Let’s Talk Food: Food additives in relation to your child’s health

The American Academy of Pediatrics published on July 23 a technical report about food additives saying there is increasing evidence that synthetic food additives have potential adverse effects on children’s health.

“Concern regarding food additives has increased in the past two decades in part because of studies that increasingly document endocrine disruption and other adverse health effects. In some cases, exposure to these chemicals is disproportionate among minority and low income populations.”


This was never a concern in the past, but with convenient, packaged foods of today, we must be aware of the effects of these additives to our children. Why, you might ask? Because children are particularly susceptible as “they have higher relative exposures compared with adults (because of greater dietary intake per pound), their metabolic (i.e. detoxification) systems are still developing, and systems are still developing, and key organ systems are undergoing substantial changes and maturations that are vulnerable to disruptions.”

The chemicals in question are:

• Bisphenols, or BPA, used in the lining of metal cans to prevent corrosion.

• Phthalates, which are esters of diphthalic acid used in adhesives and plasticizers during manufacturing processes.

• Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), used in grease-proof paper and paperboard food packaging.

• Perchlorate, an antistatic agent used for packaging in contact with dry foods with surfaces that do not contain fat or oil.

• Nitrates and nitrites added to many prepared meats such as hot dogs and ham.

• Artificial food coloring in many cereals and packaged food such as macaroni and cheese.

Bisphenols accelerated in the 1960s, when they were identified as useful ingredients in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and polymeric metal can coatings. Banned from infant bottles, BPAs are still in many plastic containers. If purchasing plasticware for your children’s lunch box, make sure they are BPA-free.

A study of dust, indoor and outdoor air and solid and liquid food in preschool-aged children suggested “dietary sources constitute 99 percent of BPA exposure.”

Many manufacturers voluntarily removed BPAs from their products, but some replaced them with a closely related alternative, bisphenol S, which has similar genotoxicity and estrogenicity as BPA. So when buying plastics, especially for your children’s lunch box, please read the labels.

Phthalates are commonly found in plastic food wrap. A high concentration of these esters plays a key role in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, which can lead to childhood obesity and insulin resistances.

PFCs are found in nonstick cooking surfaces, grease-proofing of paper and paperboard used in food packaging. A 2003-04 NHANES study showed that 98 percent of the U.S. population has detectable concentrations of PFCs in its blood.

“In January 2016, the FDA banned the use of threee classes of long-chain PFCs as indirect food additives. Yet, structurally similar short-chain PFCs, such as PFHxS, may continue to be used.”

Perchlorate enters our food supply as a contaminant in water or as a component in nitrate fertilizers.

It is an antistatic agent in plastic packaging “in contact with dry foods with surfaces that do not contain free fat or oil (such as sugar, flour and starches) or through degradation from hydrochlorite bleach, which is used as a cleaning solution in food manufacturing.”

Perchlorate and other food contaminants alter thyroid hormone homeostasis and might be contributing to the increase in neonatal hypothyroidism and other thyroid system perturbations that have been occuring in the United States. High levels of this chemical also could be associated with poor growth outcomes.

Artificial food colors are added to many cereals and beverages to appeal to young children. Some “fruit” juices contain no fruit juice but are colored with Red 3, Red 40 or Citrus Red 2 instead. FDA data indicate artificial food colors, or AFCs, have increased more than fivefold between 1950 and 2012, from 12 to 68 mg per capita per day.

Studies raised concerns that the effect of AFCs on child behavior and their role in “exacerbating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”

“Elimination of AFCs from the diet may provide benefits to children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”

Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives in cured and processed meats, fish and cheese.

In 2004, The American Medical Association stated “infants are particularly vulnerable to methemoglobinemia from nitrates and nitrites because of the chemical composition of their gastric tracts.”

“In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified ingested nitrates and nitrites, in situations that would lead to endogenous nitrosation (production of N-nitrogen compounds) as probable human carcinogen.”

“In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer specially classified processed meat (which includes meat that has been salted, cured or otherwise altered to improve flavor and preservation) as carcinogenic to humans.”

Consuming high amounts of nitrite-cured meats while pregnant has been linked to an increased risk of childhood brain tumors of the astroglia, which are star-shaped glial cells in the brain and spinal cord.

No infant or child should consume any foods containing nitrates or nitrites. These chemicals can disrupt the thyroid function and interfere with iodide uptake.

Consumers also need to be aware of alternatives for nitrates and nitrites, which includes celery powder, that are labeled as “natural” and “organic.”

“These products may contain nitrate and nitrites in concentrations that can be equivalent to or higher than those found in traditional products using sodium-based sources.”

Read labels and remember that whole foods are the best. If you cannot pronounce an ingredient listed, it probably is not good for your child.


If your child likes hot dogs, there are healthier alternatives, such as Oscar Mayer’s natural uncured turkey franks with no nitrates or nitrites. Yes, it might cost more, like $6.50 for eight hot dogs vs. $2 for turkey or chicken hot dogs with the added nitrates and nitrites, but isn’t your child’s well-being worth it?

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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