Our Kids and the Alarm List

Marketing and Our Children

Photograph: Royalty-Free/Corbis

Photograph: Royalty-Free/Corbis

The majority of foods marketed to children in supermarket stores feature characters on the packaging, often Disney characters, which has been shown to manipulate children’s food related beliefs and encourage them to request these products. Our role as a parent to be the “nutritional gatekeeper” is consistently undermined when we give in to placate our children. Our children don’t know the difference between additives, sugars and vitamins but we allow them to make purchasing choices based on Disney characters. Also more parents should complain to store managers about the placements of the candies, the chocolates, basically most of the junk snack foods ensuring that we run the ‘gauntlet’ to the check-out till. Marketing studies have actually been done to determine how effective the ‘whine factor” is by getting parents to give in to their children’s constant requests. This is an insult to parents and undermines the parents role as the nutritional gatekeeper.

The Food Industry

Bluntly put, profit above customer’s wellbeing is the status quo. How else can one interpret the continuing stock on our supermarket shelves of toxic substances such as Blue #1 die and Blue #2  die  (E133) found in sweets, children’s cereal, soft drinks and well-know sports drinks. These colourants have been banned in Norway, Finland and France due to concerns that they may cause chromosomal damage.

It is astonishing to think that the cost of food continues to rise dramatically and yet we are exposed to more harmful substances than ever before. More astonishingly is that we don’t seem to be concerned and have this belief that because it is on the store shelves that it must be fine to consume. Thousands of chemicals are added to our food to make it taste better, look better, and last longer. Many without sufficient testing since they are presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Even the term “natural food”- once used to describe whole fruits and vegetables – has now been expanded to include processed foods. As consumers we also don’t readily make the connection between poor health and what we are eating. So guilty substances are hardly ever critically tested.

In a popular and widely available energy drink in South Africa, stocked not only in supermarkets but at most school tuck shops, they use the following colourants:

E133, brilliant blue, which has been banned in Norway, Finland and France due to concerns that they may cause chromosomal damage. This gives the product the very artificial blueberry colour. It is a syntheticdye produced using aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum. It can be combined with tartrazine (E102) to produce various shades of green.

E104, qunoline yellow, is banned in Australia, Japan, Norway and the US for its link with hyperactivity in children. Quinoline yellow is one of the colors that the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group recommends be eliminated from the diet of children.

E129, allura red, is banned in nine European countries and is not recommended for children as causes allergic reactions, particularly for asthma sufferers and those with sensitive skin. Red AC was originally manufactured from coal tar, but is now mostly made from petroleum. Despite the popular misconception, Allura Red AC is not derived from any insect, unlike the food colouring carmine, which is derived from the female cochineal insect.

E110, sunset yellow, is associated with nausea, vomiting, nasal congestion, abdominal pains and hyperactivity.

The Alarm List

In 2007, a British study published in The Lancet concluded that consuming artificial coloring and preservatives in food could increase hyperactivity in kids.

For starters, try to avoid food products with any of these substances as they raise many red flags, especially if your children suffer from allergies, asthma and behavioral problems:

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – a processed flavor enhancer. There are links to obesity, type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome X.

“Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia. These results take on considerable significance in light of the widespread usage of dietary MSG and we suggest that MSG should have its safety profile re-examined and be potentially withdrawn from the food chain” from a study in Japan, the birthplace of MSG.

Some food labels come right out and say that a product contains added MSG but others hide the fact by using different names for it. Any small amounts of free glutamic acid found in unprocessed and unfermented food will be L-glutamic acid only and will not cause typically adverse reactions in MSG-sensitive people. Processed free glutamic acid causes adverse reactions in MSG-sensitive people and therefore any product that uses this process should be labeled as allergen sensitive to MSG but is not. Names of hidden MSG ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid are sodium caseinate, calcium caseinte, textured protein and yeast extract. Also avoid labels that say “no ADDED MSG” as what does that actually mean? Glutamate, an amino acid, occurs naturally in many foods, but it’s also a component of MSG. The problem arises when flavor-enhancing compounds called free glutamates are added to foods. They act as excitatory neurotransmitters, causing the nerves in the brain to fire rapidly and repeatedly.While this stimulation heightens our sense of taste, it can also cause a variety of symptoms, including impaired memory, perception, cognition, and motor skills.

Sodium benzoate – a food additive used as a preservative. It’s suspected that sodium benzoate, in addition to artificial food color, may increase hyperactivity in some children. Sodium benzoate in soft drinks may also react with added vitamin C to make benzene, a cancer-causing substance. The 2007 Lancet study that linked additives with increased hyperactivity included the preservative sodium benzoate.

Sodium nitrite – an additive used for curing meat. There is a theory that eating a lot of sodium nitrite might cause gastric cancer. This theory has been debated for decades, and it is still an open question but best to avoid.

Trans fats – these “partially hydrogenated oils” are used most often for deep-frying food, and in baked goods. Margarine and vegetable shortening may also be made with partially hydrogenated oil. Trans fats are believed to increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Aspartame E951– is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in many foods and beverages. Aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide. Aspartame breaks down in the body and the chemicals it breaks down into are said to be potentially toxic.

It was first sold under the brand name NutraSweet. Soft drinks that contain it are; all varieties of Diet Coca Cola, Coca Cola Zero, Sprite Zero, Lucozade Sport, Schweppes, Fanta Zero, Fanta Orange. Canderal, the tabletop sweetener also contains aspartame.

Nutrasweet was not approved until 1981, in dry foods.  In 1980 a FDA Board of Inquiry, comprised of three independent scientists, confirmed that it “might induce brain tumors.” For over eight years the FDA refused to approve it because of the seizures and brain tumors this drug produced in lab animals. The FDA continued to refuse to approve it until President Reagan took office (a friend of Searle) and fired the FDA Commissioner who wouldn’t approve it. Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes was appointed as commissioner. Even then there was so much opposition to approval that a Board of Inquiry was set up. The Board said: “Do not approve aspartame”. Dr. Hayes OVERRULED his own Board of Inquiry. Shortly after Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., approved the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages, he left for a position with G.D. Searle’s and Monsanto’s Public Relations firm. Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle in 1985.

Also to avoid:

high fructose corn syrup (HFC), all GMO derived products (most of our bread contains GMO soya or maize), unfermented soya products, vegetable oils, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), sulfites (used in dried fruit), potassium sorbate, nitrates (cured meats).

If you have any queries on what substances, foodstuffs to avoid, especially for your children then drop us a line at grassconsumergroup@gmail.com. We will be happy to help and offer healthier options.

See also:

Health Washing

How Healthy Are the New Soft Drinks?

Coke falls flat in terms of health

GMO 101. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)– What is it?

Woolworths & GMO labelling


Helping you find integrity in the food chain soniam@eategrity.co.za

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2 comments on “Our Kids and the Alarm List
  1. […] posed were why the dietary advice on their website (see below extract) suggests sweetened low fat flavoured milk and cereal/sports bars which are loaded with sugar. Foodstuffs that we generally know should […]


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