Review of Study on Food Dyes and Children’s Behavior

The results of the study by the Food and Drug Administration advisory panel, made up of doctors, scientists and consumer representatives, meeting recently to study  a possible connection between food dyes and hyperactivity in children, indicated through a vote of 8-6 that food packages don’t need warnings about food colorings but that further study is needed. Their recommendations will be further reviewed by the FDA, who will then decide what action, if any, to take.

This issue has been debated for more than 30 years. During this time the use of dyes, especially for foods marketed directly to children, has increased. Artificial colors are in nearly everything, including chewable vitamins for kids, which I find very ironic. Sometimes their presence isn’t that obvious, such as in juices and other foods.

Recently I was having company and wanted to make a cake using a prepared mix. This was going to be a yellow cake made with mandarin oranges. I looked at all the different brands of yellow cake mix in the grocery aisle and all contained either yellow or red or blue dyes. I finally settled for a butter pecan cake mix, which didn’t have any dyes, but it also didn’t have any real pecans.

On the same trip, I looked for vanilla pudding mix. This, too, had the colors yellow 5 and 6 in it. I decided I didn’t need it. I have made vanilla pudding from scratch before, without using any food colorings. Real eggs give it a nice yellow color.

Most commercial food coloring is derived from coal, petroleum or from insects. With the pressure on food companies to abandon artificial dyes, we may see an increase in the use of natural food colors—the most popular, I understand, is cochineal, a dye made from insects that are ground up and added to foods to give them a rosier color. Cochineal, often known as carmine, has already been found in yogurt, waffles, lipstick and many other products. This is not the “natural food color” I want in my food, either.

Being concerned about the health of families, it only makes sense to monitor and help control what your children eat. This is just as important as controlling what they watch on TV or on the internet. Read labels. All packages must list the food colorings in the food.

Whether or not you believe food dyes affect behavior, food products that include dyes created from a petroleum base or other un-natural food substance should be questioned. Simply avoiding many processed foods and eating more whole foods is a good way to stay away from artificial colors.

To you and your family’s health,

Lee Jackson, CFCS
Food writer, author

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