Common children's snacks and drinks may contain harmful mixtures of additives that can hinder developing nervous systems, according to a recent study published in Toxicological Sciences (2006, vol. 90, no. 1). Researchers at the University of Liverpool exposed mouse nerve cells to combinations of four common food additives—aspartame and quinoline yellow, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) and brilliant blue. Both combinations displayed synergistic effects on the nerve cells, stopping cell growth and interfering with proper signaling systems.

The mixtures had much worse effects on nerve cells than each additive on its own. Researchers found that the MSG/brilliant blue combination had up to four times a greater effect and the aspartame/quinoline yellow combination up to seven times a greater effect on the mouse cells than each additive by itself. Although the additives are licensed for use individually, the study's authors believe that looking at combinations of additives more accurately portrays how they appear in the modern diet.

Consuming food additives is also thought to contribute to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition that affects between 3 percent and 5 percent, or 2 million, children in the United States. Lisa Licavoli, RD, CCN, a naturopath in Newport Beach, California, recommends unprocessed snacks for children. "Fresh fruit, nature's dessert, is additive free and filled with vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals," she says. "Try it baked for a special treat."