In a post last November, I reported the findings of an excellent study in the prestigious U.K. medical journal, the Lancet, that found that children in general, and not just those suffering from Attention deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), can become more impulsive, inattentive and hyperactive from the cocktail of artificial extras found in drinks, sweets and processed foods.
The British Medical Journal just published an editorial by Andrew Kemp, professor of pediatric allergy and clinical immunology, who recommends a supervised trial eliminating colors and preservatives from the diet of hyperactive children as part of the standard treatment:
“Eliminating colourings and preservatives is regarded by some as an "alternative" treatment rather than a "standard" treatment (stimulant drugs) for attention deficit disorder. "Alternative" medicine is popular with the public—40-50% of children attending tertiary children’s hospitals in the UK and Australia have used it in the past year—but it is rightly regarded with suspicion by many medical practitioners because of lack of evidence. However, meta-analysis shows that dietary elimination of colourings and preservatives provides a statistically significant benefit. In view of the relatively harmless intervention of eliminating colourings and preservatives, and the large numbers of children taking drugs for hyperactivity (2.4% of children in the state of Western Australia receive stimulant drugs for attention deficit disorder, it might be proposed that an appropriately supervised and evaluated trial of eliminating colourings and preservatives should be part of standard treatment for individual children.”
He also suggests that of the three treatment modalities for ADHD in children -- drugs, behavioral therapy and dietary modification -- only drugs and dietary modification are supported by data from several trials. Yet, behavioral therapy, which has little or no scientific evidence, is still thought of as necessary for adequate treatment and widely practiced, while elimination of colorings and preservatives is not.
I am crazy about color, and surround myself with it (I even have a few bright red and chocolate brown walls). I also think it’s really important to serve food that appeals to all the senses, and the color of the food and the table setting makes a huge difference to how we experience the food --it even changes how it tastes. That’s why we should appreciate fruits, vegetables spices and herbs so much -- they are a delight to the eyes, with all their different colors and textures.
But added artificial colors in processed foods are a different issue; they surely add nothing to your health, may be harmful, and if the food doesn’t stand up to your standards of being appealing enough without added color, it’s probably just not very good.
Chemical preservatives are a different issue. We need to have more innovation in the food industry in order to maintain food safety without preservatives; manufacturers can’t just decide to eliminate them in prepared food without finding new solutions for keeping food fresh and safe to eat.
By choosing foods free of chemical preservatives, we create a market demand that pushes manufacturers to find new, healthier ways to preserve food. Bear in mind, that when you make your own food at home, you never use preservatives (I’m sure you don’t have sodium benzoate in your pantry), and that’s probably the easiest, healthiest way to avoid a lot of preservatives.