Health

How much food dye is in your child's food?

By: Canadian Living
Canadian Living
Health

How much food dye is in your child's food?

By: Canadian Living
Guest post by Erica Rae Chong Before your child walks out the front door in the morning for school, he or she may have consumed enough food colouring to potentially trigger behavioural problems. According to new studies, the  amount of artificial food dyes in name brand foods may be large enough to trigger behavioural problems. This worrying picture is an all-too-real possibility after a Purdue University study revealed that the amount of dyes in some foods exceed levels that could trigger hyperactivity or ADHD symptoms in children. Prior to this, the amounts of artificial colouring in food have been kept under wraps. Laura Stevens, the lead researcher of the study, says previous trials used too little food dyes to accurately determine its effects on children and they estimate that children today consume much more artificial food dyes than the amounts used. Colourful cereal_Photo credit- Tavo:Flickr “So we decided to test beverages, foods and candies that children commonly consume and measure the amounts of dyes present. We found that depending upon a given child's diet, he or she could easily consume 100-200 mgs in a day,” Stevens says. Previous trials found that as little as 35 mg of artificial food colouring was able to trigger reactions in modest percentages of children, with larger percentages generally being affected by doses of 100 mg or more. Mmm… Food colouring for breakfast A child who eats one serving of a faux berry brand of cereal (41 mg), a snack of processed cheese and peanut butter crackers (14 mg) and drinks a cup of flavoured water (52 mg) for breakfast would have consumed 107 mg of artificial colouring. And that's just one meal. We may have [eaten] artificial colour here and there but it accumulates in your body and it takes your body time to detoxify it,” says Lisa Tsakos, a nutritionist and co-author of Unjunk Your Junk Food. The study also identified other high-level foods. Store bought cupcakes had 55 mg of artificial colouring, the highest level found in any food. Candy coated treats also had the highest levels amongst candies but faux berry cereals topped the cereal list. Beverages were also found to be one of the largest sources of artificial dyes. Energy drinks sports drinks had up to 22.1 mg of food dyes each. Allura Red and Tartrazine Two of the biggest food colouring culprits are Allura Red (Red 40) and Tartrazine (Yellow 5). The two are the most common artificial food dyes in Canada, according to Tsakos, and are found in many of the foods mentioned in the Purdue study. Allura Red, made mostly from petroleum, can cause allergy-like reactions and has been associated with hyperactivity in children. Tartrazine has been known to trigger asthma attacks and skin reactions. Both chemicals have been linked to cancer. “The interesting thing is that even American companies that sell products in Europe, they use natural colours in Europe but they still use artificial colours in the US and in Canada,” Tsakos says. “Mainly because they’re worried it’s going to affect the taste or the appearance and that they’re going to lose sales as a result.” Allura Red and Tartrazine are two of 10 artificial food colours permitted in food and beverages by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “The FDA has never considered the evidence to be strong enough to remove certain ingredients. And because it doesn’t seem to affect everybody. Some people have no reactions to artificial ingredients, or no obvious ones, while others react violently to them,” says Tsakos. Despite this, mounting public concerns over the past few years have spurred several major companies to remove dyes in some of their foods. Kraft has removed its yellow artificial dye from some of its signature neon orange mac and cheese, Pepperidge Farm has removed dyes from its Goldfish Colours crackers and General Mills has removed dyes from Trix and Yoplait Go-Gurt. Identifying the effects of food dye in children According to Stevens, kids who ingest food dyes may show “problems with attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, irritability or sleep” but the most common reaction is hyperactivity. “ Behavioural changes tend to set in within five to 15 minutes of the ingestion of food," says Tsakos. If your child exhibits any of the above symptoms, Stevens says, “It might be helpful to remove all the dyes from your child's diet, also personal care products and over-the-counter meds for two weeks and see if his behaviour improves.” “If you're not sure, you could conduct your own experiment. Put a couple of drops of each food dye (the ones that come in a box for Easter Egg coloring) in a glass of water and ask your child to drink it. Then note his behaviour for the next couple of hours. Is he worse?” “It’s really up to parents to take a little bit more time at the grocery store and not automatically buy something because you expect it to be healthy or because the commercials tell you that it’s healthy,” says Tsakos. “Actually look at the ingredients list and find something that is either coloured naturally or something that does not have colour in it whatsoever.” Check out five foods you didn't know had food colouring here. Photography courtesy of FlickrCC/Tavo  
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How much food dye is in your child's food?

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