By Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris N.D.

Specialist Naturopath – Holistic Nutritionist – Herbalist – Homoeopath – Remedial Therapist

Children’s behaviour and behavioural symptoms are often caused and aggravated by food additives. Studies show that symptoms of behavioural issues can be reduced and sometimes eliminated by avoiding the following foods and food additives.

High sugar foods – The more sugar consumed, the more hyperactive and restless a child can become as it disturbs concentration and reduces attention span. It’s important to read food labels as sugar can be added using different names such as high-fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, sucrose, molasses, and malt syrup.

Always aim for wholefoods – e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds as these are all high in fibre which slows down the transit of sugar into the blood. This will eliminate blood sugar spikes which are major amplifiers of poor behaviour.

Artificial flavours, colours and preservatives – The relationship between artificial flavours, colours, and preservatives in food and children’s behaviour has been a topic of debate and research for many years. Food additives have been shown to inflame behavioural symptoms, especially the preservative sodium benzoate (found in carbonated drinks, fruit juices, sweetened yoghurts, jams, and other condiments). The main issue around sodium benzoate is its association with hyperactivity. Your simple solution is to always consider a wholefood alternative.

Foods that cause allergies – Food allergies are simply a hysterical response to an overload. Having too much of a certain food or not digesting the food well over time can lead to allergic reactions. Key culprits include gluten grains, dairy, soy and peanuts.  All have been found to worsen behavioural symptoms and cause poor concentration focus and hyperactivity.


Food colourings– There is a link between a mixture of some food colourings and hyperactivity in children. In some countries, food manufacturers are encouraged to find alternatives to artificial colours and some have stopped using them completely. Within other countries, products containing these food colours are now labelled as follows- “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.

Despite the International concern, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, states that these food additives don’t pose any risk to public health and safety for children in Australia. The concerning food colours are tartrazine (102), quinoline yellow (104), sunset yellow FCF (110), carmoisine (122), ponceau 4R (124) and allura red AC (129).

Preservatives– Flavoured drinks such as soft drinks, mineral waters, cordials and fruit drinks may contain a concerning mixture of additives. In particular, those containing sodium benzoate (211) and potassium benzoate (212) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), can form benzene which is a known carcinogen. Choice Australia recommends steering clear of products that contain benzoates and ascorbic acid.

Processed meats– The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified both potassium and sodium nitrate (249, 250) as possible carcinogens to humans. Given that they are found in foods like sausages, frankfurts, salami, bacon and ham; we should aim to minimise/avoid consumption of these (unless they are nitrate free).

Dried fruit and juices– Sulphur preservatives (220-228) are often used in fruit juice, processed foods, and dried fruits.  These have been shown to trigger asthma attacks and these should be replaced with preservative free versions.

Artificial sweeteners– Often used as a weight-loss aid, artificial sweeteners are considered possibly a bigger risk than being overweight. This is because they are complex chemicals and require extra work from the liver for their metabolism. Multiple studies have linked the popular artificial sweetener aspartame to many serious health issues. Its long term use has been associated with cancer, cardiovascular disorders, dementia, gastrointestinal issues, mood disorders and migraines.

If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour and you feel that food additives may be a cause, please talk to your health professional.  As a paediatric naturopath, I am well versed in this area and can help give you professional direction.

Feel free to make an appointment by calling (03) 5221 8220, as I would love to discuss any of these concerns with you further.

Yours in good health,



Sarah Harris

Specialist Naturopath, Holistic Nutritionist, Herbalist, Homoeopath

View Profile