The Ugly Side to Food Dyes by Lisa McGill

The children’s food industry knows exactly what sells. Children like attractive packaging, bright colors and vivid, sugary fruit drinks with a hue so artificial they don’t look like they’ve ever been near a real fruit. Judging by the worldwide renewal of interest in organic foods, parents are beginning to realize the damaging health impact that pesticides and additives have on their children’s food. Unfortunately on many occasions the children are present for the weekly shopping trip and so influence parental buying decisions. Shop displays are often aimed at children with items that would appeal to them placed on lower shelves within easy reach or near to checkout tills so they can pester their parents on the way out for that extra purchase and children are bombarded with commercials on TV, billboards and in magazines every day. It is how junk sells and it’s a strategy that has worked for decades.

The ADHD Epidemic

At the same time, the rate of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has grown by 24% in only one decade and demand for the drug, Ritalin, has sky rocketed. Of all the countries in the world, the US consumes 85% of the supply of Ritalin. Through 1991-1999 the prescription rate for Ritalin climbed by an unbelievable 500%. Now, 10% of both high school aged boys and girls in the US are taking medication for ADHD.

What is even more concerning about these startling statistics is that the drug Ritalin is an amphetamine-like drug and it acts on the brain in the same way as an amphetamine or cocaine by stimulating dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for the feeling of pleasure. It is addictive in people who use it heavily and prescriptions can be procured for the purposes of illicit use, which is what led to it being banned in Sweden.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children

In addition to children with ADHD, There are also up to 500,000 children and teens that have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in the US – a condition where the child thinks obsessively about the same subject again and again or they are fixated on performing the same activity repeatedly. They may also feel anxious as if they are in danger and not be able to rid themselves of the feeling. The sheer number of young people with OCD matches that of young people with diabetes and means that for every average sized elementary school there will be four or five children enrolled who have OCD. Before reaching for the bottle of pills to calm down a child that is bouncing off the ceiling, parents should look in their cupboards at the food they buy because chances are what the child is eating is contributing to or even causing the disruptive behavior.

Food Dyes, Hyperactivity and Bad Behavior

Food dyes are a number one culprit. In a study of almost 300 children, researchers tested the ability of food additives to cause hyperactivity. They gave a group of children two types of fruit drink containing the preservative sodium benzoate and various food colorings including:

Sunset yellow dye

Quinoline yellow dye

Tartrazine

Allura red dye

They drank the preservative and dye laced drinks for a week with the three year olds having 300mls a day and the eight to nine year olds having 625mls a day. In a separate week, the children were given a placebo drink that didn’t contain the chemicals and their parents and teachers were asked to record their attention levels on a specially designed computer test.

Both parents and teachers found that when children had the additive drinks – containing enough dye andpreservativesfor two to four 56g bags of sweets –it had a significant negative effect on their behavior. Even when the amount of drink consumed was restricted, the negative behavior still occurred.

Endocrine Disrupting Dyes

Parents would be forgiven for thinking that it’s just sweets and cordial that is the problem. Dyes on any type of food have potential health risks. You might have bought your child a nice piece of fish, thinking that is healthy and will give him his omega 3, but what you didn’t know is, many varieties of fish are actually sprayed with dye so that they retain their pink fleshy look. It makes them more visually appealing to the customer. People don’t want to eat gray fish and it would affect sales – but if they were aware of what goes into their food they might change their mind.

Sometimes a preservative is used to prevent the fish from losing its color after death. This preservative – 4-hexylresocrinol – has been used routinely but has only recently been discovered to be an endocrine disruptor. It actually mimics the action of estrogen in the body. This can have numerous unintended health consequences such as infertility and cancer.

Due to research into the harmful effects of food dyes, the UK government has requested that all food manufacturers remove artificial colorings from their products but the US hasn’t followed suit. There are over 3,000 food additives and dyes added to food in the US and none are safety tested to see if they disrupt hormones. Given the vast number of functions that hormones have in regulating every aspect of our physical body and our emotions and behavior, it seems almost incredible that this vital information is omitted from safety tests. Even more incredible is the fact that health agencies rarely consider the huge array of chemicals ingested by children every day that may be impacting negatively on their physical and emotional development.

Choose Organic for your Child

If you want to avoid hyperactivity in your child, go back to basics. Instead of buying pre-packaged meals, cook your own from fresh, local produce so that you know what is going into your family food. It is more time consuming but it’s worth it. Choose organic so that you can be sure there are no pesticides or herbicides in your food. Organic food manufacturers usually do not add any dyes to their produce. Cut out the excess sugar, candy and fruit cordials from your child’s diet and opt for real fruit juice or filtered water instead. Then sit back and see if your child’s concentration and school work improves.