Some artificial food additives commonly found in children's snacks could be a dangerous cocktail for nerve cells, particularly when combined, and may even cause hyperactivity or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new research conducted at the University of Liverpool (Toxicological Sciences, 2006, vol. 90, no. 1). In the study, nerve cells exposed to combinations of additives (in the amount found in typical snacks) experienced stunted growth and disrupted signaling. Those tested included monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), and artificial colorings brilliant blue and quinoline yellow. Here's a quick cheat-sheet for avoiding these additives.

Aspartame

Brilliant blue

MSG

Quinoline yellow

Words like light, lite, diet, or low calorie often indicate that a product may contain aspartame.

Blue No. 1, Blue 1, or FD&C Blue 1 in the United States; E133 in Europe.

Names used to disguise MSG include autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, and hydrolyzed plant protein.

D&C Yellow No. 10 in the United States or E104 in Europe. Under current regulation, foods in the United States should not contain quinoline yellow, but lots of medicines do, including two versions of Ritalin.

Source: Jane Hersey, national director of the Feingold Association (www.feingold.org), which researches harmful additives in brand-name foods.