It began last weekend when Ben spent an hour or so acting very out of character. Unlike a temper tantrum, he didn't seem angry, but was pretty much out of control. Almost like being drunk, but with a three year old's energy! After a while it transpired that he'd been given (by my husband) a shop-bought cupcake with "very fake looking" icing.
Now I know from my own experience that shop-bought children's cakes can leave a weird taste in my mouth and sometimes weird feelings in my chest. My mental state and behaviour aren't affected, but then children's brains are younger and more vulnerable.
It turns out that quite a range of additives have been linked to behaviour changes in children. The ones tested in a famous 2007 study at Southampton University were the colours Tartrazine (E102), Ponceau 4R (E124), Sunset Yellow (E110), Camoisine (E122), Quinoline Yellow (E104) and Allura Red (E129) and the preservative Sodium Benzoate (E211).
A mixture of these additives "resulted in increased hyperactivity in three-year-old and eight/nine-year-old children", say the researchers. They believe that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) would fall by 30% if additives were banned.
Since then, the colours used in the study have mostly been replaced by more natural alternatives, and the preservative has largely been replaced by potassium sorbate.
Luckily, the law requires the full ingredients to be listed on food products, with manufacturers allowed to use either the name or the number of the additive. But this doesn't always apply - Ben's cupcake came in a paper bag, and who's ever been given the ingredient list for fairground candyfloss?
by Kate Richards