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Additive free diets: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


Why is it used?

Additive free diets became linked with hyperactivity over 20 years ago when a Dr Fiengold linked hyperactivity in children to the additives used in food manufacture. For some people it is simply the need to avoid 'artificial' additives' to food that is the driving force to eat a diet free of additives.

Who would require the diet?

Research has failed to show conclusively that hyperactivity can be controlled by diet, but some children have benefited from the withdrawal of all or some additives from their diet. It has been argued that simply giving the child a better diet overall with regular meals and less sugar may be the reason for improvement in behaviour. Linking diet with hyperactivity has its problems, defining hyperactivity, is also fraught with difficulties. The label hyperactivity has sometimes been given to children who behave badly, and equally it is difficult to establish whether diet has any effect.

What is the diet and how does it work?

The diet is simple since all foods with artificial additives should be removed. In practice this is not so simple as many artificial additives are present in foods that are so readily available. With children the problem lies in abstaining from foods that their friends may eat. This can cause enormous problems, which may mean that they cannot participate in social events such as parties without feeling different. Such social isolation may even cause more problems such as stealing 'forbidden foods' or teasing from other children. It is therefore essential to get the child to realise that the problem may be solved by diet - no easy task for a parent.

The dietary changes are obvious:

  • Buy fresh meat, and avoid processed meats raw or cooked.
  • Choose fresh fish, tinned and frozen fish, they usually contain no additives. Smoked fish and processed fish e.g. fish fingers should be avoided.
  • All fresh eggs are allowed.
  • Milk is allowed with the exception of flavoured milks.
  • Choose plain yoghurt, avoid the flavoured varieties.
  • Plain cheeses are allowed, not processed cheeses and dips, some coloured cheeses have carotene E160 that is a nature identical colour and would be allowed.
  • Choose butter, some margarines contain natural colours and emulsifiers.
  • Use wholemeal or whole-wheat flour, or unbleached flour, or other whole grain cereal flours, ordinary white flour has additives.
  • Make bread with suitable flour or buy from a source that can be trusted.
  • All rice's, semolina, tapioca, cornflour, arrowroot, spaghetti and pasta (except coloured pasta), barley, rye and oats are allowed.
  • Read the labels on breakfast cereal; there are many that are allowed.
  • Make homemade cakes and biscuits.
  • All fresh fruit needs to be washed to remove sprays used by the growers.
  • Most tinned fruit is suitable, exceptions may be, rhubarb, blackcurrants - read the label first.
  • Most dried fruits are not suitable - read the label.
  • Wash fresh vegetable, most canned and frozen vegetables are suitable but check for additives with canned peas, minted peas etc.
  • Potatoes are suitable except for frozen potato products e.g. shapes and waffles - read the label (commercially prepared potatoes for catering may contain a whitener).
  • Plain crisps are suitable, but avoid the flavoured crisps.
  • Lentils and beans are allowed, read the label of baked beans, not all may be suitable.
  • Savoury spread such as Marmite and Bovril are allowed.
  • Plain waters, still or fizzy are allowed and tea, coffee, drinking chocolate, cocoa, natural fruit juice (although some contain a natural a