In general, the brighter the color in processed foods, the higher the amount of artificial dyes says a new study. Processed foods include, but are not limited to, cereals, candy and cakes; the mighty three Cs that children love.
Previous studies have suggested that some children may be sensitive to artificial coloring or the preservatives that often accompany it. Dyes have also been linked to inattention and hyperactivity.
For the new study, researchers bought and tested common processed foods to find out how much artificial coloring they included.
"Very few of these products were nutritious," said Laura J. Stevens, who worked on the study at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
The study noted that the amount certified of artificial dyes in processed foods has risen from 12mg/capita/d in 1950 to 62 mg/capita /d in 2010.
Children probably consume more of the heavily dyed foods, since bright colors appeal to kids, Stevens said.
Among popular children's breakfast cereals, Fruity Cheerios, Trix and Cap'n Crunch OOPS! All Berries contained the most artificial dyes. These foods also had some of the highest sugar contents.
When you read the labels on some of these products you may see numbers after the dye such as: Red #40, Yellow #6, Yellow #5 or Blue #1. Numbered artificial colors are derived from petroleum, Stevens noted. Most of the brightly colored cereals contain numbered dyes. However, some cereals like Special K Red Berries and Berry Berry Kix were colored with strawberries or fruit juice and contained no artificial coloring.
Candies, cakes and colored icings also had large amounts of artificial dyes. M&M's Milk Chocolate included almost 30 milligrams and a packet of original Skittles came in at 33 milligrams.
"Some white foods have dye, like marshmallows, and French dressing and cherry pie fillings actually had color enhancers too," Stevens said.
She also noted "There are also dyes in pediatric medicines, personal care products, mouthwash and toothpaste".
General Mills, Mars and the Grocery Manufacturers Association all responded to the report that the dyes they use are safe and within the bounds of current regulations. Each mentioned that the FDA has reviewed artificial dyes extensively and have affirmed their safety.
Many of the studies on artificial colors and behavioral problems were done decades ago and used dosages lower than what kids might actually be eating today, according to Joel Nigg. He studies attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
"The dosages were average at that time but weren't very high by today's standard," Nigg told Reuters Health. "Many of the studies have found fairly small effects, but we may be underestimating compared to what children actually get these days."
Some kids respond to higher amounts of dyes with inattention, hyperactivity, irritability, temper tantrums or trouble sleeping, but researchers don't understand why or how, Stevens said.
Those behavioral problems don't manifest in all kids, but tend to be more common among those who already have behavioral issues, like kids with ADHD.
Stevens recommends that parents read the labels of the food products they buy for their kids and avoid artificial colorings entirely.
Source: Kathryn Doyle, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/20/us-food-artificial-colors-idUSKBN0E01UR20140520