Derived from petroleum, more than 15 million pounds of dyes are added to food to make something colorful. The use of artificial dyes has gone up fivefold in the past 50 years, according to the Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI). Candies, frostings, macaroni and cheese, pickles, sodas, chips, fruit snacks and more are all colored by artificial dyes.
While sugar is usually identified as the culprit in hyperactive children, some studies link the consumption of food dyes to behavioral problems in kids.
Last month, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee met to discuss whether to recommend the FDA to ban or place a warning label food containing artificial dyes because they make kids hyperactive.
CNN reported that one mother told the FDA panel that there was a “huge change” in her toddler’s behavior after she removed dyes from his diet. “Two weeks later he felt different, much happier and six weeks later, he was a new child,” said Renee Shutters.
Kellie King told a CBS reporter in Chicago that her toddler daughter was on medication for ADHD but within weeks of taking dyes out of her diet, she was able to discontinue using the medication.
But the FDA says the science is too weak to issue a ban on artificial dyes. In a review of the last 35 years worth of studies about artificial dyes, an FDA advisory panel found insufficient evidence food dyes are responsible for hyperactivity in kids, though it was suggested some kids with ADHD may be especially sensitive to dyes in food. The panel did recommend that more research is necessary to understand the impact of food dyes on children.
Despite the FDA’s decision to delay action, current European regulations require a warning label on foods made with artificial food dyes, forcing European companies to substitute natural colors for dyes.
Those regulations are the reason Nestle recently announced it would no longer use artificial colors in its candies made in the UK. Will Nestle sell those candies in the U.S.? No. (Stay tuned for more about that another time!) Until we can get food manufacturers to use natural colors in the U.S., here are some tips to avoid food dyes:
1. Shop organic – Organic foods are the only food category free of artificial dyes.
2. Read labels and avoid foods that have colors with numbers (like Blue #1) as an ingredient
3. If you still need some junk food every now and then, check out the book Unjunk Your Junk Food – Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks, co-authored by Andrea Donsky .
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!