Your child eats a bag of brightly colored candy and within an hour is bouncing off the walls (literally). Naturally, you assume the sugar is to blame. But is it just the sugar?

According to the US Center for Disease Control, the national rate of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD (which now encompasses attention deficit disorder or ADD) diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006, and an average of 5.5% per year from 2003 to 2007. In 2007, approximately 9.5% of American children 4-17 years of age (5.4 million) were diagnosed with ADHD.

These numbers are absolutely insane!

While the causes of behavioral issues are not entirely known and likely to vary, numerous studies suggest that certain ingredients, particularly those found in processed foods, are triggering behavioral problems in children. With 90% of the average American’s food budget going towards processed foods, and the astounding spike in behavioral issues, this is a serious public health concern.

Food dyes

Over the past 50 years, chemical dyes used in foods has increased by a whopping 500%. A total of nine synthetic dyes are used by food manufacturers in the US, but 3 dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6) make up 90% of the market. These dyes are everywhere, from cereal to toothpaste, apple sauce to cough syrup.

Studies dating back to the seventies have found that removing these dyes from a child’s diet has a profound effect, about a quarter of the effect of prescribed ADHD medicine.

Warning labels for synthetic food dyes are required in much of Europe, and concerns about the dyes have even caused some governments to ban their use (to see other food additives that have banned by other countries yet are still allowed for use in the US, click here). In response to this legislation and public concern, certain American companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft have completely done away with artificial dyes in their products sold overseas, though the dyes remain in their products sold to the American-market.

Nutri-Grain-US-vs-UK

Though in 2011 the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) voted against putting warning labels on foods containing synthetic dyes in the US, some American stores such as Whole Foods do not sell products containing artificial dyes.

Gluten

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance is becoming increasingly common: it is estimated that 1 in every 133 individuals has celiac disease, and that up to 8% of all individuals experience gluten intolerance.

Children and adults with undiagnosed celiac disease have a much higher risk of ADHD than the general population. One study found that amongst a test group of individuals diagnosed with ADHD, 15% tested positive for celiac disease. This is a markedly higher incidence than is found in the general population, which sees a 1% rate. Once these individuals started a gluten-free diet, they (or their parents in the case of children) reported significant improvements in their behavior and functioning.

Soy

Soy can be found in most processed foods nowadays, from infant formula to bread. While this so-called “health food” has been linked to several health ailments, the problem with soy here is that fact that it is extremely high in manganese. Though an essential nutrient, when consumed in excess, manganese becomes a potent neurotoxin. Mounting evidence shows that excessive exposure to manganese increases the risk of neurological problems, learning disabilities, developmental disorders, mental health disorders, and ADHD.

Aspartame

Aspartame has been linked to an array of emotional and behavioral disorders. High levels of aspartame can alter serotonin levels, which can lead to behavioral problems, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. In some studies, the side effects were so severe that doctors were forced to prematurely end the studies.

MSG

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is an excitotoxin, a type of neurotoxin that essentially excites your brain cells to death. It has profound effects on the mood and behavior of children in particular. According to neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That KillsMSG crosses the blood/brain barrier and can cause the developing nerve fibers to be miswired.

MSG is found in most fast foods as well as processed meats, frozen meals, soup mixes, salad dressings and many other processed foods. Unfortunately, there are numerous pseudonyms for MSG that may appear on ingredient labels that you need to look out for: hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast, sodium caseinate.

Sources and further reading

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