Can Eating Processed Foods Have a Negative Impact on a Child?

By Amy Sutton
Processed foods, like hot dogs, can contain man-made additives.
Processed foods, like hot dogs, can contain man-made additives.

As a parent, you want your child to eat the best foods possible, so he can grow up strong and healthy. It can be tough to know exactly what your child should be eating and what things should be avoided. You may even wonder about the effects of eating a diet that includes those convenient, processed foods. Some additives in processed foods are man-made and can be harmful in large amounts, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, so it can be helpful to know which types of foods or additives to avoid.

Understanding What "Processed" Means

There are many types of foods that are processed, which then have a longer shelf life. A processed food is any type of food that is not a raw agricultural commodity or a raw agricultural commodity that has been milled, canned, cooked, dehydrated or frozen, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While you may think of a hamburger and french fries from a fast-food joint as being processed, you might not realize that canned fruit and vegetables have also been processed to preserve them longer. It's important to check labels, since some canned fruits have added sugar and canned vegetables often have added salt. Look for fruit canned in 100 percent fruit juice and vegetables that are low in sodium or have no added salt, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's A Lot of Additivies

Your family, like other families, is probably busy and on-the-go a lot. So, it's sometimes easier to grab convenience foods. Almost 90 percent of an average family's grocery budget is spent on processed foods, according to Healthy Child Health World. Some of those packaged, process foods can have negative health effects on a child. Processed foods that can be harmful include those packed with sugar, artificial flavors, salt, trans fats, preservatives and man-made additives, such as artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, MSG, sulfites, benzoic acid and dyes, states the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Children's Behavior and Intelligence

Eating a diet that's high in processed foods, sugars and fats during early childhood may lower your child's IQ, suggests a study conducted by the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, at the University of Bristol. It showed that children who ate a diet made up mostly of processed foods, were more likely to have a lower IQ at the age of 8 1/2. Behavior can be affected by eating processed foods as well, since processed foods lack the proper nutrition children need to grow and develop properly. Amino acids, mineral, vitamins and essential fatty acids are important components, according to In addition, some children with ADHD can be sensitive to some additives found in certain types of processed foods. Eliminating processed foods with those additives can be a helpful part of an overall ADHD treatment plan for those children, suggests.

Choose Foods With Care

Proper nutrition is accomplished through a balanced diet with food choices from each food group, according to the University of Michigan Health System. As much as possible, feed your child fresh lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Pack your child's lunches with foods that come in a natural form, making sandwiches with whole-wheat bread and no processed meats, adding whole-wheat pretzels or crackers, fat-free milk and raw fruits and vegetables, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. Avoid giving your child caffeine, soft drinks, junk food, candy and fast food. It can be nearly impossible to eliminate all processed foods from your child's diet, so when choosing processed foods, such as canned, dried or frozen vegetables and fruits, go with the ones packed in their own juices, unsweetened, low in sodium and without added fat, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends.