As the FDA reviews the possible link between artificial food coloring and behavior problems in children, you may not realize just how many everyday foods contain artificial tints. Artificial food dyes - and their suspected link to behavior problems like ADHD in some children - are under fire again, as an FDA expert panel re-examines their safety in a two-day review. The panel will look at studies on the links between artificial coloring and health problems and possibly recommend policy changes, including warning labels on foods that contain them.
Controversy over artificial food colorings, many of which were first approved by FDA in 1931, is nothing new. The debate dates back to the 1970s when California pediatrician Benjamin Feingold claimed a link between dyes and hyperactivity in children and suggested a diet that eliminated them.
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FDA has weighed in on artificial food coloring in the past (in 1982, in 1986, and in 2007) and concluded that further research was needed to confirm a link between additives and hyperactivity. Today's panel is being held in response to a 2008 petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) asking FDA to ban color additives or, at the very least, require warning labels on the packaging.
"The continued use of synthetic food dyes is hardly worth the risk," Michael Jacobson, CSPI executive director said in a statement. "Why, when we're medicating so many children for hyperactivity, would we let food manufacturers worsen some children's problems? Behavioral problems aside, animal studies indicating that dyes pose a cancer risk provide another reason for banning those chemicals."
But health experts are still debating the link between food dyes and kids' behavior problems, and the merit of the scientific studies that cite such associations. Lawrence Diller, MD, a behavioral pediatrician, told The New York Times that there was minimal to nonexistent evidence that diet plays a big role in most childhood behavioral disorders. "These are urban legends that won't die," Dr. Diller said.
According to the Times, FDA experts have suggested that, rather than being innately toxic, food dyes may cause allergic reactions in certain people because they have an intolerance to the dyes.
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Regardless of what the FDA panel decides, most nutritionists would agree it's wise to limit your intake of artificial dyes, if only because they tend to be found in processed foods that also contain other unhealthy ingredients, like added sugar and sodium.The Best Foods for ADHD
If you're trying to watch your kids' intake of processed foods, it's a good idea to read nutrition labels not just for calorie and fat counts, but for artificial dyes (such as Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6) in ingredient lists.
You can also shop at stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's , food co-ops, farmers' markets, and other outlets that sell products free of artificial coloring. Some big food manufacturers are rolling out packaged foods without added colors, according to the Times. Kraft, for example, has introduced Kool-Aid Invisible and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Organic White Cheddar. NECCO has switched to natural colors for its wafers, and Frito-Lay is testing dye-free snacks, according to CSPI.
While it's obvious that such foods as Froot Loops, Skittles, and Jell-O contain artificial coloring, you may be surprised by many of the popular items named in the CSPI report. Here's a sampling (get the full report here):
- Hunt's Snack Pudding, Vanilla (Yellow 5, Yellow 6)
- Yoplait Whips Light & Fluffy (Yellow 5, Blue 1)
- Quaker Oatmeal to Go, Apples & Cinnamon (Yellow 6)
- Post Honeycomb cereal (Yellow 5)
- Eggo Blueberry Waffles (Blue 2, Red 40)
- Betty Crocker Cheesy Lasagna with Beef (Yellow 5, Yellow 6)
- Oscar Mayer Lunchables Pizza & Treatza (Blue 1, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40)
- Lean Pockets Ham & Cheddar (Yellow 5, Yellow 6)
- Hostess Blueberry Streusel Muffins (Blue 2, Red 40)
- Edy's Classic Real Strawberry Ice Cream (Blue 1, Red 40)
- Minute Maid Lemonade (Yellow 5)
- Pillsbury Flaky Cinnamon Twists with Glaze (Yellow 5, Red 40)
- Duncan Hines Whipped Frosting Chocolate (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1)
- McDonald's Spicy Buffalo Sauce (Red 40)
- Burger King Mott's Strawberry Flavored Applesauce (Red 40)
- Wendy's Dill Pickles (Yellow 5, Blue 1)
- KFC Sweet and Spicy Wings (Red 40)
- KFC Potato Salad (Blue 1)
- Subway Red Wine Vinaigrette (Red 40, Blue 1)
- Jack in the Box Mozzarella Cheese Sticks (Yellow 5, Yellow 6)
Learn more in our Everyday Health ADD/ADHD Health Center.
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