Are Food Dyes Affecting Behavior?

April 06, 2011

Kids are becoming more hyperactive, could it be the widespread availability of candy colored foods?

Why does the rate of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) keep increasing? According to the CDC, 9.4 percent of kids aged 4 through 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD and rates of diagnosis increased an average of five and a half percent per year from 2003 to 2007. Is this related to an increase in availability and snacking habits of highly processed “colorful” foods, as they are available on virtually every corner?

An advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reviewed the safety of several food dyes and a possible link to hyperactivity in children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who has long been advocating the removal and clear labeling of food dyes especially in children’s foods, urged the FDA to review the safety of these ingredients.

The CSPI believes certain artificial food dyes to be known carcinogens, impairing behavior in children, and just overall toxic. These are not new concerns and the safety of food dyes has been debated for years. The CSPI reports that, “per capita consumption of dyes has increased five-fold since 1955, thanks in part to the proliferation of brightly colored breakfast cereals, fruit drinks, and candies pitched to children.” Although the FDA did not conclude food dyes unsafe, and goes on further to say that the link between food dyes and ADHD is still unfound, they did conclude that further research is necessary.

Food dyes were brought to the attention of many parents as causing unruly behavior in their children, following the release of the results from a University of Southampton study in 2007. The study suggested a link between six food dyes and hyperactivity in children. European Parliament even went on to enforce that products featuring the six “offenders” include warning labels noting that they “may have an effect on activity and attention in children”. Some major global food companies decided rather than carry this warning in Europe, to replace the artificial colors with natural colors from fruits, vegetables and spices. The nearly identical US products still contain artificial colors.

SupermarketGuru encourages you to read labels and look for natural food dyes including, beet juice, blueberry juice concentrate, beta-carotene, carrot juice, grape skin extract, paprika, red cabbage, and turmeric. Annatto, derived from the achiote tree native to tropical regions, has been reported as causing allergic reactions. Do note that carmine and cochineal are also natural food colorings obtained from a bright red insect and can cause rare, but severe, allergic (anaphylactic) reactions.

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior speak with your physician or medical professional about making changes to their diet. A “healthy diet” is not always an allergen free, elimination diet. An elimination diet usually includes, rice, lamb, non citrus fruits, legumes (not peanut or soy), vegetables (not nightshades i.e. tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers) and more- which varies from person to person. Notably excluded are most processed foods.