It’s Week Two of our Six Week Challenge to an all natural diet. Last week we discussed artificial colors and flavors, and how they can affect behavior in some very negative ways. Many of you have already begun eliminating foods that contain those ingredients, and I’ve already gotten a few very excited comments about the changes you’re seeing. I can’t tell you how thrilling that is for me! So let’s keep going! For those of you who may be new to this, please read my short article on Circle of Moms that explains how I used an all natural diet to control my daughter’s ADHD like symptoms, here.
This week we will take a look at preservatives. Artificial preservatives are very widely used in modern food products. Most processed food products are made at centralized factories, then shipped across the country to the stores where they’re sold. After delivery they sit on the shelves until they’re purchased. And then, when you get them home they probably sit on your shelf for quite a while too. There are many products that we eat every day that have been chemically preserved so that their expiration dates that several years away. Think for a minute about what that means. If a product won’t break down and begin to decompose after a year in a cardboard box, what do you think it’s doing in your body? Put a conventionally processed cookie on your counter and watch how long it takes for it to rot. I bet you’ll still be watching it years from now. To paraphrase Michael Pollan in his book “In Defense of Food“, if it won’t rot on it’s own, don’t eat it.
The main preservatives that we will focus on for behavior issues are BHT, BHA, and TBHQ, along with nitrates and nitrites.
There are many health reasons to avoid preservatives. Artificially produced preservatives have been linked to lung problems, breathing problems, and asthma. BHT, BHA, and TBHQ have all made the list of known carcinogens in various research studies dating back to as early as 1974 to present. Yet you’ll find them in a large percentage of the processed food you find at your average grocery store. In addition to those serious health issues, studies by numerous researchers have also directly linked BHT, BHA, and TBHQ to hyperactivity in children. And it seems the more they are the exposed the worse the problems become, building up over time. In my own experience I’ve noticed that it takes Sophie longer to recover after eating these preservatives than any other artificial ingredients. This stuff just seems to hang around in her system longer than anything else.
You’re most likely to find BHT, BHA, and TBHQ in products that come in boxes and bags. Cereal, crackers, cookies, macaroni and cheese, and even some dairy products. Some nut manufacturers use it as well, so always pay attention to those labels. Look for it in the frozen section too in frozen pancakes and baked items. If you see capital letters in the list of ingredients, put it back. Easy, right? I find most of my preservative-free items in the organic section, but there are still a few rule-breakers out there, so don’t assume anything.
The other group of preservatives to avoid for better health and behavior are nitrates and nitrites. These are notoriously found in cured meats such as hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, and sausages. They have both been linked in research studies to asthma and breathing problems, as well as being included on the list of known carcinogens. These ingredients can also cause behavior problems in children. But I want to be clear in noting that there are different versions of nitrates and nitrites. Most conventional cured meats contain a synthetic version of these two ingredients, usually noted as “sodium nitrate/nitrite” or “potassium nitrate”. These are artificially created versions that routinely contain arsenic and lead, among other things
. The options you’ll find to replace the products you normally use almost always contain naturally occurring nitrates and nitrites. These are derived mostly from celery, and are considered to be safe by most people. To put it in perspective, almost all leafy green vegetables contain naturally occurring nitrates and nitrites. The difference is that phrase “naturally occurring”. My advice when it comes to eating cured meats is to always purchase the best quality possible, making sure there are no synthetic nitrates/nitrites, and eat them in moderation. My favorite source for everything from hot dogs to bacon to chicken nuggets is Applegate Farms. You can find them at many conventional grocery stores, as well as Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes. If you can’t find acceptable nitrate/nitrite free products at your store then talk to the manager and make a request.
I’ve seen first hand the difference removing artificial preservatives has made in my daughter’s ability to follow directions and control her behavior. As I stated before, these chemicals have a tendency to remain in the system longer than the artificial colors and flavors we discussed last week, so it may take a little longer for you to see the results. Just stick with the program and you’ll be glad you did.
If you haven’t already, please read my post from Week One: artificial colors/flavors. There are a few bits of information in there that can benefit everyone who is working towards an all natural diet, especially those of us with chemically sensitive children.
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