With the influx of treats, parties, vacations and gifts, it can be challenging to manage diets for yourself and your family. And while a little indulgence may not be detrimental in the big picture, for children with sensitivities to particular food dyes, these chemicals can make it much more difficult to control behavior.
Artificial Dyes: The Potential Impact on Behavior
There are nine colors approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food and other products, whether taken orally (that includes pills and liquid medication) or absorbed through the skin (sunscreen, makeup, etc.).
These synthetics are made from petroleum (yes, that petroleum) and found in at least 90% of candies, drink mixes and gummy snacks marketed to kids. Petroleum is also found in 40% of all foods marketed to children, including savory processed foods.
Even though petroleum-derived food coloring is deemed acceptable by the FDA, tens of thousands of children are sensitive and react negatively to certain food dyes. Responses can range from:
- Exacerbated ADHD symptoms, such as impulsivity and inattention
- Manic behavior
- Suicidal tendencies
While most people do not react this severely, it’s worth considering if you notice behavioral changes in your child. These ingredients are extremely common in processed foods, and the FDA does mandate that manufacturers list them on food labels. Labeling at least gives parents the opportunity to manage and avoid the dyes that may cause issues.
European Warnings and Alternative Approaches
Although the FDA and the European Union (EU) have both cited studies showing insufficient links between dyes and behavioral changes, the EU now requires foods containing artificial colors to state the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
As a result of this requirement, many European companies are avoiding the forced label by switching to natural dyes, such as beet juice for red coloring and turmeric or paprika for yellows. A few companies in the U.S. have followed suit, opting for natural colorings. The practice, however, is not yet widespread because natural food dyes are less stable and more expensive.
Official Reviews and New Studies
While the FDA may have approved the colors as being safe, other organizations hold differing views. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) noted, “The AAP has concerns about the limited safety testing available on chemicals intentionally and unintentionally added to foods, including food dyes.” Furthermore, “artificial food colors may be associated with exacerbation of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms.”
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is conducting a risk assessment on the impact of artificial food dyes on neurobehavioral or neurological processes. Even the FDA has recently asked its Science Board if new, more recent studies warrant additional reviews of their current policy.
Food Dyes In Holiday Treats: What Can You Do?
The best thing you can do for your child, both during the holiday season and the year ahead, is pay attention.
Pay attention to your child’s behavior.
If you notice unusual changes in hyperactivity, inattention, focus, grumpiness or other negative behaviors, consider any recent changes or new additions to their diets. Have they been having a lot of treats, sweets or processed foods?
Pay attention to the labels.
It may take work to avoid food dyes if they are identified as a potential source of neurological changes. Your child may only react to red 40 or yellow 5, for example. If you can identify what and how your child responds to certain dyes, you may be able to mitigate them. If your child shows sensitivities to multiple dyes (or you’re just trying to eat clean), there are a couple of things you can do.
- Shop the perimeter. Fresh foods are less likely to have artificial dyes.
- Prepare foods and treats yourself. Homemade treats are especially wonderful this time of year! If you’re going to a party, make a couple of treats you and your kids enjoy. By controlling the ingredients and making things from scratch, you reduce the likelihood of those dyes being present in your food. (Still read the labels of your ingredients though!)
- Add a supplement. Adding a chewable omega-3 kids supplement, a probiotic and a delicious multivitamin and mineral supplement – all found in the Kids Attention & Focus Bundle – may help make the holidays that much more enjoyable for you all. After all, a healthy mind and body is the best gift of all!