Acknowledgment that food dyes (and other ingredients) cause behavioral problems in some children has spurred certain companies to remove dyes from some of their foods. However, until a new study by Purdue University scientists, the amounts of dyes in packaged foods has been a secret.
Published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, the research reports on the dye content of scores of breakfast cereals, candies, baked goods and other foods. According to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, the findings are disturbing, since the amounts of dyes found in even single servings of numerous foods -- or combinations of several dyed foods -- are higher than the levels demonstrated in some clinical trials to impair some children's behavior.
Unprecedented test results now published
Clinical trials have shown that modest percentages of children are affected by doses up to 35 mg of mixtures of synthetic coloring, with larger percentages generally being affected by doses of 100 mg or more. It is unknown what amount of dye triggers reactions in the most sensitive children.
General Mills' Trix cereal lists Yellow 6, Blue 1 and Red 40 on its ingredients list. It is now known that Trix has 36.4 milligrams of those chemicals. Fruity Cheerios had 31 mg of food dyes. Of all the cereals tested, the one with the most artificial dyes was Cap'n Crunch's Oops! All Berries, with 41 mg.
Target Mini Green Cupcakes, which have Yellow 5, Blue 1, Yellow 6, and Red 40, had 55.3 mg of artificial dyes per serving, the highest level found in any food. Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are the three most widely used dyes in the United States.
Mars, Inc's Skittles and M&M's, which are dyed with Blue 1, Blue 2, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40, had the highest levels found in candies. Skittles Original had 33.3 mg per serving; M&M's Milk Chocolate had 29.5 mg per serving.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was found to have 17.6 mg of artificial dyes per serving. Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Crackers had 14.4 mg of artificial dyes, and Kraft's Creamy French salad dressing had 5 mg.
In beverages, the researchers found high levels of dyes in 8-ounce servings of some, including 18.8 mg in Full Throttle Red Berry energy drink, 22.1 mg in Powerade Orange Sports Drink, 33.6 mg in Crush Orange, 41.5 mg in Sunny D Orange Strawberry, and 52.3 mg per serving in Kool-Aid Burst Cherry. The beverage data were published in Clinical Pediatrics last September.
Scientists urge the prompt removal of dyes
According to the Purdue researchers, the amount of artificial food dye certified for use by the Food and Drug Administration has increased five-fold, per capita, between 1950 and 2012 -- meaning a child could easily consume 100 mg of dyes in a day and that some children could consume more than 200 mg per day.
"In the 1970s and 1980s, many studies were conducted giving children 26 mg of a mixture of dyes," said Laura Stevens, research associate in the Nutrition Science Department at Purdue and lead author of the study. "Only a few children seemed to react to the dyes, so many doctors concluded that a dye-free diet was pointless. Later studies using larger doses showed that a much larger percentage of children reacted. But some researchers considered those doses unrealistically high. It is now clear that even the larger amounts may not have been high enough. The time is long past due for the FDA to get dyes out of the food supply or for companies to do so voluntarily and promptly."
Though the FDA has neither banned dyes nor required front-of-package disclosures of dyed foods, the European Union requires warning labels on most dyed foods, which has almost eliminated the use of food dyes in Europe.
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About the author:
Michael Bedar MA, BS, is a researcher, writer, holistic wellness counselor, certified Live-Food Nutrition Counselor, certified yoga teacher and reiki practitioner. He is the associate producer with a founding role in the documentary, "Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days" and is the writer-director of "EcoParque," distributing top film, ebook, and audio titles through YoelMedia.com. He helps manage the holistic health practice of Dr. Aum's Conceive Naturally Now program, facilitates local and online natural wellness and spiritual growth programs, and juices regularly. He helps people live in healthier homes through his Wellness Homes initiative, and holds space for people's optimal nutrition and full potential. He is the Co-Director of Tree of Life - Bay Area, and he has an MA in Live-Food and Spiritual Nutrition from the Cousens School of Holistic Wellness. Bedar's BS from UCSD is an interdisciplinary concentration of Environmental Chemistry, Law and Society, and Design Anthropology.