5 Chemicals that ADHDer’s would be wise to avoid. August 17 2015

Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to hear. Many of the foods you find down the aisles of the grocery store contain chemicals that can affect not only overall health but also the development and behavior of the brain. Despite the fact most of these chemicals have been banned in other countries for years, the U.S. has been slow to implement policies that prohibit them from being used in the American food system and… (gulp!)… out of your kitchen.

Long story short, our brains and bodies deserve better. Knowing which chemicals to avoid is a good way to start fixing the problems surrounding our food system. Make the decision today to not to spend your dollars supporting companies that do not support cognitive or physical health. Here is a short list of the most common toxic ingredients to watch out for:

  1. Food dyes

There are seven color additives approved by the FDA for use in foods. It’s pretty difficult to read any ingredient label on processed foods (especially foods marketed toward children) without seeing Red #40 (allura), Yellow #5 (tartrazine) and #6 and Blue #1. Although these bright color additives may make food look pretty, all are linked to behavioral problems, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They are also known neurotoxins, which can impair the development and function of the nervous system, especially in young, vulnerable populations like children and teens. Other dyes may or may not be listed, but be cautious with anything colored that you put in your mouth. 1, 2, 3

In countries where food dyes are banned, well-known brands from the Kellogg’s family like NutriGrain®, Fruit Loops® will use natural coloring agents like spinach, black currant, carrots and paprika instead. 4

  1. rBGH and rBST

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), is a genetically engineered hormone that is manufactured by Monsanto and given to dairy cattle to increase their milk production. Cows given the hormones have more mastitis infections and as a result, are given more antibiotics. Yes, this is good for big business but it comes with a cost to consumers. You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.” Exposure to these hormones has been linked to cancer and is contributing to antibiotic resistance.

It didn’t take long for scientists around the world to figure out these synthetic hormones aren’t safe. rBGH is banned by the European Union, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Israel. Unfortunately though, you have to look for rBGH-free milk in the United States. 5, 6

  1. Nitrates and Nitrites

What kid doesn’t love a hot dog or tuna fish sandwiches? Yet, these classic “kid foods” are full of nitrates and nitrites, known preservatives that give foods color and prolong shelf life. They also show up in drinking water, all sandwich meats, bacon, hot dogs, canned beans, soups and vegetables, unless they’re organic. Exposure to the contaminates has been linked to cancer in adults and a rare condition known as methemoglobinemia, or “baby blue syndrome,” found in babies exposed to contaminated water used to make infant formula.  

  1. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

Wow, that’s a mouthful! Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are two chemical preservatives that are used to keep cereal fresh after it’s been on the shelf or in your pantry for months. It’s also found in potato chips, nut mixes, butter, meat and chewing gum. In California, BHA is classified as a carcinogen and products that use it carry a warning label. Although the FDA classifies BHA and BHT as “Generally Recognized as Safe” or GRAS, the National Toxicology Program says it’s “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

  1. Mercury

Many health experts proclaim to eat more fish because it’s high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, yet eating cheap forms of fish may not be the best way to go as they can be high in mercury. Mercury is a known neurotoxin that studies show can affect young children whose brains are still developing. The effects can show up as developmental delays, short attention spans and learning disabilities. Mercury is highest in all types of tuna including fresh, frozen and canned and is also prevalent in a number of vaccinations. Instead of tuna, offer salmon, rainbow trout, sardines, mussels or Atlantic mackerel to get your fish fix.

How to reduce your exposure:

Eat a natural rainbow of colors. At Nature Optimized, we definitely tell you to eat lots of naturally colorful foods grown by the earth, sun, and water. Stick with real foods (organic fruits and vegetables) that are high in important nutrients and phytochemicals and avoid packaged and processed foods.

Slow down and read labels.
Take a minute or two to read food labels to spot toxic chemicals and other ingredients that have confusing, hard-to-pronounce names. Look for brands that limit the number of ingredients on the back of label. Less is usually more. And if cost allows, choose organic.

Stay hydrated with clean water.
 Get a drinking water quality report from your water supplier to check for nitrites and other contaminants. If the report shows a trace amount or doesn’t meet quality standards, treat your water with a home water distiller, a reverse osmosis filter or an ion exchange filter.

Choose your grains wisely.
 Fill your plate with healthy grains such as quinoa, oatmeal, millet, or brown rice. Rinse! Rinse! Rinse thoroughly and then boil as directed on package.

Let your voice be heard.
 First, take a stand and don’t spend your hard-earned cash on foods that don’t improve your health. Second, let your voice be heard and contact your local legislators to voice your concerns about chemicals in food.

Written by Melissa Warner

  1. Background Document for the Food Advisory Committee: Certified Color Additives in Food and Possible Association with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children: March 30-31, 2011
  2. Sarah Chapman of Chapman Technologies on behalf of Food Standards Agency in Scotland. March 2011 [Guidelines on approaches to the replacement of Tartrazine, Allura Red, Ponceau 4R, Quinoline Yellow, Sunset Yellow and Carmoisine in food and beverages]
  3. Center for Science in the Public Interest: CSPI Says Food Dyes Pose Rainbow of Risks
  4. Huffington Post April 1, 2011
  5. American Cancer Society. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.
  6. New York Times. Eli Lilly to Buy Monsanto’s Dairy Cow Hormone for $300 Million.