Preservatives in Food and Child Behavior

Preservatives, additives and food coloring are found in many types of food today. Busy families have less time to make home cooked meals, and they often turn to easy-to-prepare food or fast food outlets. Unfortunately, some connections have been found, linking some preservatives in food with a child's behavior.

Preservatives and Additives

Preservatives are chemicals added to processed and packaged foods to prevent them from spoiling. by delaying the decomposition process. There are many types of preservatives, including benzoic acid, sodium benzoate and sulfites. Citric and ascorbic acids, sodium nitrite and sulfur dioxide are also sometimes used to preserve foods. Citric and ascorbic acid are found naturally in fruits, unlike many other preservatives, which are usually chemical. Food additives are substances added to food, either directly or indirectly. Some are purposely added to improve texture or flavor, while others are indirectly added during packaging or handling. All materials that can come into contact with food must be approved safe by the FDA before being used though. Color additives are pigments or dyes that are added to foods for a variety of reasons, such as to correct variations in color or to make food or drinks more appealing.

Foods with Preservatives

Preservatives are commonly found in fast food items, like burgers and fries. Many convenience foods have preservatives added as well. Processed meats, like lunch meats, bacon, sausage and hot dogs contain sodium nitrate, some fresh meats have carbon monoxide added to keep them looking fresh. Some fresh vegetables have sulfites added to keep them fresh and dairy products, like cheese and milk have preservatives, including natamycin and potassium sorbate to keep them from molding. Any boxed or canned food you pick up a the grocery store likely has some sort of preservative added to keep it from spoiling. This could include salt, butylated hydroxyanisole and sodium benzoate. Surprisingly, many of the drinks people consume contain large amount of preservatives, colorings and additives, as well.


Many of the preservatives, food colorings and additives that are added to foods can have a negative affect on a child's behavior. Children with ADHD or other behavior disorders often have a more difficult time with behavior after consuming these foods. According to Dr., parents should avoid feeding their children foods with large amounts of sugar, artificial colors, salt, chemical preservatives and artificial sweeteners. Each of these additives can have a negative impact on a child's behavior, as well as on his health.


Studies have linked preservatives, food colorings and additives to hyper behavior. One from the University of Southampton in the U.K. showed that 3-year-olds and 8-to 9-year-olds were significantly more hyper after consuming drinks filled with additives. These drinks contained the preservative sodium benzoate and artificial food colors. A study by the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University shows that while artificial food colors are not the main cause of ADHD, children show significant improvement of their hyperactivity symptoms when they consume a diet without artificial food colors 25.

Healthy Diet

The bottom line is that children need to be fed a healthy, well-balanced diet. Following the recommendations at, from the USDA, can make this easier for parents 7. This includes eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Reading food labels and choosing fresh foods, in place of packaged or canned foods can ensure that your child is getting the best nutrition. Avoid foods that contain preservatives, and unnecessary additives and food coloring. It doesn't take long for children's taste buds to change from wanting soda to orange juice, and from wanting candy to loving fruits and fruit smoothies.