Tuesday, May 29, 2012

what our children are really eating : additives in food

I have been getting a lot of messages asking about low additive / preservative free eating as I have mentioned a few times that we strive to follow this kind of 'diet'. I wrote this article for a university assignment, and all the information is research I have collected over the last few years. {The sources, if you want to do some of your own reading, are listed at the end} so I thought perhaps I'd share it with you.

We started really paying attention to what we fed our children even before Noah was born - we looked into it for behavioural issues with my stepchildren and found cutting out a lot of nasties made a difference.
So naturally when Noah was born we continued with it, but I found he was even more sensitive when we'd 'slip up'. If I let him have an apple juice he would literally go a little crazy - he reacts strongly to the colour and preservative in most store-bought apple juices and of course a host of other products too. His reactions would be anywhere from extreme moodiness to hyperactivity {way over and above 'normal' kid grumpiness}.
Chloe's reactions show in her skin, her eczema flares up when she has been exposed to too many nasties in food or body products.

As time has gone on {I have been scrutinising what we eat for 6+ years now} it does get so much easier. I have become less reliant on reading labels at the supermarket because we rely less and less on processed and packaged food and make most of our foods from scratch. I am still eliminating things and replacing with safer alternatives, organic products or home made alternatives {like making our own ice cream {it's hard to find a vanilla ice cream that doesn't have something nasty in it!} chocolate syrup concentrate, taco seasoning, and our own milo as well, all of which I can share with you soon}. I bake for school lunches and snacks from scratch at home. Never use bought sauce packets or mixes. I don't buy kids custards, muesli bars, flavoured chips or milks etc. I will occasionally make coloured waffles or biscuits here at home, and I am ok with them eating this because I made them from scratch and as their diet is so low in additives, I'm ok with them eating a green waffle at Christmas.

I hope you find this article to be of some use. I have been wary of posting stuff like this before as I remember what it felt like when I was first told that perhaps what I was feeding my stepchildren was affecting their behaviour. I would always pride myself on the home cooked meals I was feeding them and I guess I felt a bit offended at first that someone would suggest what I was feeding them wasn't that great. I am SO GLAD this was pointed out to me though. It is such an eye opening topic, and I am glad that our children eat a much healthier diet because of it.

I also understand how daunting it is! It is absolutely overwhelming. The numbers and the names - there are so many of them. {my general rule now is that if there are too many chemical sounding names or too many numbers on a packet - it does not go in my trolley!} Hubby has been a little hard to 'convert' but he is totally on board when it comes to the kids, just not really himself.

So start with learning how to read the ingredient panel and about the ingredients that are listed in our foods. Then have a look at the foods you have in your pantry and fridge - chances are if you find something absolutely laden with bad stuff - there is a safer alternative you can buy at the supermarket OR it may be quite easy to make this yourself :o} It's a learning curve! But it's totally worth it. I promise.

I am no expert, and I also know that there is still so many things I could improve food wise for my kiddos to provide them with even healthier food. I am also not saying that cutting out additives and chemicals is the answer to all behavioural issues or asthma / skin problems. But my experience here with my children is that it can help. And never the less, I feel good about feeding them a range of healthy, chemical free foods as I just know that is better for their/our bodies regardless of whether it helps behaviour etc.

This is just an intro to additives in food. If the article seems a little 'strong' - remember I wrote it for an assignment, {just copied and pasted} and it is supposed to be a convincing argument :o}

Food Standards Australia says we need food additives to ensure our food is safe and meets the needs of consumers. However, some of these additives are a cause for concern. In today's society, more than 350 food additives are permitted for use in Australia (2008, Choice.com.au) Out of those, about 50 of them are known to be harmful and even carcinogenic and many are banned in other countries (2009, Fedup.com.au). Some additives in our food have been linked to cancerhyperactivity and behavioural issues in children as well as asthma and other health issues. Additives include but are not limited to: colours, flavour enhancers, preservatives, antioxidants and artificial sweeteners.
Below is a short video from Fed Up with Food Additives author and food advocate Sue Dengate.

Looking at the photo above courtesy of Choice Australia, it is easy to see that additives are in so many different kinds of foods available to Australian consumers today. Biscuits, cereals, flavoured milk, yoghurts, breads, potato chips, meats and drinks are just a few examples of products on our supermarket shelves that more often than not contain a number of additives.
Additives are found in almost all food products. While there are over 350 additives permitted in processed foods in Australia, not every single one of them is harmful. Below is a list of some of the most common or most harmful additives used in Australia and their associated risks. They are listed with their number and their name.


"Southampton Six" {Colours 102, 104, 110, 122, 124, 129}
 in Europe, products with these six colours are required to display the following message: "Warning, may have an adverse effect on activity and attention of children". They are all linked to hyperactivity, skin rashes or allergies, asthma, eczema. Some are suspected carcinogens and some are linked to kidney tumours and chromosomal damage. In Europe and the UK, products containing any of the "Southampton Six" must be labelled with the following warning
133 brilliant blue - Suspected carcinogen, linked to hyperactivity. Asthmatics should avoid this additive.
150 (150a,b,c,d) - Linked to gastro intestinal problems and hypersensitivity.
160b annatto - often labeled as "Natural colour 160b" - Linked to hypersensitivity, allergic reactions, skin irritations, behaviour and learning problems.
Watch out for these in: Soft drinks, cordials, lollies, cakes, ice creams and other highly processed foods. Though "Natural colour 160b annatto is common in many dairy and juice products.

210-216 - Benzoates - linked to hyperactivity, nettle rash, behavioural problems. Asthmatics should avoid these additives. 220-228 Sulphites - Asthmatics should avoid these additives. Linked to gastric irritation/damage, hyperactivity, behavioural problems, nettle rash and swelling. 220 Sulphur dioxide in particular is a possible mutagen and can be fatal in asthmatics.
249-252 Nitrates and Nitrites - Linked to behavioual problems, asthma and breathing difficulties, headaches, dizziness, hyperactivity, kidney inflammation and are possible carcinogens. All are prohibited in foods for infants and young children.
Watch out for these in: processed meats, wine, breads and dried fruits.

310-312 Propyl, Octyl and Dodecyl gallate- Linked to gastric and skin irritations. Asthmatics and aspirin sensitive people and pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid these additives. Prohibited in foods for infants and young children.
319-321 tBHQ, BHA and BHT - Linked to cancer and birth defects, skin irritation and dermatitis. Can cause nausea, vomiting, delirium and collapse. 320 BHA and 321 BHT are prohibited in foods for infants and young children. 319 tBHQ is fatal in a dose of just 5g.
Watch out for these in: instant and highly processed foods, salad dressings, margarine and spreads

Flavour enhancers:
620-635 - This whole range of flavour enhancers includes the famous 621 or Monosodium Glutamate or  MSG, but there are many others included here that should be avoided as there are links to asthma, hyperactivity, depression or mood swings, headaches, abdominal discomfort, restlessness and nausea, convulsions. 627 and 631 are prohibited in foods for infants and young children.

Watch out for these in: sauces, potato chips, flavoured noodles, packet soups and other savoury foods.

Artificial Sweeteners:

951 - Aspartame {Nutrasweet, Equal}- Linked to many health problems including cancer, asthma, nausea, depression, hyperactiviy and seizures.
954 Saccharin - This is a known carcinogen especially linked to bladder and reproductive cancers.
955 Sucralose - Linked to neurological and immunological disorders.
Watch out for these in: diet softdrinks and other 'low sugar' or 'sugar free' food products.

There are many more harmful additives that should be avoided. Above are just some of the most common. FedUp.com.au run by Sue Dengate has a printable PDF document outlining in full the additives that should be avoided, especially in foods for children or asthmatics. Unfortunately, it will become evident that these harmful additives are in many of the foods we feed our children. Some of our most iconic Australian foods contain harmful additives. Vegemite contains preservative 220 in the colouring used {160c} but in an amount that no longer requires labelling under Australian Food label laws and the 'chocolate' coating on Tim Tams contains 4 colours considered to be carcinogens or cause hyperactivity in children and are banned or restricted in other countries {Colours 110, 129, 133 and 150} (2009, Fedup.com.au).
As previously mentioned, not all additives are harmful. This is why it is important to know your numbers (and names!). Simply looking at the ingredient list and counting the additives you see is not enough information to make an informed choice. Some brands may have a few more additives in their product but they may be considered safe or harmless while another brand may only have one additive but it is on the list of those to avoid.

Wouldn't it be great if companies made it easy for us to know what we were buying and feeding our children by being upfront and honest on their food labels?
If Food Products were Honestly Labeled
Unfortunately, reading food labels can be a bit of an effort - it's a minefield out there with so many products, so many names and so many numbers. It's important to know both the name and number of the additives you wish to avoid, as companies can use one or the other (and sometimes both) on their food labels.
It can be quite daunting at first, but there are changes that we can make. Be more aware of the ingredients in the products you are buying. Oftentimes a switch of brands can lessen the number of harmful additives in your family's diet. Print out the Additives to Avoid list and bring it with you when you shop. Start slowly and give yourself time to phase out the products you have at home that contain harmful additives and gradually replace them with safer alternatives. Knowledge is power and we can make a difference if we just face the music and become informed and choose better products for our children.
Read more about additive and their associated risks in these excellent Australian sources that also have books available.
Fed Up with Food Additives - Sue Dengate
Additive Alert - Julie Eady

Feeding our children a low additive diet or a diet free of harmful additives is not impossible. Oftentimes it's just about choosing one brand over another or making something at home from scratch instead. Even cutting out just a few additives here and there could have a profound impact on the health, wellbeing or behaviour of your child.

Adams, M. (2006). Honest Food Labels (comic) [Image]. Retrieved 01 April, 2012 from http://www.naturalnews.com/020148.html
Dengate, S. (2011). All Additives Factsheet. Retrieved 20 March, 2012 from http://www.fedupwithfoodadditives.info/information/additivesall.htm
Fed Up (nd) Food Intolerance Network. Retrieved 20 March, 2012 from http://fedup.com.au/
Fed Up With Food Additives (2011). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved 27 March, 2012 from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:t3g00vOFyAQJ:www.fedupwithfoodadditives.info/information/questions3.htm+vegemite+additive+risk&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au
Food Standards Australia (2012). Food Additives. Retrieved March 30, 2012 from http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/additives/
Fox, M. (2007). Food additives linked to hyperactivity in kids. Retrieved 24 March, 2012 from http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2007/09/06/2025678.htm
Fusara, D. (2011). Beware of the "Southhampton Six". Retrieved 27 March, 2012 from http://ddwilliamson.com/beware-of-the-southhampton-six/
 Mercola, J. (2012). Is this FDA-approved sweetener causing brain damage? Retrieved 27 March, 2012 from http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Safety/chemical/sweetener_0324120739.html
Monica (2011). Making the best food choices for your kids. Retrieved March 7, 2012 from http://www.wholekids.com.au/feed/newsfeed/72 .
When was the chocolate chip cookie invented? (n.d.) [Image]. Retrieved 23 March, 2012 from http://answers.yourdictionary.com/answers/food-cooking/when-chocolate-chip-cookie-invented.html
(2010). The artificial food colouring and hyperactivity link. Retrieved 30 March, 2012 from http://www.kidspot.com.au/familyhealth/family-health-healthy-living-the-artificial-food-colouring-and-hyperactivity-link+3545+190+article.htm

{TAGS: #additives, #children, #diet, #risk, #food, #hyperactivity, #behaviour, #preservatives, #sweeteners, #colours}




  1. thank you. wow. wow!

    1. it is an eye opener isn't it x

  2. Thankyou for making people aware. I attended Julie Eady's Additive Alert talk a few years ago-Brilliant! Definately changed what went into our pantry from there on. I make what I can from scratch and if I can buy an additive free equivalent for some items I opt for that. Also our body products, washing up/laundry liquid is eco alternatives and I make my own eco multi purpose cleaner spray. I have found since using these things for a number of years I cannot stand the smell of highly fragranced washing powders/cleaners.

    With a high rate of cancer in both sides of our families I hope this all helps to keep us and the kids well.


    1. Hi Kristy!
      Julie Eady's Additive Alert is an awesome awesome book. So so much helpful information in it, it helped me feel less overwhelmed! I would love to attend a talk of hers - does she still do them?
      I also watch our body products, especially the kids but hubby is stubborn. I am working on him!
      You are providing a wonderful and safe environment for your kiddos good on you x

  3. Well done Bianca! Thank you so much for sharing this info, can't wait for the recipes! With 2 small ones, a studying husband and a part time job I struggle to find the time to cook from scratch, BUT it is so important, as you have just summerised above.

    1. Hi Bronwyn. Yes it is hard sometimes to fit in cooking from scratch when life is so busy! But any small change in the right direction is a good one for your family :o} Start slow! xx

  4. This is an amazing article. Congratulations. I found this so informative. Thank you for sharing as I think i will be referring to this article again especially those numbers. Elizabeth from thedotdotblog

    1. Hi Elizabeth, thank you so much for your lovely comment! I am so glad you found the article helpful!! x

  5. Thank you Bianca for this. When my youngest was getting diagnosed with Autism I started looking into what is in our food to see if it would help his behavioural issues and also his learning and stumbled across Fed up with food. Six years on, another child later and we will never go back. However, due to our food choices I am constantly judged by people around me. I don't act superior for the way we choose to eat, it is our choice and it has made a significant positive impact on our family and that is all that matters. If people ask, then I will explain the positive changes I have seen and what happens when we don't eat this way (more illness and behavioural issues/meltdowns from my Autistic son). I have shared this link on my facebook page with the hope for more understanding and education. Thank you.

    1. Oh Chris, I am so so sorry to hear that you are judged by those around you! You keep doing what you are doing - you can see the difference is has made for your family and so you stick to it, no matter what anyone says. For me, my kids reactions are mild compared to other reactions I have seen, but even still, I like for them to be fed 'safe' food 90-95% of the time. I am ok with letting slide occasionally at a party or what not because their reactions are mild. If their reactions were more severe I would definitely be standing my ground. It takes a while for the 'toxins' to leave the body and so the reactions for some can last ages! Why put the child and family through that if it is easily avoided? I am sorry you've been judged. That is sad. Keep up all your brilliant work. Your kiddos are benefiting so much xxx

  6. Great post! Thanks. I hope we can spread the message to as many as possible. I too feel weird when I talk about this to others. I feel bad for my kids when they see others with all the fun junk food in their lunchbox's but for their health and my sanity, it's just not worth feeding it to them. My kids aren't really that bad, but if it means I can limit undesired behaviour a bit, then I'm all for it too. So many products are so far from natural that it's terrible. If more parents knew this info I wonder if they'd still choose to feed certain products to their kids. And those that ignore it because it's 'easy', yet complain if their kids are hypo, overweight etc.

    1. I honestly believe that parents wouldn't still choose 'bad' products if they knew what was in them and were also provided with honest alternatives that were easy and affordable. But in our world today time is so limited, it is hard to find the right info too. I don't blame parents who don't know this info yet - I am not sure I would know if it hadn't been pointed out to me years ago. I agree, spread the message and hopefully it becomes the 'norm' rather than the 'weird' x

  7. Hi Bianca

    Just wanted to let your readers know about to fantastic ladies (and personal friends) who are passionate about additives :)

    Mel Avery is the author of two books and runs the website www.letsliveadditivefree.com which talks about hosting parties, christmas etc all additive free.

    Tanya Winfield is the author of two publications including a shopping guide designed to help take the guess work out of nasty additives - her website is www.additivefreepantry.com. Tanya is also trying to start a movement called additive free fridays as well as seeking to petition for the removal of additives from school canteens.

    Both these women have facebook pages and have monthly newsletters to sign up for.

    Hope this information proves helpful xxKerril

    1. Kez, thank you so much for those links! Fantastic!

  8. GReat post Bianca. There is a lot of posts about additives just at the moment and I believe it is fantastic that everyone is creating a lot of awareness around it.
    My first degree was food science, so basically creating packaged foods. It has taught me a lot about food as I have also worked in the processed and packaged food world, developing the products. I do agree with FSANZ that some food additives are necessary for food safety, there is no denying that with a food supply chain like we have today. But, it is super important that if you suspect an intolerance specific food additives, that you can easily find the information. I still remember in my 2nd year subject, food safety, my not so favourite lecturer laughing at me when I asked, "Don't you think it would be a lot easier if we actually labelled and named the food additives on packaging so the consumer knew more about what they were eating!" My lecturer, a professor, the dean of the school at the time and also a figure head in very large food corporations and boards....what the?! Needless to say, we were not great friends!
    I also have come across the lady Tanya Winfield. Great idea for additive free schools. Evidence does not support that all people have effects to food additives, but at the same time, my belief is why test it why they are little. Keep the food real, fresh and whole. There is no need for crap.
    Gosh, this post is long...sorry!!

    1. Hi Amanda! Thank you so much for your insight here. I really appreciate it!
      Yes, I know a lot of people who have zero reactions at all to food additives. And I also agree that many are necessary. I feel the need to rid our diets of those that are known to be harmful, as well as those that my children react to. I have found it is not too hard or limiting now that I have been doing it for so long. And my approach is the same, real, fresh food is always better than the stuff full of additives regardless of whether we react to it or not :o} I just feel better about putting good stuff into our bodies. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!! x

  9. Well done, Bianca. I am also very, very conscious of "numbers" and always try to cook from scratch. I've also read "Chemical-free Kids - How to live a toxic-free life" which is an eye-opener.

    1. Oh thank you Nikki, i haven't read that one yet but will add it to me list! Sounds great. xx

  10. Fantastic post Bianca! My dad had been saying for years that all this "processed crap" isn't good for us, but my mum and us girls were always like whatever dad! Since having my son I've looked at things closer but still fall into the trap of buying foods I grew up on. And I've always looked at avoiding additives but it just seemed too hard, with you saying start slowly makes it easier! To cut them all at once is too overwhelming!
    I 100% believe that food/additives/chemicals play a big part in many issues of today. And while my sons oncologists and drs do not believe me, I do believe that BPA played a part in my sons cancer. Not knowing what BPA was before he was born, after he was born with a hypospadias and finding out there is a link between the 2, then a link between women with pcos and having higher levels of BPA in their system, then him being diagnosed with a cancer that developed in the embryonic tissue it's all to close to believe that "it just happened". While I now do my best at avoiding BPA the fact that it's still in so much stuff is disgusting. Something needs to be done to stop so many harmful things being put into our foods!
    Sorry for the sidetrack ;) lol

  11. A great article Bianca and thank you for sharing it with us. A friend invited me to a talk at her playgroup this week on additives and preservatives but unfortunately I was unable to make it so I'm glad to have been able to read what you've put together here. My friend has a book she said I can borrow so I'm hoping to research this further myself as I think any way we can contribute to our families eating healthier is a positive x

  12. sounds like no fun at all for your kids! don't you feel bad that they're missing out on so much because you're crazy about their food?


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