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023 - Food Additives, Preservatives, & Attention Issues

posted Nov 20, 2015, 12:51 PM by Doug Muha   [ updated Nov 20, 2015, 12:52 PM ]

Counselor Notes 23

Unpublished (November 20, 2015)

Food Additives, Preservatives & Attention Issues


In October 2015, the World Health Organization came out with the finding that processed meat is bad for you.    http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34615621    

WebMD http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/news/20120109/is-there-an-adhd-diet has said that processed meat is potentially linked to ADHD:


There isn’t a specific diet or magic vitamin that will curb hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and other symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but steering clear of certain unhealthy foods may make a difference, a new review shows.

Foods that may predispose a child to ADHD include:

·         Fast foods

·         Red meat

·         Processed meats

·         Potato chips

·         High-fat dairy foods

·         Soft drinks

In looking at these foods WebMD listed, it may be that parents may want to pay particular attention to the additives/preservatives: phosphates, nitrites, and sodium bezonate


Regarding phosphates in the diet, http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science/Phosphate-in-food-is-health-risk-that-should-be-labelled-claim-researchers notes:

“Phosphate additives also play an especially important role in the meat industry where they are used as preservative.  They are also used as a component of melting salts in the production of soft cheeses and are found in flavored soft drinks and powered products.” 

“Because of the increased use of food additives, the estimated daily intake of phosphate containing food additives has more than doubled since the 1990s….”

http://unritalinsolution.com/phosphate_free_diet would seem to agree:

Because of the fast-paced Western world’s preference for processed “instant” foods, people in developed nations now consume three times more phosphates than is considered normal. This upsets the body’s calcium/phosphorus balance, resulting in mineral deficiencies and numerous health problems. ADHD is just one of them.

Several years ago, a German pharmacist named Hertha Hafer discovered that a low-phosphate diet dramatically reduced hyperactive behavior in children with ADHD.

http://www.phosadd.com/foods/foodselection.htm adds that

Hafer argues that other diets have failed to provide consistent results [about ADHD] because the problem constituent - phosphate - was not recognized in earlier studies. Many experimental diets eliminated some of the sources of excess phosphate but permitted other problem foods to continue to be consumed. Thus such diets and experiments yielded very variable and conflicting results. Hafer's approach lies in the identification of added phosphates in modern, processed diets and avoiding them. The experience of thousands of families in Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe provides strong support for her claim. 

Phosphate is a very common ingredient in modern diets. It is a highly versatile food-additive which food manufacturers use in abundance. It is used in the form of preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners; it is added to the flour aerators in self-raising flours; it is put into soda and cola drinks in the form of phosphoric acid and the list continues. Industrial phosphates are produced each day in most countries by the tonne.

There are also a number of natural foods that have elevated phosphate levels. Naturally occurring phosphates are designed to nourish fast growing animals and plants. Whilst they do not present as big a problem as the manufactured foods, it nevertheless is important to be aware of their presence.

In this context, it is important to mention that ADD/ADHD is not a condition with a long history, unlike a wide range of other health problems which have been recorded regularly for thousands of years. ADD/ADHD is not reported in countries where people continue to eat a traditional diet of unprocessed foods. However, in countries in which there has been progressively a shift to processed and convenience foods and in which natural foods high in phosphate have become more readily available throughout the year, ADD has become a major problem.  http://www.phosadd.com/diet/diet.htm

http://www.phosadd.com/mainpage/main33.htm adds:

Today it is known that phosphate run-off from cleaning products, fertilizers and agri-chemicals has a highly damaging effect on the earth's eco-systems. Environmentally concerned people across the world very quickly instigated successful programs to protect plants, waterways, marine life, and so forth. In contrast, few people realize that phosphate-rich foods and beverages pose an equally serious health hazard to sensitive children and adults. This page discusses the connection between the high intake of phosphate-rich foods and ADD/ADHD and the link between the high intake of phosphate and other health conditions.

(The bit on ph was noted in Counselor Notes 21; the part of pollution in Counselor Notes 7)


Nitrites are going to be controversial and should be investigated fully.   They are found in naturally occurring in vegetables which most people don’t get enough of.  They are also artificially put in meat.  Does that make them bad?  There is controversy.  I list them here as when trying to help a shild with attention problem, one should at least consider the critics of nitrites.

Prevention magazine http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/nitrites-and-nitrates  notes:

Nitrites keep the fat in meat from going rancid while inhibiting the growth of dangerous bacteria like listeria and botulinum. But in the 1970s, researchers discovered that when meat containing sodium nitrite is heated above 266°F, it creates nitrosamines, or compounds that are carcinogenic to animals. That triggered the USDA to limit the amount of nitrites that may be added to cured meats and to require that all products containing nitrites include vitamin C, which prevents the formation of nitrosamines. Still, in 2010, WHO listed ingested nitrates and nitrites as probable human carcinogens.

Other web sites focusing on DHD would have you consider if nitrites are a problem:  https://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/2010/09/12/the-truth-about-nitrites-for-my-bacon-and-hot-dog-lovin-friends/  

WebMD http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-diets?page=2  notes that:

Based on this and other recent studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics now agrees that eliminating preservatives and food colorings from the diet is a reasonable option for children with ADHD. Some experts recommend that people with ADHD avoid these substances:

·         Artificial colors, especially red and yellow

·         Food additives such as aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), and nitrites. Some studies have linked hyperactivity to the preservative sodium benzoate.



Sodium benzonate may deserved to be scrutinized as well.  http://www.livestrong.com/article/525531-facts-on-sodium-benzoate/ says that:

Sodium benzoate is a preservative found in a variety of foods, beverages and condiments. While it is generally recognized as safe in small doses, sodium benzoate may cause harmful health effects under certain conditions….

….Sodium benzoate can trigger allergic reactions in some people, though. According to the December 2007 issue of "Environmental Health Perspectives" it has also been implicated as a potential trigger for hyperactivity in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

 http://www.naturalnews.com/033726_sodium_benzoate_cancer.html#ixzz3s3aAbos0 notes:

Organic consumers and nutritionists may already know, but the rest of the general population does not know about sodium benzoate. It has the ability to deprive the cells of oxygen, break down the immune system and cause cancer.

Regarding sodium benzonate, http://healthwyze.org/index.php/component/content/article/204-are-you-getting-enough-sodium-benzoate-in-your-diet.html writes:

One of the dirty secrets of the soft drink and processed food industries is sodium benzoate. It is a benzene compound that is produced by mixing benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide. It is a common preservative in processed foods and soft drinks. It has been associated with a vast array of health problems, including all of our major epidemics……

Countries throughout Europe have been pressuring the food industry to voluntarily remove sodium benzoate from products, before more aggressive action is taken. Several European media outlets have called for an absolute ban on this toxic preservative due to concerns about children's developmental safety.

http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/foods-to-avoid#Chemicals5  says:   

When an influential study combined synthetic food dyes with the preservative sodium benzoate, it found increased hyperactivity. You might find sodium benzoate in carbonated drinks, salad dressings, and condiments. Other chemical preservatives to look for are:

·         butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

·         butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

·         sodium nitrate

·         tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)


http://diet.lovetoknow.com/wiki/ADD/ADHD_Diet would agree with watching the preservatives.


Food dyes are another additive that parents of children with attention issues should also consider.   The Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adhd/expert-answers/adhd/faq-20058203 writes:    

Countries differ on which food color additives, sometimes called food dyes, they'll allow in food and drinks and how they're labeled. For example, the European Union (EU) requires that foods containing certain food color additives include a statement on the label that this color "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." The FDA only requires that FDA-certified color additives be listed on the food label.  

I won’t go into greater detail on that here as food dyes were discussed in greater detail in Counselor Notes 11.

Many of these links talk about the drinking soda.  Counselor Notes 6 and 29 addressed in more detail the ways that soda may contribute to attention and health problems.

Doug Muha Ed.S.
School Counselor
Waverly Elementary School