While the scientific jury is still out on conclusive proof, many parents will tell you that they are certain that particular colours and additives to food send their children crazy! Red cordial is a commonly-cited culprit, but it’s more complicated than that.
“In my professional experience the top two additives that my patients have issues with are number 102 - tartrazine, which is a bright yellow colour and number 62 – MSG which is a flavour enhancer,” says Mum and nutritionist Kate di Prima. “Common symptoms can be hyperactivity and a lack of attention span, exacerbation of ADHD, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, dizziness – the list goes on.”
Greater parental awareness of potential issues with artificial colourings resulted in ALDI banishing artificial colourings from its entire range of food last year and Coles has now followed suit, announcing this week that 100% of their own Coles Brand of food and drink products are now free from artificial colours, as well as from added Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
“We have listened to our customers’ concerns that they would prefer us not to use additives in our products and following five years of extensive product development, we are now able to ensure 100% of Coles Brand food and drink products are free of artificial colour and added MSG,” says Jackie Healing, quality manager for Coles. “Our customers are clearly concerned by food additives and the effect they believe they have on their health. A significant number have indicated that they or their children have experienced reactions to artificial colours and MSG.”
The numbers were significant indeed, with Coles research finding that 91% of Australians are worried about consuming products with artificial colours and added MSG and one in three parents believe that their children have had a reaction to artificial colours. But is this simply perception or is it a fact?
Our customers are clearly concerned by food additives and the effect they believe they have on their health. A significant number have indicated that they or their children have experienced reactions to artificial colours and MSG.
Most research concludes that the average child should not have an adverse reaction to artificial colourings given the amount that is routinely consumed, although artificial colourings could worsen the symptoms of children with attention deficit disorders. An analytical survey undertaken by Food Standards Australia New Zealand echoed this approach, stating that there is “no public health and safety risk from the consumption of foods containing added colours as part of a balanced diet.” You can read the full report here.
Nevertheless many parents would beg to differ, with Kate di Prima finding an increased number of clients with additive-related symptoms. “Fifty years ago we had a very basic diet – probably a plain cereal for breakfast, a simple sandwich for lunch and meat with three vegies for dinner,” she says. “There wasn’t the prevalence of variety that we have now. There are so many more flavoured biscuits, snacks like three-minute noodles, fruit-flavoured straps and wraps and jello’s. Our exposure to artificial colours is becoming far more prevalent. That’s why I have been pushing the need for healthy lunchboxes in the past few years. Grain sandwiches, low-fat dairy foods and fruit. We need to move away from the packaged foods.
Going package-free is easier said than done though, which is why Ms di Prima is so enthusiastic by the recent supermarket initiatives. “I really applaud companies who are taking that step forward to ban artificial colours,” she says. “It really does help to make parents’ job that much easier.”
For parents who are concerned, Food Standards Australia New Zealand publishes a list of all food additives, which you can download here. Another useful list to print and take with you to the supermarket is one that outlines the additives to avoid, which is published by the Food Intolerance Network. You can access it here.
Parents: Have you or your children experienced any reaction to artificial colourings? Do you avoid them? Comment on the Essential Kids' Forums.