I love when I can serve up a colorful meal for my kids – who doesn’t prefer something visually appealing compared to a bland plate from shades of brown and white, right? But when I see this colorful meal in my head, it’s more about a variety of fruits and vegetables that bring the rainbow of produce to our plate rather than colors concocted in the science lab.Food from the science lab? Yep. Some call them artificial food colors, others call them food dyes but either way you look at them, these colors aren’t natural and many scientists believe they don’t belong in our food, and especially in our children’s food.
The Slippery Side of the Rainbow
After much research, the European Parliament last year set into law the requirement for any foods containing synthetic food colors to carry a warning label indicating “consumption may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”. And now, our own U.S. Food and Drug Administration will hold hearings next month on whether food dyes negatively impact the health of our children.
Many say, “it’s about time”.
Pediatric allergist, Ben Feingold, was the first prominent doctor to link the relationship between diet and behavioral problems with children – specifically food additives (such as food dyes), among other foods. His findings were reinforced in 2007 after research from the University of Southampton found a direct connection between behavior and food dyes.
According to the Seattle PI…
Every year, manufacturers dump about 15 million pounds of eight synthetic dyes into foods in America. Per capita consumption of dyes has increased five-times since 1955, due in part to brightly colored breakfast cereals, fruit drinks, and candies designed to appeal to children.
Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have been known for years to cause allergic reactions in some people. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that while these reactions aren’t common, they can be serious and provide reason enough to ban those dyes. In addition, studies have demonstrated that dyes cause hyperactivity in children.
However, cancer is the biggest concern, according to the center. In 1985, the acting commissioner of the FDA said that Red 3, one of the lesser-used dyes, “has clearly been shown to induce cancer” and was “of greatest public health concern.” Each year about 200,000 pounds of Red 3 are poured into such foods as Betty Crocker’s Fruit Roll-Ups and ConAgra’s Kid Cuisine frozen meals.
And Yellow 5 that’s used in Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese Dinner? The FDA tests show that Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40 are tainted with low levels of cancer-causing compounds. It’s not just orange macaroni and cheese that have artificial food dyes to pump up the visual appeal, so do Fruit Loops, Ritz Bits Cheese Sandwiches, Pop Tarts and Eggo Blueberry Waffles. Even pickles and salad dressing.
As we pointed out in yesterday’s post, our country’s top food manufacturers are already selling dye-free versions of their foods in other countries, so we know they can produce a similar experience without the dyes.
Get the Dye Out
While the verdict is still out on how the USDA will proceed, many parents feel that their children’s health just isn’t worth the risk. While it may seem overwhelming to take on this challenge to remove artificial colors from your child’s diet, it’s achievable. Really.
Here are six easy ways to get the dye out, in addition to Robyn O’Brien’s tips that we shared yesterday:
- Read labels. It’s truly the best way to know if the color in your blueberry yogurt is really from blueberries or Blue dye.
- Use natural food dyes. Whole Foods typically carries these but you can make your own from fruits, vegetables and spices like coffee, beets, blueberries and turmeric.
- Shop the natural or organic aisles when possible. Many of these manufacturers offer discounts on their products at their website or Facebook page so check those out before you shop, and stock up when they go on sale.
- Have a healthy stash to swap out the bad stuff. We know they’re going to come home with Halloween candy, party treats, and other snacks from school, so be prepared with dye-free alternatives at home or in the car.
- Shop smart at Trader Joes, Whole Foods or your local natural foods market. These stores have a commitment to keep artificial ingredients out of their products so you can bring your kids there and let them choose their treats.
- Cook at home. The closer to raw ingredients you use, the more you can rest assured that you’re avoiding artificial ingredients.
BONUS: Get the color out of your child’s favorite macaroni and cheese when you serve it homemade for just about the same amount of time and money.
Take it one day at a time and be easy on yourself. Cleaning out your pantry and fridge tonight is a huge undertaking (believe me, we’ve learned that one the hard way) that I don’t recommend – remember, you want to sustain this. Make cuts each week until you get to a level that you and your family can live with.
Some foods will be harder than others to cut out. What do you think will be the hardest for your family to give up?
UPDATE: I’m writing a guidebook for parents on how to tell if their child is being negatively impacted by their diet. If you’d like to know when this resource is available, sign up for free updates from me here. Thank you!