Heavily Processed and Dyed Foods May Have ADHD Links

Researchers are warning parents that many heavily processed foods, such as cereals, candies and cakes, contain high amounts of artificial food coloring that may contribute to behavioral disorders in children, such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).  

In a study published in the medical journal Clinical Pediatrics on April 24, researchers from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, evaluated the amounts of artificial food coloring in various processed foods and beverages. The findings suggest that the amounts of artificial coloring in foods has increased more than five-fold since 1950.

The FDA limits the artificial food colorings used in the human diet to nine colors. Each color batch of manufactured food coloring is certified to guarantee purity and safety.

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Despite of the color certification, amounts of artificial coloring allowed in food has risen from 12 mg/capita/d in 1950 to 62 mg/capita/d in 2010.

Manufacturers are required to disclose ingredients, including artificial coloring, on food product labels. However, that may not be enough, since manufacturers are not required to disclose how much of each color is used.

Researchers find many children are consuming higher amounts of artificial dyes than previously thought. They are more likely to consume foods containing high amounts of artificial coloring, because they contain bright colors that are highly appealing to children, like fun colored cereals or candy.

The study tested a number of children’s cereals and found Fruity Cheerios, Trix, and Cap’n Crunch’s OOPS! All Berries had the most artificial dyes, Those cereals contained 32, 36 and 41 milligrams of dye per serving respectively. Cap’n Crunch also contained the highest amount of sugar per serving, 15 grams each.

Servings of M&M’s Milk Chocolate contain 30 mg of artificial coloring and Skittles candy contained 33 mg of dye. Even some white foods contain artificial dye, such as marshmallows and products like French dressing also contain dyes.

“Very few of the products were nutritious,” said Laura J. Stevens lead author of the study.

Most colored foods contain Red #40, Yellow #6, Yellow #5, and Blue #1. Some products use fruit juice or fruit, like strawberries, to color products, including Special K Red Berries and Berry Berry Kix. However, natural alternatives are difficult to use in processed foods because they do not hold up under heat, processing and light. The numbered artificial dyes are created using petroleum and can withstand processing treatments.

Concerns Over ADHD Links

Previous studies conducted on the effects of artificial colorings have suggested there is a link between the dyes and inattention, hyperactivity, irritability and trouble sleeping. Those studies were conducted decades ago using much lower levels of artificial colors than are used today.

In 2007, a study by the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency found that some children became more hyperactive when given juice containing dyes, when compared to those given juice without artificial coloring.

In 2011, a panel of experts recommended the FDA conduct more studies on the potential side effects of artificial food coloring after some studies revealed a link. The committee urged the FDA for new data concerning the controversial topic. The committee also voted against recommending new food label warnings that would indicate the dyes may cause hyperactivity in children.

Researchers warn consuming these products do not add any nutrients to a child’s diet and by limiting processed food or removing the products from the diet will not take away from a child’s nutrition.

Photo Courtesy of twodolla via Flickr CC

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