Dangers of Dyes in Children’s Food

As of April, 2023, there are more than 10,000 chemicals allowed as additives to food in the US. These additives and preservatives are everywhere in our food system, and their presence is growing. Even though many processed food manufacturers have determined that these chemicals are safe for human consumption, the long-term effects on humans and the environment are rarely considered or discussed between consumers.

Artificial dyes are one of the most problematic classes of food additives. Manufacturers use artificial colorings to enhance the visual appeal of ‘natural’ and processed food products to make them more attractive to consumers. While the safety of food dyes appears to be a low priority for our regulatory authorities, studies have shown that they can and do harm our children’s health. Let’s take a few moments to explore the hidden dangers of dyes in children’s
food and what adults can do to avoid them.

What Do Artificial Food Dyes Do?
Artificial food dyes and colors are made from petroleum and other chemicals. They are added only for aesthetics which lead to increased product sales because they look bright, fun, pretty or because they make the food look like it will taste better. For example, oranges may be colored a deep shade of orange so they appear to be riper, or sweeter. 1 Artificial colors do not supply any nutrients. They are not a natural part of any diet. Studies have shown that food dyes can interfere with how the body processes nutrients, leading to various health problems.

The Risks of Artificial Food Dyes
Artificial food dyes have been linked to many health problems in children, including autism, hyperactivity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and behavioral problems. 2 In addition, according to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, some food dyes can cause allergic reactions and have been linked to cancer in animal studies. 3

Hyperactivity and ADHD
Numerous studies have identified a link between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children. One study by researchers at the University of Southampton found that children who consumed food dyes had a significantly higher risk of developing hyperactivity. 4 Another study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that children with ADHD were more likely to consume foods containing artificial colors than children without
ADHD. 5 Red Dye 40 and Yellow 5 are two of the dyes most commonly connected to increased

Hyperactivity and ADHD symptoms in children. 6

Behavioral Problems
In addition to hyperactivity and ADHD, artificial food dyes have also been linked to behavioral problems in children. A review published in the Environmental Health found that children who consumed a diet high in artificial colors had an increased risk of having potentially volatile and violent behavioral episodes. 7

Allergic Reactions
Some food dyes have been linked to allergic reactions in children, including hives, itching, and swelling. The most common food dyes associated with allergic reactions are Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6. 8

Certain food colors may be related to cancer, according to studies done on animals. For instance, Red 3 is known to trigger thyroid cancers in rats. The dangers of food dyes cannot be disregarded, even though it is unclear whether these results apply to people. 9 , 10

Protecting Your Child’s Health
Even though cutting all food colors from your child’s diet may be challenging, there are steps you can take to lessen their exposure. In the interest of your child’s health, remember these key suggestions:

  1. Read Labels: Search for products that don’t include artificial food colors. Be sure to read the labels carefully because recipes change frequently. The good news is that many food producers now offer items that are dye-free.
  2. Best Bet: Choose organically grown if possible. If organic is not available to you, stick with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead of processed foods that contain artificial dyes and other chemical ingredients.
  3. Cook at Home: Cooking at home allows you to control the ingredients in your child’s food.
  4. Does it have to be red? If a white food must be red, use beet juice. If a white food has to be yellow, try saffron. Other than that, consider that food is the color it is supposed to be. Maybe we could just let go of the idea that the food has to be a certain color. Then, there would be no real need to add coloring at all.
  5. Educate Your Child: Teach your child about the risks associated with artificial food dyes andencourage them to make healthy choices.

While artificial food dyes may make food products look more appealing, the risks associated with their use cannot be ignored. Studies have linked food dyes to a range of health problems in children, including hyperactivity, ADHD, behavioral problems, allergic reactions, and cancer. By eliminating artificial ingredients in general, you can help protect their health and well-being. Do your best to read labels, choose whole foods, cook at home, and educate your child on healthy choices. Staying alert to the dangers of chemical food dyes can lessen the impact of these nasty chemicals on our families. For a jaw-dropping exposé on the effect that chemicals in our food can have on children, watch the Movie Secret Ingredients free on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcS9V1lv8Ow

1 Milan, J. (2019, February 28). Wait: Oranges Are Dyed to Look “More Orange?!?” Yep. Here’s What You Need to Know. Cooking Light. https://www.cookinglight.com/news/are-oranges-dyed
2 NutritionFacts.org. (2013b, August 30). Artificial Food Colors and ADHD [Video]. YouTube.
3 Food dyes. (2022, July 28). Center for Science in the Public Interest. https://www.cspinet.org/highlight/food-dyes
4 REF Case study search. (n.d.). https://impact.ref.ac.uk/casestudies/CaseStudy.aspx?Id=42983
5 Rojo-Marticella, M., Arija, V., Alda, J. A., Morales-Hidalgo, P., Esteban-Figuerola, P., & Canals, J. (2022). Do Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Follow a Different Dietary Pattern than That of Their Control Peers? Nutrients, 14(6), 1131. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14061131
6 REF Case study search. (n.d.). https://impact.ref.ac.uk/casestudies/CaseStudy.aspx?Id=42983
7 Miller, M. W., Steinmaus, C., Golub, M. S., Castorina, R., Thilakartne, R., Bradman, A., & Marty, M. A. (2022). Potential impacts of synthetic food dyes on activity and attention in children: a review of the human and animal evidence. Environmental Health, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-022-00849-9
8 Watson, S. (2019, October 25). Understanding Food Dye Allergies. Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/understanding-food-dye-allergies#common-allergies
9 Rd, B. B. M. (2017, January 7). Food Dyes: Harmless or Harmful? Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/food-dyes#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5
10 Kobylewski, S., & Jacobson, M. J. (2012). Toxicology of food dyes. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 18(3), 220–246. https://doi.org/10.1179/1077352512z.00000000034

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