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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Preservatives and Behavior in Children

As a new mom of a 10-week old baby I have not yet experienced hyperactivity as a result of feeding sugar or preservatives to my child. But I have heard from many clients and friends who are parents that they swear sugar gives their children a ‘high’ and that preservatives contribute to hyperactivity. To be honest, I have somewhat dismissed their claims because of a lack of solid evidence. That was until a pretty significant study was released this week in The Lancet, a very well respected medical journal.

This study showed that some common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate causes hyperactivity and higher levels of distraction in some children. This is a British medical journal, and the study was also done in Britain. The study fed the same children fruit drinks with the preservatives and food dyes and also drinks free of both and compared their behavior. They found that the 3-year olds studied had a bigger response than the 8 and 9-year olds. The researchers noted that it did not cause full blown Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) symptoms, but did increase lack of concentration, fidgeting, talking or interrupting too much, and restlessness.

This is the first study of this kind to be published with such a significant link between artificial ingredients and hyperactivity. Previous studies have not shown strong correlations and many physicians dismiss the idea of a connection between artificial ingredients and behavior.

Bottom line

My thought is this: If you think your child is sensitive to food dyes, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or anything else they are eating, drinking, or consuming, then eliminate or reduce it in their diet. I do believe that everyone has different sensitivities to certain chemicals and additives. Some people have no reaction whatsoever to dyes and artificial ingredients while others are allergic or may exhibit these hyperactive symptoms. If you are unsure, eliminate these ingredients for a week and slowly add one back at a time and see how the behavior of your child changes. Modify their diet accordingly with what you suspect may be giving them a problem.

Seek the advice of a registered dietitian (RD) to help you and your children with any nutritional concerns. An RD can help you with an elimination diet to isolate potential problematic foods. An RD can also help you identify which foods contain the potential offenders. Reading labels can be very confusing, so seek the advice of a professional to assist you!

Photo of fruit drink courtesy of KO
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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