Ever have the kids return from a day out with the babysitter or a friend’s party and find them acting totally crazy and hyperactive? Some foods can make kids go totally crazy, leading to a range of behaviours like hyperactivity, aggression, and irritability.

Processed and packaged foods may be convenient, but can include ingredients that are designed to preserve and help improve the taste of the food. Some additives are necessary to make the foods safe to eat.

Ever wondered what the numbers mean on the label? 120, 270, 1958…. What on earth are these?

It may as well be in another language – with all the various preservatives it pays to familiarise yourself with them to know which ones might cause a nasty reaction with your kids.

Additives are grouped according to their function.

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1.  Adding or restoring colour to foods

These are the numbers in the 100s. Artificial colours can cause a range of reactions, including behaviour problems, asthma, wheezing, rashes, digestive upsets, and hay fever. Some are natural colours and some are artificial.

Natural colours, like caramel (150a-d), beet red (162), chlorophyll (140, 141) and beta-carotene (160a) have no limit to their use in food safety and can be added to any food, often not causing any harmful reaction.

Artificial colours, like tartrazine, Sunset Yellow FCF, erythrosine, amaranth and Brilliant Blue FCF have been linked to adverse reactions in the past and could react sensitively with children.

Often people see sugar as the culprit after eating their kids eat sweets, but sweets like candy, lollipops, cordials and ice creams can also include high levels of added colouring that could be causing the damage.

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2.  Preserving foods – preventing them from spoiling

Preservatives are numbered in the 200s. There are 5 groups of preservatives that can cause problems: sorbates, benzoates, sulphur-containing preservatives, propionates and nitrates. Sorbates often come in the form of potassium sorbate (201), and are added to foods like cottage cheese, yoghurt, dried fruit, and some syrups. Benzoates, such as sodium benzoate (221), are added to some soft drinks, cordials, and other beverages.

In a high concentration both preservative types in natural or added form can be a catalyst for a bad reaction and should be considered when eliminating potential causes.

Sulphites like sulphur dioxide (220), and sodium metabisulphite (223), can cause an asthma reaction in a small number of people and are added to some vinegars, pickled food, dried vegetables and fruit, and fruit juice drinks. Propionates include calcium propionate (282) are added to breads, cakes, some cheeses. Nitrates should be watched and in the form of potassium nitrate (252), can be converted to nitrosamines in the body, which can cause cancer. They are usually added to processed meats.

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3.  Flavour enhancers to improve the flavour of foods

Flavour enhancers have code numbers in the 600s. MSG, which you may have heard of to be contained in chinese food, is monosodium glutamate (621). Along with disodium guanylate (627) and ribonucleotides (635), they are often found in soups, sauces, stocks, gravies, Asian dishes, instant noodles, flavoured snacks, etc. Asian cooks use MSG extracted from seaweed to flavour their food instead of salt. Eaten at their normal dose they do not pose a risk but at abnormally high doses they are linked to intolerance symptoms.

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Additives to watch out for:

Artificial Colours:

  • 102, 107, 110, 122-129, 132, 133, 142, 151, 155, 160b (annatto)

Preservatives:

  • Sorbates 200, 201, 202, 203
  • Benzoates 210, 211, 212, 213
  • Sulphites 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228
  • Nitrates, nitrites 249, 250, 252
  • Propionates 280, 281, 282, 283

Flavour Enhancers:

  • Glutamates and MSG 620, 621, 622, 623, 624, 625
  • Disodium guanylate 627
  • Disodium inosinate 631
  • Ribonucleotides 635
  • Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP) – no number

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If you are worried about your child reacting negatively to certain foods, speak to a dietician and they will be able to help identify which additives are causing the symptoms.

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