Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 9, 2011
A few years ago, when I was pregnant with our youngest child, I was overcome with cravings for food that was, well, neon. Sweet Tarts, Smarties, Starbursts, Skittles, Nerds, Sour Patch Kids, Nerd-encrusted chewy rope things – I was obsessed. I would salivate my way through the grocery store lines and up and down the aisles at Rite Aid and CVS. Finally, I gave in. I bought a big stash of every chewy, quasi-sour, brightly-colored candy I could find and scurried back to my office, gleefully ready to dig in. But something happened as I looked at that blazing rainbow of food on my desk. It was about as far from a natural selection of food as you could get, and I wondered, is it too far away from natural? And just as quickly as my devilish glee over having a secret stash of the stuff had come, it was gone. It was just too brightly-colored to eat when I was eating for two.
And now, I am really happy I had that realization before I devoured that bag of candy because recent studies are beginning to link foods that contain artificial dyes to impulse control issues as well as attention and focus difficulties in small children. Researchers are especially looking at the link of food dyes like Red # 40 to ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). In fact, recently a series of 21 separate studies all found a link between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity, restlessness and attention issues in young children. The problems were especially pronounced in children who had already been diagnosed with ADHD, and further evidence suggests that simply removing or significantly reducing food dyes in the children’s diet was 25 to 50 percent as effective at reducing symptoms of hyperactivity and ADHD as drugs like Ritalin.
In other words, if kids stop ingesting these dyes, they might not need to be on medication.
The jury is, of course, still out. A while ago, the FDA (whose motto may as well be “Who us, regulate?”) stated that there seemed to be no ill effects or health problems related to artificial food dyes; however, recently the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to reconsider that stance and to re-examine the health implications of eight of the most popularly-used food dyes. While the FDA mulls this issue for the next decade or so, if you have a child who has ADHD, you might want to try eliminating artificial food dyes from their diets. My children don’t have ADHD, but I still resist the Neon Food aisle. It’s not always easy – bright colors appeal to kids, as we all know. But it’s something I feel is important for their health. And I worry that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of food dyes and their health implications.
So when I was pregnant and alone in my office, after I said “Goodbye Blazing Bright Watermelon Bomb!” (I mean FD & C Blue No. 2 and Yellow No. 5), “Adieu Super Cherry Sour Puckers!” (I mean Red No. 40) and “Adios Nuclear Lemon Missiles!” (FD & C Yellow No. 6), I adopted a new food rule that day: If something is so bright you need sunglasses to look at it, don’t eat it.
And I made it through my pregnancy cravings just fine: I just transferred my affections to milkshakes. Hey, it’s calcium.