In the previous post, Diet and ADHD in children, Part 1, I focused on

Making sure your child is getting his or her basic nutritional needs met.

Today I'm going to focus on how to avoid (or minimize) the food additives that are detrimental to his or her health.

Since reading the book, “Eating for Autism,” and others like it, I have made quite a few changes to Nathan's diet. That is, I've removed things that I've decided aren't so good for him.

I must be honest when I say that I haven't noticed any remarkable changes in his behavior, like many have when making these significant changes. However, I still know that it's making a difference. One of the things about prevention is that you're preventing it from happening. So, obviously it didn't happen. You can't know about something that didn't happen, right? I believe that's important to remember.

It's not just about reducing behavior and allergy issues; it's about preventing them from happening at all.

The process is complicated and time consuming. However, if you have a child with major behavior issues, who is nonverbal, or has any other extreme symptoms, you may find the time and effort worth it in the end.

The next step is straight forward:

Get Rid of Harmful Toxins

So, what should you strive to remove, or at least reduce, and why? You should eliminate all synthetic food additives because evidence is growing that these additives do affect people who are sensitive.

Food additives include artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. Click here for partial list

One of the issues with toxins is that there are so many of them in the diet of Americans. And food manufacturers are quite skilled at hiding these worrisome ingredients under different names. For example, MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), which I will talk about in a minute. But first, let's talk about “GRAS.”


“GRAS,” which stands for “Generally Regarded as Safe,” is the label or certification the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives when they determine that an ingredient in food is safe to eat. Once a food is labeled as “GRAS,” it's impossible to get it removed from this list.  Unfortunately, many food ingredients that have been labeled GRAS aren't necessarily safe for everyone.

Here's what the FDA has to say about GRAS:

“GRAS” is an acronym for the phrase Generally Recognized as Safe. Under sections 201(s) and 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act), any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive. (Emphasis Mine)

But if you look at the list of food additives, you might not be feeling so positive about the “safe” part of GRAS, especially when you realize that certain substances were “grandfathered” into the GRAS designation under the Food Additive Amendment of 1958. In other words, they were never really tested for safety before GRAS was slapped on them.

Saccharin is one of these ingredients.

Saccharin, which has been clearly shown to cause bladder cancer in rats, is still on the market because it falls under “GRAS.”

Other ingredients that are labeled as GRAS are questionable, including Aspartame and MSG. Despite the fact that numerous people have reported adverse symptoms to Aspartame and MSG, the FDA refuses to budge on its classification of GRAS for both additives.

So, GRAS was created in an effort by the FDA to monitor food additives. The designation GRAS, according to the FDA, is supposed to mean the food additive is safe for the general public. But kids with ADD, ADHD, and Autism are not the “general public.” And studies are showing that many of these food additives have detrimental effects on these kids and other sensitive people.

Many of these additives contain suspicious ingredients or are created by suspicious means. For example, artificial colors.

Artificial Colors

Most artificial colors contain Coal Tar. Coal Tar is a by-product of coal, and it has been shown to be a carcinogen. So, besides the fact that artificial colors have been shown to increase behavior problems and hyperactivity, there's the risk of cancer. Coal tar is also used in shampoo, soap, and as a treatment for lice (yikes)!

The current artificial colors used include Blue #1 and #2, Green #3, Red #3 and #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6, and Orange. Look for these ingredients on food labels if you want to avoid them.

Artificial Flavors

Artificial flavors are added to food to improve and enhance the flavor of natural food. For example, MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), which is the most common. Do any of you remember the old “Accent” spice? The commercials used to say, “Enhances the flavor of foods.” Well, that's what Accent is: MSG. In fact, it turns out that Accent is alive and well in the food community. My husband was just in the hospital, and I discovered that they were giving him an Accent packet on his meal trays.

Here is the ingredient list for Accent:

MSG, salt, chili pepper, Tricalcium Phosphate, (anticaking agent), spice (cumin, oregano), Paprika Extractives (color), Garlic Extractives, Onion Extractives, Yellow Lake No. 6, Yellow Lake No. 5.


I could not eat Chinese food as a child, because I got sick. I remember one time I was so sick I didn't even get out of bed. My mom was not happy with me! When I was older, someone told me it was MSG that made me sick. Fast forward to the current day. The food manufacturers still claim it's all in our head that MSG causes symptoms. Yet many Chinese (and other Asian) restaurants are MSG free.

And the FDA is requiring MSG to be labeled if it is in a particular food. That should make us all wonder.

Some people think MSG is addicting.

For example, many fast foods contain MSG. I have found when I eat a lot of fast food, I want to eat more. In fact, my first job was at McDonald's. I remember that I always wanted to eat there even on my days off. Addicting? Maybe.

While in college, I read a book titled, “The Slow Poisoning of America.” It seemed extreme at the time, but it did discuss MSG in depth. If you're interested in reading this book, it is available on Amazon.

Some people believe that MSG is added to foods because of its addictive properties.

Do an internet search under “Is MSG addictive?” and you will see what I mean.

At any rate, if you are interested in removing MSG from your kids' diets, you will need to learn to identify it on food labels. Unfortunately, it's not so straight forward. Even though the FDA requires a manufacturer to state “Contains MSG” on the package, food manufacturers figure out ways to avoid putting it on the label.

The reason is because it's not actually the sodium part of MSG that is bad. It's the glutamate part.

Glutamate, or glutamic acid, is a naturally occurring amino acid. So, technically it's “natural.” As a result, if a food contains any form of glutamate (if it's not actually MSG), it can be labeled under “natural flavors” or “spices.”

Also watch out for the chemicals “disodium inosinate” and “disodium guanylate,” because these are always associated with MSG. Other ingredients that contain glutamate are hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate.

As you can see, carefully reading labels and doing your research is extremely important, if you want to eliminate or reduce MSG in your family's diet.

Artificial Food Preservatives

Two artificial food preservatives that have caused controversy are butylated hydroxy anisole “BHA” and butyl hydroxytoluene “BHT.” These two preservatives are used in cereals, certain oils, and in cosmetics.

When I first learned about BHA/BHT, I discovered that Cheerios had them listed as an ingredient. I was really bummed because Cheerios are one of my favorite cereals. Reluctantly, I stopped buying Cheerios after that.

The good news is that Cheerios stopped using that preservative. One day I was in the grocery store, thinking, “Boy some Cheerios really sounds good right now. It's too bad they contain that cursed ingredient!” Just for fun, I checked the label. It was no longer there! So now my family can eat Cheerios again.

So, read food labels, and re-read them again, because food manufacturers are starting to get the hint that increasing numbers of people don't want that junk in their food!

Other common preservatives that are often not tolerated and that can be harmful are sulfites and sodium nitrites/nitrates. Sulfites are found in dried fruit, certain aged cheeses, and wine. Nitrites are found in ham, hot dogs, salami, other cold cuts, and bacon. The good news is that there are sulfite free versions of most foods. There are also nitrate free versions of cold cuts as well.

In part 3 of this series, I will discuss specific vitamins and minerals, and why they are important, in more detail.

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Artificial Additives and Our Kids' Health

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