Do Food Dyes Warrant A Warning Label?

Do Food Dyes Warrant A Warning Label?

January 14, 2023

By Healthy Child Staff

Editor’s Note: Back by popular demand, Healthy Child Healthy World is featuring the top 10 most popular blogs of 2023. This blog was originally published in January 2023.

Food dyes are everywhere.

Derived from petroleum, more than 15 million pounds of dyes are added to food yearly to make it colorful. The use of artificial dyes has gone up fivefold in the past 50 years, according to the Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI). Wondering where they lurk? Candies, frostings, macaroni and cheese, pickles, sodas, chips, fruit snacks, and more are all colored by artificial dyes.

While sugar is usually identified as a main trigger for hyperactive children, some studies now link the consumption of food dyes to behavioral problems in kids. In light of this, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee met in January 2023 to discuss whether to recommend a ban or at least to place warning labels on food containing artificial dyes. CNN reported that one mother told the FDA panel that there was a “huge change” in her toddler’s behavior after she removed dyes from his diet. “Two weeks later he felt different, much happier and six weeks later, he was a new child,” said Renee Shutters. And Kellie King told a CBS reporter in Chicago that her toddler was on medication for ADHD but within weeks of taking dyes out of her diet, she was able to discontinue using the medication.

The FDA ultimately concluded that the science is too weak to issue a ban on artificial dyes. In a review of the last 35 years worth of studies on artificial dyes, the FDA advisory panel found insufficient evidence that they’re responsible for hyperactivity in kids. Still, it was suggested some kids with ADHD might be especially sensitive to dyes in food. The panel did recommend that more research is necessary to understand the impact of food dyes on children.

Despite the FDA’s decision to delay action, our friends across the pond aren’t waiting. Current European regulations require a warning label on foods made with artificial dyes, prompting many companies to substitute natural colors for fake ones. Those regulations are the reason Nestle recently announced it would no longer use artificial colors in its candies made in the UK. Will Nestle sell those candies in the U.S.? Ironically, no. (Stay tuned for more about this another time!)

Until we can get food manufacturers to use natural colors in the U.S., here are some ways to avoid artificial food dyes:

1. Shop organic. Organic foods are the only food category required by the U.S. government to be free of artificial dyes.
2. Read labels. Avoid foods with ingredients lists containing colors followed by numbers (i.e. Blue #1).
3. Craving junk food? If you still want some junk food every now and then, check out the book Unjunk Your Junk Food – Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks, co-authored by Andrea Donsky.