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Can Food Dye Affect Your Child’s Behavior?


To be honest (and when am I not), the recent headlines that reported food coloring/ artificial food dye can affect behavior in kids was not at all a surprise for me. In fact, I know a few families who have seen drastic results in their children’s demeanor simply by eliminating red dye and yellow dye specifically… you know… no red M&Ms… Kraft macaroni and cheese…Doritos… some yogurts… um, what?!  Breezy Mama turned to Dr. Sears, a leading authority on the dietary control of hormonal and inflammatory responses, to find out just how dangerous food dye can be, the particular colors to avoid, why food companies would even use them anymore and more.

What food color dyes specifically should parents avoid giving their kids?

Those containing salicylates.  This includes virtually all artificial food colors.

What are the potential harm these dyes can cause?

Salicylates can cause allergenic responses.  Keep in mind many fruits and vegetables also contain salicyclates.

Is it true that food coloring can lead to hyper-activity in kids and even have them labeled as having ADHD, when, in fact, eliminating the dyes can reduce the over-active behavior?

In ADHD, the data is pretty clear that increasing omega-3 fatty acids has far better results than eliminating food colorings. The effect of eliminating food dyes at best is about 25% as beneficial as drugs for ADHD. Europe has banned most artificial food dyes, but the US has not.

Is the FDA regulating food dyes or are there plans for better labeling in the US?


Why do these food dyes have such an effect on children?

I feel it is an interaction of the compounds in the food colors with a pro-inflammatory diet. Removing food colors and following an anti-inflammatory diet covers all the potential bases.

Why are companies using these dyes and are there efforts being made to eliminate them?

To make food more colorful and therefore more likely to be eaten.

What are some foods or brands that stand out for you that parents should avoid giving their children?

Any food that has a high glycemic response.  Ready to eat breakfast cereals with artificial colors are among the worst.

Can you explain what you mean by “glycemic” response?

A spike in blood sugar that creates a corresponding spike in insulin secretion.

What should parents look for on labels to avoid potentially harmful food coloring and dyes? 

Ideally don’t give any food that contains artificial food colors to your children.

Specifically, what should parents look for on a label? Does it actually spell out “red dye” or are there other names on labels to look to avoid?

Look for Red 50, Yellow 5 and 6 as the primarily potential offenders.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Rather than focusing narrowly on a single ingredient, be much more concerned about the balance of protein and low glycemic carbs (fruits and vegetables)  in their diet and give your child supplements of omega-3 fatty acids for their brains.

Why is it important to give children Omega 3 fatty acids – what are the positive effects?

To reduce neuro-inflammation and to dampened down potential allergenic reactions.

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About Dr. Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the dietary control of hormonal and inflammatory responses.  A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 40 years to the study of lipids. He holds 13 U.S. Patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.The impact of Dr. Sears’ revolutionary work in the dietary control of hormonal response began with the publication of his landmark book, The Zone.  Since its publication in June 1995, The Zone became a #1 best seller on the New York Times book list.

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  1. Is there a reason you used pet bird food to illustrate this point? Pretty sure my kids arent eating cockateil food.

  2. Lol Courtney… just found a handy photo that looked like cereal with food coloring… glad it will be easy for us to eliminate bird food 🙂

  3. That’s so funny. I was wondering exactly the same thing. Though the sunflower shells might add some good roughage to my kids’ diet. LOL.

  4. Lol Laura! Okay… officially swapped out the photo 🙂

  5. Can you or Dr. Sears explain some examples of a pro-inflammatory diet and an anti-inflammatory diet?

  6. Also, Dr. Sears seems to be a big advocate of an Omega 3 supplement. Can he give us some suggestions for his favorite brands for kids, and where to purchase them?

  7. Hi Jacqueline- for the Omega, Dr . Sears said: It is obviously OmegaRx unless you think your child needs PCB 🙂 Just mix the liquid OmegaRx into some applesauce as a delivery system.

  8. And for the second question, Dr. Sears says: A pro-inflammatory diet would be one that is rich in omega-6 fatty acids
    and high glycemic carbohydrates. Any industrialized food usually falls
    into that category as does the recommendations of the American Heart
    Association (with its emphasis on whole grains). An anti-inflammatory diet
    is one the rich in omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, low in omega-6 and
    saturated fats, and with an appropriate balance of protein to the glycemic
    load. The best example of that diet would be the Zone Diet. The
    Mediterranean diet is has far fewer anti-inflammatory benefits than the
    Zone Diet, but at least it is better than the standard AHA diet.”

  9. Jacqueline says:

    Wow, thanks for your reply. Really appreciate it!

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