Harmful Chemicals In Children’s Foods – What Foods To Avoid For Children

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Unhealthy Foods To Avoid For Children

Many children’s foods contain harmful chemicals. Which foods should we avoid for our kids?


While researching BPA (bisphenol A) for my other post, I came across the fact that  BPA is used for lining in canned foods. This fact came across surprising to me since many soups, meats or veggies are packaged in a can.  They can easily be fed to toddlers or children. Infants and young children are more vulnerable to negative effects of chemicals since their body is still developing and growing. They eat more food per pound of body weight than adults. Exposure to some toxicants can have lasting effect on fetus, infants and growing children. It can also lead to irreversible damage.  BPA is an endocrine disruptor and endocrine disruptors are linked to obesity, osteoporosis, male and female reproductive disorders, diabetes, neurological problems, immune and thyroid disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and hormone-related cancers. What other types of food contain harmful chemicals that children should avoid?  I wanted to find out and decided to further my research. In this post, I share with you what harmful chemicals children’s foods can contain and what foods to avoid for children.



What Types Of Food Children Should Avoid


Canned Food – Foods To Avoid For Children

BPA (bisphenol A) is one of the most harmful chemicals for children. When I do research for baby and children’s products, this chemical comes up over and over again as a toxic chemical to avoid. Infants and Children are most vulnerable to the effects of BPA. BPA disrupts normal hormone levels and development in fetuses, babies, and children. It can also have effects on the brain and behavior of infants and young children. It is also linked to increased risk of cancer. BPA is used in the linings of cans and it can leach into food from the lining. The researchers found that when people consumed a canned food, higher concentration of BPA was found in their urine. Also, the BPA concentration was higher when more canned food was consumed. Canned food industry is in the process of removing the use of BPA in the lining, however, BPA is still found in canned food. In 2017, The Center for Environmental Health  tested more than 250 cans purchased at supermarkets and dollar stores for BPA. Researchers found about 40 percent of those cans contained the chemical.

Examples:  Canned soups, canned pasta, canned vegetables or fruits



Processed and Packaged Food – Foods To Avoid For Children

Processed food is cooked, frozen or packaged food such as pizza, hotdogs, microwavable dinners or chicken nuggets. Processed food can contain harmful preservatives or additives. Nitrates and nitrites, for example, are added as a preservative to processed meats such as hot dogs or ham. They are  also used to enhance the color and flavor of foods. Nitrates can turn into Nitrites by bacteria in the mouth or enzymes in the body. Then nitrites can form nitrosamines in the body, molecules that cause cancer. In addition, when nitrites are combined with amino acids (high protein such as bacon or hot dogs) and are exposed to high heat, they can turn into nitrosamines.  According to Amanda Cross, an investigator in the division of cancer epidemiology and genetics at the National Institute of Health, multiple studies have found a relationship between processed meat intake and increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Another problem with processed food is they go through food processing and are packaged in food packaging. Food packaging and processing materials can have toxic chemicals, phthalates. Phthalates can migrate into food from packaging and equipment used in manufacturing. According to a study, 29 out of 30 cheese products had phthalates detected.  Average phthalate levels were four times higher in macaroni and cheese powder than hard blocks or natural cheese. In another study, Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) was consistently found in high concentrations in some meats, fats and dairy products. DEHP is used in food packaging, and also has been found to contaminate sources of food directly.  Higher phthalates were detected for people who had diets high in meat and dairy consumption.

In addition, according to a study done by Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University, people who consumed restaurant, fast food and cafeteria meals had phthalate levels that were nearly 35 percent higher than people who reported eating food mostly purchased at the grocery store. This difference was even higher for adolescents at 55%.  Many restaurants, fast food places and cafeterias use plastic containers, packaging or machine parts to process, handle, and store food. Phthalates from plastics leach into food from these plastic materials (such as hamburger wrappers or pizza boxes) which we end up consuming. Also, according to a 2017 study, 33 percent of fast food packaging tested contained Perfluoroalkyl substances or highly fluorinated chemicals (PFAS) which can leach into food. Perfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) are found in grease-proof wrappers and packaging. PFAS exposure is linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity, harm to the liver and kidney and hormone disruption. 

Perchlorate is another harmful chemical used in food packaging. It is used in plastic packaging and food handling equipment for dry food such as flour or cereal to reduce the buildup of static charges. When exposed to a lot of perchlorate for a long time, it could develop a decreased production of thyroid hormones. It also impairs the thyroid’s ability to use iodine in the diet to make the thyroid hormone, T4. T4 is essential to brain development. Therefore, perchlorate should be avoided for pregnant women and young children.


Examples: chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, hot dogs, microwavable dinners, packaged macaroni and cheese



Cereals – Foods To Avoid For Children

Surprisingly, cereals can have harmful ingredients.  Many children’s cereals are loaded up with sugar. According to a report by Environmental Working Group (EWG), children’s cereal contained an average of 40 percent more sugar per “serving” than adult cereals.  Also, cereal often uses high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) -also called corn syrup or corn sugar.  93 % of corn and soy products made in USA comes from GMO. Most GMOs are sprayed with glyphosate or roundup, an herbicide known to cause cancer.  Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the United States.  About 85% of corn planted is engineered to be glyphosate resistant (Roundup-ready or having the ability to withstand a poison). Glyphosate has been linked to negative health effects, including increased cancer risks, birth defects, neurotoxicity, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation.   Polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), an ingredient in Roundup is also linked to the killing of human embryonic cells.  According to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 21 oat-based cereal and snack products, including various types of Cheerios and Natural Valley bars were found to have glyphosate. Most of them contained levels of glyphosate higher than what EWG scientists consider protective for children’s health.  

Cereals that are made from rice can also contain arsenic. Infant rice cereals were found to have about 6 times more arsenic than other infant cereals according to a study done by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF). Over 100 cereals were tested and non-rice and multi-grain cereals had 84% less arsenic than infant rice cereals. Rice observes 10 times more arsenic from soil and water than other grains. Therefore, rice products are more likely to contain arsenic.  Arsenic permanently reduces children’s IQ and learning ability, and causes cancer.  However, it is not regulated legally in any amount in infant rice cereal. Rice cereal is the top source for arsenic exposure to babies.  Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry  found rice-based cereals had more mercury than other non-rice and multi-grain cereals. Out of 119 cereals tested, rice cereals had three times the amount of methylmercury on average as multigrain cereals, and 19 times more amount than non-rice cereals. Mercury is a neurotoxinMercury can damage development of the central nervous system in infants and young children.  Damage of the nervous system caused by mercury is likely to be permanent. 

Examples: Kid’s fortified breakfast cereals or rice cereals

If you are interested in healthy snacks for kids, please read my post ‘Healthy Snacks For Kids – What Organic, Healthy Snacks For Kids Are Available?


Foods With Artificial Colors – Foods To Avoid For Children

Artificial food dyes can be harmful. Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40, for example, contain toxic chemicals such as benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl which are linked with cancer. Toxic artificial colors that are commonly found in food includes Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 1, Green 3, Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. Most of these are carcinogens that cause brain tumors, bladder tumors, thyroid tumors, and many other negative health effects such as hyperactivity, chromosomal damage, allergies, etc. Research has also shown that food dyes are linked to hyperactivity and symptoms of ADD or ADHD in children.  According to a study of nearly 300 children by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency in 2007, children who consumed foods containing dyes had increased hyperactive behavior.  Food dyes are also associated with allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability and aggressiveness in children.  In Europe, most foods that contain artificial food dyes must have a warning label stating that the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are banned in some parts of Europe. Most widely used and consumed artificial dye is Red 40 which contributes to hyperactivity, chromosomal damage and lymphomas. 


 Examples: ice cream, baked goods, breakfast cereals, chewing gums or candies.



Foods With Artificial/ Natural Flavors – Foods To Avoid For Children

Flavors can be listed as ‘artificial flavor’, ‘natural flavor’ or ‘flavor’. Artificial flavors often have more than 100 chemical additives to give a certain flavor.  You can find artificial flavors commonly in ice cream, baked goods, cereals, yogurt, packaged snacks, etc. Surprisingly, natural flavors are not any healthier than artificial flavors. Although natural flavors are derived from nature, they could still contain tons of artificial chemicals. In addition to a natural source, natural flavor can contain more than 100 different chemicals, including preservatives, solvents and other substances.  As long as the original ingredient is found in nature (a plant or animal), the flavor can still be called ‘natural flavor’ even when other artificial chemicals are added to it. Products usually do not have these chemical details in their ingredient list.  The artificial flavor ingredients, for example, are usually written as “artificial flavor” on the ingredient label without any more detail.  ‘Natural flavor’ sounds healthier than artificial flavor but sometimes a natural flavor has more artificial chemicals than ‘artificial flavor’. Natural flavors are not any healthier or less harmful than artificial flavors. In addition, flavors can be sourced from genetically modified (GMO) crops and can still be labeled as natural. They have as many chemicals as artificial flavors, sometimes even more. It is best to avoid products with both artificial or natural flavors. In 2018, FDA has officially banned 7 artificial flavors that caused cancer in laboratory animals. (6 carcinogens and 1 that is no longer used by the industry) The 6 substances includes benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether, myrcene, pulegone and pyridine.  These chemicals are commonly found in ice cream, baked goods, breakfast cereals, chewing gums or candies.  Companies have two years to identify suitable replacement ingredients and reformulate their food products under the FDA’s new rule.


 Examples: ice cream, baked goods, breakfast cereals, chewing gums or candies.



Final Thoughts

I didn’t realize so much foods around us are processed, packaged and have synthetic chemicals to flavor, color and preserve until I started researching harmful chemicals in food. It is best to eat and feed our children organic, fresh foods.  Avoiding canned, packaged, processed, flavored, colored food will actually lead you to choose fresh, natural food. Once I eliminated processed and packaged foods for our family, I started to look for more natural ingredients and ways to cook and serve food.  Packaged, processed, canned foods are really convenient. However, they should be avoided as much as possible since they can contain harmful chemicals that can cause negative health effects for us and our children. At least I know now why feeding my daughter hot dogs and chicken nuggets is not a good idea. I don’t know if I can eliminate packaged, processed, canned, colored or flavored food completely from our life but at least I can try to avoid them as much as possible when I make a food choice.


If you are interested in healthy snacks for kids, please read my post ‘Healthy Snacks For Kids – What Organic, Healthy Snacks For Kids Are Available?

If you want to find out which bottled water brands are safe, please read my post ‘Safe Bottled Water Guide: Which Bottled Water Brands Are Safe?

For healthy toddler shoes, please read my post, ‘Toddler Shoes Guide and Review – Toddler Shoes That Promote Healthy Foot Development‘.

For non Toxic toy brands, please read my post, ‘Best Non Toxic Toys – What Are The Best Non Toxic Toy Brands?

If you want to find out which art supplies are safe for kids, please read my post ‘Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids – Which Art Supplies Are Safe?




  • go_new_mommy

    Isabelle has been an entrepreneur for last 16 years in retail and educational industry. She is also a mom. She is a mom entrepreneur who is always trying to find a better, easier way to run her business. She also tries to provide organic and non-toxic living environment for her child. She likes to research for the most non-toxic products or safe alternatives and share them with parents. In addition, she is against animal testing and supports cruelty-free products.


  1. Fitoru Keto March 25, 2020

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