Mike Jacobson

    Food Dyes and Children’s Behavior

    Posted March 25th, 2010 by

    By Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director
    Center for Science in the Public Interest

    A lot of parents notice that the foods our kids eat affect their behavior.  Some of those effects are subtle, some less so.  Most dads and moms know that sugar and caffeine can have a dramatic impact on behavior, but most parents are unaware that artificial foods dyes—like Red 40, Yellow 5 and six others—have also been shown to cause hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children.

    It’s time to rid our food supply of these unnecessary and discredited chemicals.
    Since 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has collected reports from parents to convince the Food and Drug Administration to ban Yellow 5 and 6, Red 3 and 40, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, and Orange B from our food supply.

    In the 1970s, scientists first realized this correlation when allergist Benjamin Feingold reported that many of his young patients improved when artificial food dyes, preservatives, and certain natural foods were removed from their diets. Many parents put their children on the Feingold Diet, which screens out those substances, and reported fewer tantrums, more focused school work, and other welcome changes.

    In the past several years, two British studies also found that food dyes, together with the preservative sodium benzoate, impair the behavior of many children.

    Most multinational food companies are already phasing these dyes out of foods in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, but American versions of the same products continue to get their colors from synthetic dyes. The syrup in a strawberry sundae from a McDonald’s in the U.K. gets its red color from strawberries, but in the U.S., the red color comes from Red 40. Similarly, a Betty Crocker yellow cake mix is colored in Britain with safe natural colorings, but with Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 in the United States.

    Artificial dyes are particularly prevalent in the sugary cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods pitched to kids. And they are often used to simulate the presence of healthy, colorful fruits and vegetables in foods. For example, General Mills’ Fruit Roll-ups and Fruit-by-the-Foot flavored snacks get their fruity colors from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1. General Mills’ Fruity Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Trix also contain several of the problematic dyes, as do Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Apple Jacks and Post’s Fruity Pebbles.

    The successful phase-out of food dyes in European countries proves the same can be done in the United States. If companies won’t voluntarily replace synthetic dyes with natural coloring in their American-produced products, the FDA needs to force them to do so or at least warn parents of the harmful behavioral affects of food dyes.

    If food dyes have affected your child’s behavior or behavior improved when synthetic dyes were removed from their diet, please submit a report here.  We’ll forward those reports to the Food and Drug Administration and repeat our call for a ban on artificial dyes.  And together, we can look forward to a safer, dye-free food supply—and healthier, happier children.

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    14 Comments

    May 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm by Chris

    To think that ingesting a petroleum produce will not cause adverse reaction over time is ridiculous. Anyone would be hard pressed to find a regular food on the market that does not contain some sort of food dye. It is in everything we eat. It is said that an average human being eats about 11 pounds of toxic chemicals each year and we wonder why ADD, ADHD, Bipolar and Cancer are growing at an alarming rate. There is absolutely no reason to add a petroleum product (food coloring) to anything we eat. The only reason the manufacturers do it is strictly marketing related. They have performed studies that show the human brain perceives bright colors like we see in nature, apples, grapes, oranges, tomatoes as good for our bodies. Therefore if they add color to it and make it brighter, human instinct kicks in and our brains crave it. In reality we are slowly killing ourselves and our children.
    I absolutely hate when I read articles that state there are no studies that show food coloring is harmful. That is just the FDA’s way of saying the lobbyist have more power than you do. I have a child that began to act out with aggression and behaviors that were not natural, nor logical. We struggled for years as he was kicked out of daycare after daycare. As a last resort we took him to a doctor who diagnosed him as bipolar and put him on medication. We hated this but at the time; it was all we could do. We did not want him to hurt himself or anyone else. At one point he jumped out of a car at stoplight on a busy street because we passed a toy store and he was mad that we did not go there. After he was placed on medication, his issues lessened but did not go away completely. After about a year on the medication, he went through about a three week period where he slid back into the uncontrollable personality that he had been before the medication. I began to look at what had changed. I realized that a family member had given us a case of the little orange crackers and a case of a well known ranch flavored potato chips (I don’t want to mention names). Our kids at these standard US snacks at the rate of about 5 or six packages a day during those three weeks. I began to put two and two together and realized the common denominator was food coloring. We removed all foods with artificial food coloring, which by the way was not as easy as it sounds, and within a few days our child was calmed, sweet, and caring again. The few times he had a meltdown was directly related to a food with dye in it. One time we could not figure out why he was acting out, all he had was pizza. Then I found out there is yellow dye in pizza crust. Why you might ask? So it looks pretty and your brain tells you it is healthy food.
    I find it amazing as I look around and kids are cramming cupcakes with bright blue frosting in their mouths at alarming rates, while the parents stand there and say, “I don’t know why everyone things little Johnny is ADD. Where did I go wrong?” … Really? I challenge you to walk in your local convenience store and find an item without artificial dye and by the why “Carmel coloring” found in many products is not natural either, it just sounds like it is.
    Wake up America! The FDA has to quite playing the lobbyist money game while our children are the pawns.

    [Reply]

    Barb Hermeier Reply:

    @Chris, not only are dyes in our foods; they are in our medications. I am an adult who gets gastrointestinal symptoms from food dyes, in addition to just plain feeling sick. MSG is also a problem. I read labels for foods and ask the pharmacist if the med I am prescribed contains a dye and if they do I don’t buy them. Over the counter meds for allergies contain dyes (Benadryl, pseudephedrine…) Loss of $$ are the only thing these corporations and our government will listen to. Boycott everything with dyes.

    [Reply]

    November 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm by Yolande Roed

    Thanks for this – very helpful, and very good stuff to tell my clients.

    [Reply]

    Anita Reply:

    @Yolande – thanks so much for leaving a comment! If you found this helpful, you may also like this one: Get the FACTS on Fast Food

    [Reply]

    May 18, 2010 at 9:24 am by Sayme

    I found the article very informative and I plan to do some research of my own. I want to point out a mistake in the 6th paragraph, it says “Fruit-by-the-Foot flavored snacks get their fruity colors not from from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1.”

    [Reply]

    Anita Reply:

    @Sayme- thanks for pointing that out! It’s now corrected.

    [Reply]

    April 2, 2010 at 10:11 pm by Christina @ Spoonfed

    Thought you’d like to see a blog post I wrote today about educating kids on the hazards of artificial colors: http://spoonfedblog.net/2010/04/02/dyeing-to-know-easter-egg-science-lesson/ The blog is called Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat.

    [Reply]

    March 26, 2010 at 5:04 pm by Cayla Maraist

    I thank you for your effort and all that you have done to educate people and myself about the harmful effects of artificial dyes. My children were severly affected by red dye 40 and other artificial dyes. My middle child was aggressive, depressed and angry after consuming it. After removing artificial dyes completely from our food cabinets, medicines,toothpaste, soaps ….every thing our child has made a complete turn around and is everything we hoped he could be. I created a blog http://www.reddyefree.blogspot.com to advocate for other children and now I am on a mission to change the way America eats. My testimonial is on that website and in more detail. I respect all of your efforts and look forward to change! Thank you!!!!!

    [Reply]

    Mike Jacobson Reply:

    Cayla,
    Congratulations for everything you’re doing to warn people about the danger that dyes pose to their kids. I hope you will encourage parents to fill out the adverse-reaction report form at http://www.cspinet.org/fooddyes. We all need to work hard to get dyes out of the food supply.

    [Reply]

    March 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm by Christine Dodd

    My “kids” are now 31 and 27, but they know I’ve been “preaching” this since they were little.

    I gave my younger daughter Mello Yello ONCE,
    and I about had to scrape her off the ceiling.
    The change in her behavior was startling. She literally could not sit still. Both girls seemed to react similarly to other foods labeled “kid food” — Jell-O, Kool-Aid, and the like. I finally
    just put my foot down and didn’t bring that stuff into the house.

    I wonder if what we think of as the “terrible twos”
    is sometimes tied to introducing household foods to our toddlers. . .

    [Reply]

    March 26, 2010 at 8:40 am by Marilyn

    I would love to know why other countries protect their children better than we do in America. I think it’s disgraceful, and I am certain it comes down to money. There’s no profit to be made from healthy families! Our family eliminated artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and most additives and preservatives, MSG, and corn syrup from our diets several years ago, after realizing how they were affecting our children. I wish every parent knew what we know now, before they had their children! It would save a LOT of time, money, and heartache for families.

    [Reply]

    Mike Jacobson Reply:

    You’re right, it does come down to money. It’s cheaper to use ingredients like sugar and salt to improve the taste of fabricated foods…and dyes often are used to simulate real fruit/vegetable ingredients. It would be one thing if they were safe, but they’re not.

    [Reply]

    March 25, 2010 at 11:56 pm by Gail

    I agree that we need to rid our food products of dyes and other chemicals. Our kids are walking toxins and their brains could most likely be considered hazardous materials by EPA standards with all the chemicals and heavy metals stored in them.

    [Reply]

    March 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm by Danika

    Feel free to link to my blog for your report. I have many accounts and studies listed there. Food dyes and artificial flavorings have severe negative effects on my family.
    http://gotpetroleum.blogspot.com

    [Reply]

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