Healthy Debate: Should You Avoid Food Dyes?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is calling for a ban on several of the most common food dyes, saying they lead to hyperactivity in children. Last week, however, the FDA claimed the evidence wasn’t strong enough to warrant a ban. Here's the latest on this hot debate.
sugary cereal

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is calling for a ban on several of the most common food dyes, citing studies that suggest they lead to hyperactivity in children. Last week, the FDA held hearings on the topic and concluded there wasn't enough evidence to warrant a ban.  Here's the latest on this hot debate.

The Concern

Do your kids love those brightly-colored breakfast cereals, fruit drinks and candies? Synthetic food dye consumption has increased dramatically since 1955, specifically in foods produced for kids. Manufacturers use about 15 million pounds per year of the most common eight synthetic dyes. Not only do the dyes provide no nutritional value, they have also been linked to hyperactivity in children.

So, which colors are the worst offenders? Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 cause allergic reactions in some folks. Furthermore, many experts believe Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 contain cancer-causing agents. CSPI says the FDA should ban these dyes and recommends food-based colorings instead.  Learn more about the research and possible risks >>

The Other Side

FDA advisers evaluated studies and testimonials about the connection between color additives and ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and were not convinced that the dyes were directly responsible for hyperactivity.  The committee concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to warrant a food dye ban or an ingredient warning label.

Some experts say that the hearing itself is a big step for the FDA, as it shows the organization acknowledges that food dyes could cause harm to children. The FDA also called for more research on the topic -- we'll be watching the results!

The Bottom Line: With numerous studies showing the connection between food dyes and hyperactivity and many experts convinced of the harm, consuming food dyes sparingly isn’t a bad idea. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when talking about our future generation.

To avoid dyes at the grocery store, opt for higher-nutrient whole foods and choose certified organic products when you go for more processed stuff -- they contain natural dyes versus synthetic ones. And, as always, don't forget to read food labels!

TELL US: Do you avoid food dyes?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

You Might Also Like:

Next Up

Star in Training

The Next Food Network Star winner Aarti Sequeira takes us through the making of her new show, Aarti Party.

Healthy Debate: Should You Choose Organic?

Is it worth the extra cost to buy organic or does healthy conventionally grown food trump pesticide free?

Healthy Pregnancy: Foods to Avoid

What can't I eat now? That's one of the first questions that pops into your mind when you find out you're pregnant. Sure, you cut out the alcohol and avoid caffeine, but what about those foods that might have lurking bacteria? Here are some of the foods I skip to cut back the risks.

Healthy Debate: Should Happy Meal Toys Be Banned?

Whoever came up with the marketing for Happy Meals toys is a genius. Kids are drawn to popular characters and love their trinkets ( more than the food). But with this type of marketing comes a price—especially when you’re talking about high fat and calorie-laden food during a time where tremendous efforts are being put forth to diminish the incidence of childhood obesity.

Healthy Debate: Are Detox Diets Safe?

Sure, it's tempting to try a detox or cleanse diet after all that Thanksgiving turkey, but are they safe? Here's what experts at the American Dietetic Association's recent Food and Nutrition Expo had to say about these controversial diets.

Healthy Debate: Frozen vs. Fresh Veggies

And the winner is…farm fresh veggies! But don’t count out the frozen ones -- there’s a time and place for them too. Find out the advantages of using frozen veggies and what you should be looking for when buying them at the market.

Healthy Debate: Chocolate Verses White Milk

Sweet chocolate milk is causing bitter cafeteria showdowns around the country. School lunch advocates who want the chocolate stuff nixed from the cafeteria menu say it packs almost as much sugar as soda, but others say it's better for kids to drink chocolate milk than no milk at all.