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6 Reasons to Eliminate Artificial Colors from a Child’s Diet

Artificial colors are in so many foods these days, particularly foods marketed towards children. Candy, cake frosting, cereals, yogurt, pickles, and so much more are colored with these artificial ingredients. Even many medicines include artificial food dyes to color pills or syrups. Artificial colors are usually derived from petroleum or crude oil. Yuck! And why are these dyes in our food? To make colors brighter. Artificial food dyes are used solely to make products look more appealing and sell better.

So, are artificial colors safe? Should our kids be eating these food colorings? Sadly, the answer is no, and if you eliminate artificial colors from a child’s diet, you’ll likely see their mood and behavior improve.

The data linking negative health impacts to consuming artificial colors is becoming too big to ignore. The effects of artificial food colors (AFCs) on human health have been studied for more than 45 years. Many studies have linked AFCs to hyperactivity, including ADHD in children, negative behavior in children (such as irritability and depression), hypersensitivity in children, hives, asthma, cancer, and more.

With the data that’s already available and the evidence growing, the risks are no longer worth taking. Our children shouldn’t be the guinea pigs in this experiment which is only benefiting Big Food and Big Pharma, not consumers and certainly not kids.

food coloring on yellow table
eliminate artificial colors

1. Artificial colors add no nutritional value to food.

Ingredients in our food should either nourish us or help maintain freshness in our food. Artificial colors do neither. The FDA defines the purpose of artificial colors as “to enhance natural colors, add color to colorless and ‘fun’ foods such as cake decorations, and help identify flavors (such as purple for grape flavor or yellow for lemon).” So, these colors are just for “fun.” 

If they are not necessary in our food, then they must pose no risk, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many studies show that artificial food dyes can pose serious risks to our health. And what are we risking our health for? Brighter colors… Doesn’t seem like a very good trade.

2. Some food dyes may cause or increase your risk of cancer.

Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 contain benzidine, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, “presumably safe” levels in dyes. Yes, you read that currently. Benzidine is a human and animal carcinogen and yes it is found in some of the artificial colors. Studies link the following artificial colors to certain tumors:

  • Blue No. 2 – bladder and brain tumors in rats
  • Yellow No. 6 – adrenal and testicular tumors in rats
  • Red No. 40 – reticuloendothelial in mice
  • Red No. 3 – thyroid tumors in rats

In addition to Benzidine, other potential carcinogens include 4-aminobiphenyl and 4-aminoazobenzene are found in artificial colors. Potential carcinogens are not anywhere close to safe. 

hyperactive child being evaluated by teacher with mom
eliminate artificial colors

3. Artificial colors are linked to hyperactivity in children.

Some artificial colors, such as Red 40 have been shown to cause hyperactivity in children. Research has shown that artificial colors can cause ADHD symptoms in children. According to this report from California, research indicates that children that ingest artificial colors can experience hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral issues.

One of the first studies, which looked at the effect that AFCs have on child behavior, was presented in 1973 by Dr. Benjamin Feingold. He wrote a book on this in the 80’s called Why Your Child is Hyperactive. He proposed that pediatric hyperactivity and learning problems were due to certain foods and food additives, including artificial colors, but his findings were rejected by the food industry which uses these dyes to market their products. 

In 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban artificial food dyes because of their connection to behavior problems in children.

Just two years later, in 2010, a new CSPI report, Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks, further concluded that the nine artificial dyes approved in the United States likely are carcinogenic, cause hypersensitivity reactions and behavioral problems, or are inadequately tested.

In 2022, Researchers, including lead researcher at the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment at the California Environmental Protection Agency reported in the journal Environmental Health that current evidence from studies in humans, largely from controlled exposure studies in children, supports a relationship between food dye exposure and adverse behavior outcomes in children.

According to a study published in Neurotherapeutics back in 2012, recent data suggests that AFCs cause a small but significant harmful effect on children’s behavior, including children without diagnosable ADHD. The study concluded that AFCs are not a major cause of ADHD per se but seem to affect children regardless of whether or not they have ADHD. Also, AFCs may have an overall effect on the classroom climate if the majority of children in the class suffer a small negative behavioral effect. Basically, even if the effect is minor on a singular child, it adds up with a whole classroom of kids. 

Even the FDA acknowledges that “some evidence suggests that certain children may be sensitive to them” and provides a reporting system for adverse events from artificial food colors. 

4. Artificial colors may cause damage to the body’s chromosomes.

The number of genotoxicity studies that show a positive relationship between artificial colors and gene mutation are growing. Genotoxicity is a chemical’s ability to cause mutations or to damage chromosomes in certain cells. This ability is an indication that the chemical might cause cancer in humans. Each of the 7 artificial approved colors in the US are associated with at least 1 positive study that links to genotoxicity. In the case of Yellow 5, 6 out of the 11 genotoxicity studies show positive findings.

sick child with doctor in hospital
eliminate artificial colors

5. Artificial colors are linked to other health issues.

Many other health issues are related to artificial colors, including increased inflammation, skin rashes, allergic reactions, nausea, and more. 

When we consume artificial food coloring, our body can react with an inflammatory response which can significantly affect our immune system. Artificial food colorings also have a small molecule that is shown to attach to proteins in our body and cause disruptions in our immune system. Either way, it may be important to eliminate artificial colors, especially in immunocompromised populations as well as children that are fighting colds.

Tartrazine aka yellow 5 is one of the most used artificial or synthetic food colors. It causes the most allergic reactions of all the artificial food colorings, and one of the most common symptoms is hives (urticaria). You can find tartrazine in many foods listed in the ingredients as Yellow 5.

Kids can be more sensitive to the harmful effects of artificial colors because their bodies are smaller and because food dyes are found in more kid foods than “adult foods.” One reason to eliminate artificial colors is because it may help improve allergy symptoms.

eliminate artificial colors

6. Many of the artificial colors that are approved in the US are banned in other countries.

As we’ve already shown here, scientific research indicated that artificial colors could be harmful to human health. The EU has taken this research seriously and banned many of the artificial colors that are commonly used and approved in the US.

Why are they still approved here? In the case of Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, a loophole allows foods that were so called “approved” before the 1958 act to ban potentially carcinogenic food additives from gaining FDA approval to be grandfathered in as having “prior approval.”

Also, Big Food companies have a lot of sway in the US legislation. They spend millions of dollars every year lobbying to push or push back the legislation that will benefit them. 

Why take the chance?

So, artificial colors add no nutritional benefit to food, may cause cancer, may cause behavioral problems in kids, have been linked to skin rashes and inflammation, are banned in other countries, and may cause gene mutations. But, we could wait for stronger evidence…

Why even take the chance?! 

These food dyes are only benefiting the Big Food companies who are trying to sell as much of their products as possible. 
Try it for yourself. Eliminate artificial colors from your child’s diet, and see if their behavior, mood, and attention improve. Perhaps you’ll also be putting a halt to some of the more chronic diseases that these artificial colors are linked to as well.

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