Food additives and colorings to avoid

A time used to exist when we didn’t have to worry about harmful products being added to our foods, but now it is hard to find foods that are all-natural. The effect that these added ingredients have on our child’s growing bodies is not fully known, but research has shown that there are some possible negative effects. For instance, food additives, such as colorings and preservatives, may increase hyperactivity in children.

What Is a Food Additive?                                                                     

Food additives are substances that are added to food for flavor preservation or to improve its taste and appearance. Food is often preserved through pickling, salting or even using sulfur dioxide. As processed foods are becoming more popular, more additives have been introduced. Many groups of additives exist; some are healthy and natural, and others may have potential negative health implications.

- acids                          

- antioxidants

- bulking agents                      

- food coloring

- emulsifiers                 

- flavors

- preservatives            

- stabilizers

- sweeteners               

- thickeners


Food Coloring

Food coloring is often added to foods to make it more appealing to the eye and/or to replace color that is lost during exposure to light, heat or storage conditions. Numbers are given to synthetic food dyes that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, such as Red No. 40. Other food colorings are natural because they come from pigments of vegetables, minerals and animals, such as beta-carotene and caramel color.

Food Additives and Hyperactivity

Much research has been done in an attempt to determine if food additives are linked to hyperactivity disorder in children, and the evidence remains inconclusive. Many studies have shown, however, that when food additives are removed from the diet of children with hyperactivity disorders such as ADHD, their behavior improves. Most studies have found that it is a mixture of food dyes that is linked to the hyperactivity and not just one particular food coloring. The most common food dyes tested that you may want to avoid in your child’s diet are:

1.    Blue No. 1 – Found in French Onion SunChips, many sweetened cereals, some Pop-Tarts, some Oscar Mayer Lunchables, Duncan Hines Whipped Chocolate Frosting, Edy’s ice cream and many candies

2.    Blue No. 2 Found in Froot Loops cereal, Pop-Tarts, Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Strawberry Supreme Premium Cake Mix, M&M’s original and peanut

3.    Red No. 3 Found in cake, candy, icing and chewing gum

4.    Sodium Benzoate – Found in acidic foods, fruit juice, carbonated beverages, pickles

5.    Red No. 40 Most widely used food coloring, Frito-Lay products, some Yoplait products, JELL-O desserts, Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, some Pop-Tart products, Oscar Mayer Lunchables, Twinkies, some Pillsbury rolls, some frostings

6.    Yellow No. 5 This dye has been studied alone and has been linked to hyperactivity and is the second most widely used food coloring; found in Nabisco Four Cheese Cheese Nips, Harvest Cheddar SunChips, Frito-Lay products, Lucky Charms, Eggo waffles, some Pop-Tart products, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper

7.    Yellow No. 6 Frito-Lay products, some JELL-O desserts and instant puddings, Trix, some Eggo waffle products, some Kraft macaroni and cheese products, some candies, orange soda

You can visit for a more comprehensive list of foods and the food colorings they contain.

As you can see, there are many food products that are common to each of the food colorings listed above, such as sweetened cereals, chips, desserts and candy. These are foods that should be limited in your child’s diet regardless of whether they cause hyperactivity. Fill your child’s diet with natural foods such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese and organic yogurt. Children are drawn to foods with bright coloring and fancy shapes, but you can make natural, healthy foods look appealing by, for example, cutting up fruits and vegetables into fun shapes.

Be sure to read food labels; food colorings are listed in the ingredients. Focus on choosing healthy nutrient-dense foods that help support your child’s growth and development.

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