hydrolyzed” yeast, or even “natural flavour,” and is clinically linked to a plethora of symptoms that are sure to interfere with your child’s ability to function well at school. It may cause  headaches (even migraines), nausea, rapid heart rate, and allergy symptoms. It may even contribute to thyroid imbalance, which can impede growth.

4.  Benzoate & Nitrite Preservatives  

While we’re BIG fans of fresh foods, we do NOT recommend items that use artificial preservatives! Benzoate preservatives like BHT, BHA and TBHQ are found in kid-friendly items such as salad dressings, pop, jams and fruit juices, while sodium nitrite (aka. sodium nitrate) is found in bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meats and other processed meats. These may mess with our reproductive hormone estrogen, which may increase risk of estrogen-based cancers as well as mood and memory problems, allergies, asthma and even early puberty-onset.

5.  Hydrogenated Oils  

Hydrogenated oils (aka. trans-fats, t-fats), or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as they are often called (don’t let the word “partially” or “vegetable” fool you) are found in margarine, chips and crackers, and many baked goods, and are used to increase shelf-life and produce a consistently creamy artificial mouth-feel. They are well-known to raise bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol, and increase risk of cardiovascular disease. They may also interfere with mental health as they are shown to displace and replace good fats in our brain cells.

* Please note, some of these additives have different names in the U.S. and in Canada so we’ve given you both names where needed

** Don’t celebrate your decision to avoid high fructose corn syrup with artificial sweeteners! Best-known as acesulfame-potassium (aka acesulfame-K) or aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and even somewhat healthy-sounding NutraSweet or Equal, these fake sugars have been linked to tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears), headaches, nervous system disorders, and cancer, as well as negatively affecting metabolism. It’s best to not include artificially sweetened foods in your child’s diet. And stay tuned for more science on its effects in the body and brain!

Learn More (a selected reference list of above cited research)

Lakhan SE, Kirchgessner A, 2013. The emerging role of dietary fructose in obesity and cognitive decline. Nutr J (in press).

Rowe KS, Rowe KJ, 1994. Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study. J Pediatr, 125(5 Pt 1):691-8.

Shimada A, Cairns BE, Vad N, Ulriksen K, Pedersen AM, Svensson P, Baad-Hansen L, 2013. Headache and mechanical sensitization of human pericranial muscles after repeated intake of monosodium glutamate (MSG). J Headache Pain (in press).

Sugimura T., 2000. Nutrition and dietary carcinogens. Carcinogenesis, 21(3):387-95.

Remig V, Franklin B, Margolis S, Kostas G, Nece T, Street JC, 2010. Trans fats in America: a review of their use, consumption, health implications, and regulation. J Am Diet Assoc, 110(4):585-92.