After my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I found myself looking for approaches to combat his symptoms without heavy medication. Of course diet and nutrition seemed to be at the top of the list for changes. Most plans that I discovered were mainly elimination diets geared towards removing additives, hormones, and artificial food dyes. I went full force with a new theory towards the things my son consumed after realizing the astounding amount of chemicals he was ingesting and the repurcussions of that. Not long after changing to a more natural and whole diet I noticed a distinct behavior difference. Combined with my new knowledge and a daily food diary, I determined that it was definitely associated with artificial dyes – Red Dye #40 in particular. It is no secret that artificial food dyes have long been linked to ADHD and ADD in children. There are countless studies that support evidence that specific food dyes can greatly affect behavior in children that are diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. What is alarming, however, is where these artificial colors are hiding. A seemingly natural item can actually be harboring some of the most dangerous artificial colorings.
Red Dye #40 (Allura Red) can easily be called one of the most infamous artificial dyes commonly and obnoxiously placed in items that are consumed by children. In fact, in nature red is a revered color that indicates ripeness, sweetness, and freshness (LiveStrong, 2013). It is mentally associated with passion and taste which is why it is commonly added to consumable items. With a history of causing severe levels of hyperactivity, especially in children with ADHD/ADD, Red Dye #40 is found in everything from candy, juice, and even medications (LiveStrong, 2013). While it is expected to be in candies that are notably shaped like fish or drinks with talking pitchers, it’s the other places that Red Dye #40 likes to hide that make it a tricky one to avoid.
- Salmon – This heart-healthy, nutritional powerhouse can seem like a good choice for dinner. Unfortunately, most markets stock salmon that has added food coloring to retain its marketable pinkness. While occasionally the coloring can be derived from carotene, more than likely it is Red Dye #40.
- Prepared Pie Crust and dough – Some major brands of refrigerated pie crust and dough can contain Red Dye #40 even if their coloring is particularly bland and tan.
- Butter flavored popcorn – Surprisingly, that lovely yellow hue that coats the kernels in buttery goodness does not come from actual butter, but from a combination of Red Dye #40, Yellow Dye #5, and Orange B.
- Hot Dogs – Even all beef varieties can be injected with Red Dye #40 for the same reasons as any other meats – marketability based on appearance.
- Common liquid antibiotics – Some liquid antibiotics have an uncolored option, yet others such as Amoxicillin do not offer an alternative without switching prescriptions.
Another food dye that can sneak its way into our children’s diets is Blue Dye #1 and #2 (Brilliant Blue and Indigo). This particular coloring does not have the same implications as Red Dye #40 but it has been known to show up in some strange places (Natural News, 2011).
- Canned Peas – Funny enough, peas do not contain enough green color on their own once they are blanched. Blue Dye #1 and Green Dye #3 are combined to give peas their lasting color.
- Mouthwash and toothpaste – In hindsight, that neon blue color associated with children’s mouthwash and toothpaste should obviously seem unnatural. However, rarely is the association between oral hygiene and sensitivity to food dyes made.
(Natural News, 2011)
Some of the most surprising places that food dyes hide are in foods that seem like they have enough color naturally. Green Dye #3 (Fast Green FCF) and Yellow Dye #5 and #6 (Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow) are common in things that appear to have no added colors at all. These particular offenders have found their way into the most “natural” foods that can be thought of (Natural News, 2011).
- Honey – That golden hue of honey may not just be the miraculous nectar of the bees. Unless it specifically says all natural, Yellow Dye #5 is most likely accentuating the yellow glow.
- Hot Chocolate mix – Chocolate in its natural form is various shades of brown; however, hot chocolate mix is colored with Yellow Dye #6.
- Varieties of Fish – While it is common for Salmon to contain Red Dye #40, other varieties of fish have been known to contain Green Dye #3 to offset the graying of less than prime fish.
(Natural News, 2011)
Food Dyes have been linked to hyperactivity, attention and anxiety disorders, and overall food sensitivities (NPR, 2011). With a growing population of children diagnosed with ADHD and ADD it is not unlikely that the connection between food dyes and behavior will continue to evolve. While most elimination diets are designed to remove foods that can be triggers for certain behaviors, it becomes difficult to distinguish where these food dyes may be.
The best defense to finding hidden food dyes is to read labels, know ingredients, and be diligent in what is consumed. Keeping your foods and consumable productss as whole and natural as possible can and will help to eliminate unnecessary food dyes from everyday life.
As a parent of a child with ADHD, I know first hand how difficult it can be to monitor what our kids consume. I also know how much my son’s behavior was altered by some simple food dyes. Even with complete disclosure, it can be difficult to determine where food dyes may be hiding. Keeping a keen eye on ingredients in everything that goes into my child’s body is my secret weapon against keeping the artificial coloring out of his body. By doing so I can say with 100% confidence that his behavior has improved which has led to his days being more productive and enjoyable.
Fulton, April. “FDA Probes Link Between Food Dyes, Kids’ Behavior.” NPR. NPR, 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. kids-behavior>.
Louis, PF. “Hidden Sources of Food Coloring Chemicals in Your Diet.” NaturalNews. N.p., 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. .
Moncrief, Deanna. “Foods & Beverages That Contain Red Dye 40.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. .