Written By Jonathan Blackstock
While studies do not show that food additives can actually cause attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they do show correlations between additives and hyperactive behavior. In fact, both the British and American governments restrict the usage of many food coloring additives, and the latter government has even mandated that Yellow No. 5 coloring be labelled so the consumer is aware of the additive’s presence.1 Of course, the entire labelling system works only if the consumer, first, is willing to read the package labels and, second, understands the danger associated with various additives.
Similar guidelines in Australia may not offer much more consumer protection from the additives. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) requires food additives to at least serve some real purpose, such as preserving the food or adding to the taste, and the additives have to be used in the lowest possible quantity to achieve that purpose.2 Who decides what the lowest amount is? Does this plan simply mean that the additives are the lowest amount that will achieve the desired taste of the person who set up the system? Again, while no definitive studies draw an exact cause and effect between ADHD and preservatives or food coloring, frequently ingesting the additives can cause hyperactive behavior in children.
Food additives are, however, not the only cause of such hyperactive, attention-stealing symptoms. According to a University of Chicago study, getting the majority of calories from fat can cause variations in how the body uses neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine fluctuations in the brain negatively affect the nervous system, increasing anxiety behaviors, obesity, and the symptoms associated with ADHD.3 Like the additives, the fat content that can cause other health issues can lead to attention problems and even emotional anxiety.
Of course, we have other choices for ourselves and our children, but we have to consciously make those choices, becoming aware of the harmful additives and limiting the amount of fat we ingest. Sometimes, of course, we may be able to avoid the negative foods by simply searching for healthy foods. In fact, those truly nutritious foods may actually strengthen our learning abilities. For example, food that is more natural and pure can be absorbed into the correct parts of the body and can better serve the purposes that food is supposed to serve. Processed food causes several problems with the digestive system, including possible high levels of lead and mercury. These impurities can inhibit a child’s learning potential and increase the problems caused by learning disabilities. In fact, studies show that organic food is healthier for the human body as well as the human mind because the food is grown in a way that avoids these toxins.4 The natural choice, while not as thoroughly marketed, may make our minds sharper while it make our bodies stronger.
Other foods can also improve intellectual processes. Foods that are high in choline can improve brain development and cerebral functions, including memory. Foods such as eggs, tofu, and liver provide good sources of choline, and the nutrient can be especially beneficial to children during early developmental stages. In fact, human milk can be important to infants for several reasons, including the high levels of choline.5 Of course, these aren’t the only foods that can help children’s brains develop more fully, but as parents, we may want to assume the perception that nothing is neutral. What we ingest either strengthens the mind and the attention span or the additives and fat will fight against thought and attention. In other words, the smart choice is the choice that makes us smarter.