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Food Additives Affect Behavior

On average 30% of foods in our daily diet are processed foods. These are foods that come in a box or a can and have many ingredients that are hard to pronounce, containing food starches, gums, preservatives, and colorings. Many processed foods have to be enriched, adding inorganic minerals and vitamins to compensate for the nutrition lost in the processing of the food. Some people believe enriched foods are good enough, and we will be able to absorb their nutrients sufficiently to benefit from them. But what about the great increase in type II diabetes in the past few years, seen especially now in children? What about the increase in Attention Deficit Disorder and behavioral problems in schools? Adults are now getting symptoms of Alzheimer's more quickly than before, and are suffering from chronic diseases earlier in life.

The first suggestion I tell parents who are struggling with a hyperactive child is to stay away from any food colorings, especially the added colorings in juices, cereals, snacks, and vitamin supplements. These food colorings affect the functioning of the nervous system. Our liver cannot break down these chemicals and they affect our neurotransmitters, and eventually our thinking ability. It is amazing the amount of food coloring found in processed foods. Significant increases in hyperactivity occur after getting 20 mg. of food coloring per day, which is much less than the amount found in many processed foods today.

When food additives are added to natural foods both physical and behavioral problems can occur. The three most common symptoms found when we get too many food additives are headaches, anxiety, and upset stomach. Common food additives to watch out for, beside food colorings, are preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine. Preservatives are found in all processed foods, and even in some of the natural foods such as fruits and vegetables. It is difficult to get all fresh food unless you grow it yourself. Preservatives prevent spoilage of food so that it can be transported from the farm or factory to our grocery stores.

The FDA generally regards each of these food additives as safe, at least in small quantities. But when combining them in foods and then looking at the potential cumulative effect, we have to realize that the more preservative and food additives we get on a daily basis, the more our liver has to detoxify. That is why headaches and bloating are common symptoms of too many food additives.

Among the many factors that shape the lives of children, nutrition often plays a critical role. What children eat during their growing years has a great effect on the way they think, learn, and act. Many studies have found, for example, that children with higher intakes of antioxidants, B vitamins and minerals do better in school than those children whose diets are lower in these nutrients. Others studies show that children who are exposed to too many environmental chemicals or heavy metals in the air and water have more trouble learning and remembering, and have more nervous system disorders.

The Feingold program is a children's nutritional program that recommends a diet based on foods that do not contain artificial flavors, preservatives, and food colorings. Numerous research studies found that symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder improved between 50 and 70% of the time while children followed this nutritional program.

One study, published in Lancet in 1985, showed that 79% of hyperactive children had symptoms improve when food chemicals were removed from their diet. Then when the food chemicals were re-introduced the symptoms returned. Sugar was found to have a similar detrimental effect as food chemicals. In controlled studies done at juvenile correctional facilities in the 1980s, they found that behavior improved in 47% of the 12 facilities that took part in the Feingold program, which included over 8000 juveniles.

Many health issues are caused by lack of bioavailable nutrition in our diet. Our digestive system tries to absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. Depending on the state of the food - baked, broiled, microwaved, or the additives added, our body can actually get more stressed eating foods that are hard for our liver to metabolize. This is why the National Cancer Institute keeps raising the number of fruits and vegetables recommended daily to prevent cancer, and keep our immune system healthy. This is another reason we are seeing earlier signs of indigestion and heartburn in children. The foods we put in our body have so many preservatives, and chemicals, and not enough real nutrition to be beneficial.

Dr. Jane Oelke, N.D., Ph.D. is Naturopath and Doctor of Homeopathy in Southwest Michigan. She is the author of "Natural Choices for Fibromyalgia" and "Natural Choices for Attention Deficit Disorder". She is a professional speaker on a variety of natural health topics, and can be reached at and


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