Wise up to the “bad” ingredients in your kewpie’s food that are sparking his bad behaviour.


Urgh, junior is throwing a hissy fit after you relented and let her drink a cup of orange squash to put an end to her incessant pleas. Is the sugary drink to blame for turning your usually sunny toddler into an insufferable brat?

The phrase “you are what you eat” rings true when it comes your mini-me’s diet. Besides having an effect on their physical health, what junior consumes can also affect her emotional and mental development, too! Parkway East Hospital dietitian, Louis Yap details the “culprits” that are lurking in your child’s diet…

1) Food dyes

THE CLAIM Some food colouring triggers attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. These food colours include yellow 5, red 40, tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104) and sunset yellow (E110) to name a few.

FOOD SOURCES Processed foods, snacks and soft drinks.

EXPERT SAYS Yap notes that some emerging studies have found a relationship between food dyes and hyperactive behaviour in children. Therefore, the daily recommended amount of food dyes for children should not exceed 12mg. Yap advises, “Reduce or minimise the consumption of processed foods as food dyes are more commonly used in foods such as coloured cereals, beverages and candies.”

“Reduce the consumption of processed foods as food dyes are more commonly used in foods such as coloured cereals, beverages and candies.”

2) Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

THE CLAIM Besides leaving you feeling thirsty after the meal, a dish that’s high in MSG may also cause a variety of symptoms such as headaches, numbness, tingling and heart palpitations.

FOOD SOURCES Instant, processed and frozen foods, as well as hawker food.

EXPERT SAYS MSG occurs naturally in foods, although in much smaller quantities. Yap says normal fruit, veggies, meat and poultry can all contain MSG. While there’s no conclusive evidence to suggest eating MSG-rich foods harms your health, eating more than 3g of MSG may cause the abovementioned symptoms.

As MSG is a form of salt (sodium), a sodium-high diet can give rise to hypertension later in life. Nor is it good for your heart health!

3) Preservatives

THE CLAIM Eating chemical preservatives like nitrates, nitrites and sodium benzoate can give rise to hyperactivity.

FOOD SOURCES Smoked, preserved and processed meats.

EXPERT SAYS Yap says that there’s no known evidence that links these preservatives to children’s behavioural changes. However, your child’s health may be endangered when nitrates form cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds when it’s mixed with amines that are derived from ammonia in the body. Yap cautions, “Long term exposure [to N-nitroso compounds] would put one at risk of developing cancers related to the gastrointestinal tract.”


4) Sugar

THE CLAIM Sugar causes diabetes and hyperactive behaviour in children.

FOOD SOURCES Desserts, snacks, sweets, ice cream, baked goods.

EXPERT SAYS A sugar-rich diet messes with the pancreas’ functions— the organ that produces insulin. Yap notes that this puts your child at risk of developing Type 2 or obesity-related diabetes later in life. He advises that it’s best to take wholegrains or wholemeal carbohydrates over refined ones whenever possible. For example, choose brown rice over white rice as the latter’s higher glycaemic index rating may trigger sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. On the other hand, brown rice not only packs more vitamins and minerals, your child feels fuller for a longer period of time.

As for the link between sugar and hyperactive behaviour, Yap notes that there are insufficient studies to prove the connection. Still, you should restrict sugar-filled snacks in your mini-me’s diet as these are of poor nutritional value — high in calories and low in nutritional content.

Unless your preschooler suffers from coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance, you don’t need to remove gluten from his diet.

5) Gluten

THE CLAIM A child who observes a gluten-free diet will enjoy improved attentiveness, well-being and development.

FOOD SOURCES Wheat-based products like rye, barley and malt.

EXPERT SAYS According to one study, following a gluten-free diet has a positive impact on people suffering from coeliac disease (the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, which causes difficulty in digesting food). Yap notes that it reduced lethargy, headaches and inattentiveness, which could be due to a reduction in diarrhoea or an improvement in nutrient absorption.

Unless your preschooler suffers from coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance, you don’t need to remove gluten from his diet. Or you could consult a dietitian for a special diet plan that caters to your child’s dietary needs, Yap advises.

6) Salicylates

THE CLAIM Ingestion of salicylates can give rise to restlessness, agitation and attention problems in your kewpie. These plant, fruit and plant-based product chemicals are a major ingredient in most pain-relieving medication.

FOOD SOURCES Vegetables, dried dates and apricots, black pepper, cordial drinks.

EXPERT SAYS The behavioural changes — like anxiety, hyperactivity and poor concentration — only affects children who cannot tolerate salicylates, although the evidence is still limited at present. If you’re concerned, Yap suggests getting a dietitian to draw up proper meal plans for your little one that won’t compromise the diet’s nutritional value.

Photos: iStock

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