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Food Additives and Children

Food additives are substances added to many foods to:

  • preserve flavour,
  • improve foods taste/consistency/appearance
  • prevent food from going rancid,
  • keep the price of the food competitive,
  • make the food ‘healthier’ (higher in vitamins or lower in fat)
  • aid in processing, storage and manufacture.  

Additives are not a new phenomenon - things have been added to food for centuries; for example, preserving food by pickling (with vinegar), salting (as with bacon), or preserving sweets.  However, with the advent of processed foods, there are many more additives are used today (both natural and artifical).


So is this a problem… are additives safe for your child??

Understandably, many parents are concerned as to the effects of food additives.  It can be confusing as there continues to be much debate over whether additives are safe or whether they have any affects on children. 

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) regulates the use of food additives. It checks levels of safe use, guarantees there are good reasons for their use, and ensures consumers are notified of additives presence. Use of a food additive is approved if there is evidence to suggest that it will not cause harmful effects (to individuals without sensitivities to that additive). 

In saying this however, as with all research, new findings in relation to food additives are becoming apparent all the time. For instance, although there is anecdotal evidence that added colours may affect children's behaviour and cause hyperactivity there is no robust evidence base to support this (yet). This is not to say, that this may be proven or disproven in future and subsequently regulated accordingly.

Yum Yums’ View:

Our view at Yum Yum Kids is a pragmatic one. As parents you need to be realistic about food choices and put the information you have into perspective. Food additives are everywhere today…and within reason it is unlikely they will cause any harm. Natural additives (such as salt, sugar, vinegar) have been around for years and like all things have been found to be safe if consumed in moderation.   Artificial additives are perhaps a more unknown quantity so we encourage awareness and where possible choose foods without additives to eliminate unnecessary chemicals from your child’s diet.

Our philosophy is that as much as possible provide your children fresh healthy foods, whole foods, seasonal foods and organic options. Cook with kids, grow a garden together, pick fresh fruit and vegetables, go to Farmers Markets, educate your children about healthy food choices by food play, educational games and activities

Given the choice we would avoid additives and processed foods but realistically this is not practical. For your child to have a healthy relationship with food – they need to firstly understand where food comes from and the foundations of nutrition and then you can acknowledge the place for additives. Food should remain a fun, positive experience for your child. In our opinion, this should mean your child can enjoy the pink icing on a friends’ birthday cake…and the occasional treat of takeaways!! 

Be aware that some children have sensitivities to one or more food additives – if you have any specific questions or concerns seek professional advice and opinion in relation to additives.


Common Food Additives and their Function

Below is a list of some of the common food additives allowed in New Zealand and Australia and what they do: 

Acidity regulator

Acidity regulators adjust the acid or alkaline level in food or maintain a sour or sharp taste. An acidified food can retard the growth of some micro-organisms

Anti-caking agents

Stop ingredients from sticking together


Antifoaming agents

Antifoaming agents stop or reduce foaming



Prevent foods from reacting to oxygen and going rancid


Artificial sweeteners

Sweeten food


Bulking agents

Bulking agents contribute to the volume of a food without contributing significantly to its available energy



Colour food or enhance colour



Stop fats from clotting together, keep foods smooth



Enzymes have diverse functions.  For example, they can help break food down, can act as a stabiliser, or preservative


Foaming agents

Foaming agents maintain the uniform dispersion of gases in aerated food


Firming agents

Firming agents contribute to firmness of food or interact with gelling agents to produce or strengthen a gel


Flavours/ Flavour enhancers (MSG)


Add flavour or makes it stronger

Glazing agents


Make food look attractive and to protect food



Keep foods moist

Mineral salts


Improves texture


Stop bacteria from multiplying and spoiling the food



Propellants are sealed under pressure in an aerosol food container. This enables an aerosol can to spray out its contents, eg, cream in a can with a nozzle


Raising agents

Used to make products rise




Maintain uniformity of food dispersion


Thickens food



Each food additive has a function, name and number (such as 220), and by law all food packaging should tell you which additives are present in any particular food.
For more specific information on additives, see the FSANZ website. Also available from FSANZ is a useful booklet called 'Identifying Food Additives' which is a good resource to have to help manage food additives in your child’s diet.
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