Previous research has found strong associations between artificial food coloring consumption and behavioral problems like hyperactivity and ADHD. Today, our food contains more artificial coloring than ever before.
The FDA is responsible for approving and regulating use of artificial food coloring in the United States. In 1950, the maximum quantity was 12 milligrams per serving. Today, the maximum is 62 milligrams – an increase of over five-fold. This increase has occurred despite almost 40 years of research finding that some children begin experiencing negative behavioral effects after consuming just 35 milligrams of artificial coloring. Over 50 milligrams causes these effects in the majority of children. So with a major rise in the amount allowed in food it’s no wonder that artificial food coloring causes behavior problems in children.
A new study published in Clinical Pediatrics is the first to measure the amount of artificial coloring across popular foods, and it carries serious cause for concern, as several were found to exceed the threshold for behavioral changes in only one serving.
You may recognize some of the cereal names:
- Fruit Loops: 14.6 mg
- Fruity Pebbles: 19 mg
- Fruity Cheerios: 31.8 mg
- Trix: 36.4 mg
- Cap’n Crunch’s Oops All Berries: 41.3 mg
But these high amounts aren’t limited to kids’ cereals:
- Kraft Macaroni and Cheese: 17.6 mg
- M&Ms: 29.5 mg
- Skittles: 33.3 mg
- Target Mini Green Cupcakes: 55.3 mg
Target Mini Green Cupcakes contained the highest amount of artificial food coloring in the study, at 55.3 milligrams per serving. Based on the findings from previous research, just one of these mini-cupcakes would induce negative behavioral changes in the majority of children.
And that’s assuming all children heed the serving size. Often children consume much more than the serving size listed!
The researchers discuss the difficulty of monitoring artificial food coloring intake, as the FDA does not include these quantities in the required nutritional information. Dyes may also show up unexpectedly in barbecue sauces, white frostings, medications, and pickles.
As recently as 2013, research has stated, “Until safety can be better determined, we suggest minimizing children’s exposure to artificial food coloring.” The European Union is in the process of switching to natural sources for food dyes, such as beets, tomatoes, and chlorophyll, a motion that this study proposes as an option for improvement in the U.S.
Until then, the researchers suggest carefully reading nutrition labels, as the use of artificial food coloring is indicated and is often matched with added sugars and corn syrup. Healthy whole foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, legumes, meats, and whole grains are the best options for children sensitive to artificial dyes or whose parents concerned about children’s behavioral health. It is best to avoid artificial food coloring in order to support your child’s behavior and overall development.
Regarding the effects of artificial flavoring, I’ve published an article called “Ditch the artificial flavor and get sweeter kids” if you want to learn more about that.
Stevens LJ, Burgess JR, Stochelski MA, Kuczek T. (2015). Amounts of artificial food dyes and added sugars in foods and sweets commonly consumed by children. Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, 54(4):309-321.
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