Preservative School

Reporter: Sophie Hull

"You can make a homemade sandwich that can have ten additives - ten nasty additives in it if you don't know what you're doing" says Sue Dengate. Food Detective Sue Dengate thinks she can find the answer to most kids problems here - in their lunchboxes.

You might need to be a food scientist to decode the information but these children are walking test tubes - in the past few decades hundreds of additives have crept into their food. Colours. Flavours. Preservatives. At least sixty of them cause problems for some kids. But which additives affect which kids? Food companies are leaving parents to find that out for themselves and the results have been disastrous.

Over the next two weeks these children from Nana Glen primary school in New South Wales will be cutting the additives from their food. They have a list of nasties to avoid - and for any six year old it's quite a mouthful - sorbates, benzoates, nitrates, glutamates - sometimes they're words, sometimes numbers always in the fine print and hard to find unless you know what to look for. Their parents have been armed with the same information and the canteen will only serve food with natural ingredients.

The affects of a food intolerance can be subtle. The child who fidgets, the child who can't concentrate, the child who has no friends. It's been two weeks since the children of Nana Glen went additive free and we've come back to see if it's actually made any difference at all.

First stop: the principal's office. Lawrie Renshall had to ask teachers, students and parents to co-operate and he was stunned by the result. "Just as an example this year we've averaged six students on detention per week. Over this last week we haven't had one student in on detention. That speaks volumes for itself."

So, on to the classrooms to see the results first hand. Kindergarten teacher Jenny Wiseman: "They listen to instructions better - they're not so impulsive - that's the biggest change that I've seen that they think before they do things, think before they act." Parents also couldn't believe the most seemingly benign foods could be having such a detrimental affect on their child's behaviour. Helen Barrett found out her son Liam reacted to additive 160b - found in vanilla ice cream and yoghurt removing it from his diet changed his life.

"His behaviour improved: the tantrums stopped, the head banging stopped and basically we've gone from strength to strength since then. Now I don't spend my whole day with a child that says no everytime I ask him to do something. I have a child that I enjoy being with and he's just a beautiful unique creature" says Helen.

Most tellingly is what the kids say themselves.

Jessica Simpson: "I was getting more friends because I wasn't as mean as I used to be."

Jack Carter: "I sleep much better now because before when my mum or dad tucked me in I'd always like take a while to go to sleep but now when mum or dad puts me to bed I go straight to sleep."

Emma Bridges: "People used to leave me out because I'd get really angry and now they like play with me and that."

Behaviour isn't the only thing affected: there are physical symptoms as well: There were less incidences of bed wetting, headaches, stomach aches and skin rashes. In fact 60% of children who appeared to have nothing wrong with them are better behaved on an additive free diet.

A study recently published in the UK proved the long suspected link between food additives and hyperactivity. The food authorities there have already started removing harmful colours from food. How long will Australians have to wait for similar action to be taken here?

"I would like to see this program in every school but more than that I'd like to see these nasty additives taken out of food because it's too hard for parents" says Sue Dengate. "I just wish every parent was aware of the effects that food additives have on children; not only behaviorally but emotionally and mentally" adds Helen.

Avoid these additives ( from




natural colour 160b (annatto)


Sorbates 200-203

Benzoates 210-213

Sulphites 220-228

Nitrates, nitrites 249-252

Propionates 280-283


Gallates 310-312

TBHQ, BHA, BHT 319-321


Glutamates incl MSG 620-625

Ribonucleotides 627, 631, 635

Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP)


No numbers since they are trade secrets

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