Be A Food Detective: What is in the Food you are Eating?


What is in the food you are eating? 

carrots in hand


What is in the food you eat can indicate how you or your child behaves. It is a bright idea to get in the habit of looking at food labels and, more importantly, food ingredients. Below are some tips to look for.


Food Additives

Food additives are used either to prevent food spoiling or to enhance flavour. They include preservatives ( see below for more information), artificial colours, artificial flavourings and acidifiers. Although many synthetic additives have been banned in some countries, we should not assume that all the additives currently used in our food supply are good for us. Many synthetic food additives have been linked to asthma, allergies, migraines and hyperactivity in children.

Manufacturers put some additives in foods to increase shelf life, colour and improve texture, but when it comes to children and additives, there are a few to avoid. They include:

  •  tartrazine (E102)
  • quinoline yellow (E104)
  • sunset yellow (E110)
  • carmosine (E122)
  • ponceau 4R (E124)
  • allura red (E129)
  • sodium benzoate (E211)


On rare occasions, children with ADHD have reacted to a group of naturally occurring chemicals known as salicylates. If you suspect a problem, you may want to remove the salicylate-rich foods, try eliminating them for three weeks, and then re-introduce them. 

Salicylate-rich foods include apples, oranges, nectarines, tangerines, grapes, cherries, cranberries, peaches, apricots, plums, prunes, raisins, almonds, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – from your child’s diet for a few weeks to see if behaviour improves.


Several preservatives may cause behavioural problems in children. A few include nitrates, nitrites, and sodium benzoate. Interestingly, Sodium benzoate is commonly found in juice products marketed toward children.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavour enhancer added to many foods. MSG may cause headaches and hyperactivity in some people. 

Food Sensitivities/intolerances 

The most common food sensitivities & allergens are dairy, nuts, gluten, eggs, soy, and corn. A child’s intolerance or allergy to a particular food can cause significant health and behaviour issues; sometimes, these issues become normalized. A food intolerance, for example, is often missed, and a child is instead diagnosed with ADHD. It can be difficult to pinpoint which sensitivity or allergen makes your child sick without medical help. If you are suspicious, reach out to your doctor. Below are a few clues to look for. Keeping a diary or journal can be extremely helpful in noticing patterns.


If your child is lactose intolerant or allergic to the proteins found in dairy, your child may be irritable, cranky, and/or suffer from frequent colds and ear infections. Babies may exhibit colicky symptoms, whereas toddlers and older children may become inconsolable and irritable.


People sensitive to gluten can show signs of hyperactivity, fatigue, aggression, stomach aches, headaches, irritability and poor sleep.


From clinical experience

I have seen kids get headaches from drinking juice all the time, kids feeling tired and unable to focus after eating pasta, and teens' skin breaking out with dairy.

It is always best to talk to your pediatrician about this; however, I believe the first step to start is just by tweaking the diet, as it can be a useful starting point in moderating behaviour.


dr. heather 

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