I'm a big advocate of eliminating artificial colors (aka food dyes) from our children's diet. Why? Well, it's because I have first hand experience with the negative effects on my two sons' behavior and attention span. It started when my oldest son was only two years old. I noticed how he would go from cooperative and having an active (i.e. busy but not atypical for a 2 year old child) behavior, to bizarrely defiant and hyperkinetic behavior for the next two or three days. At first I thought that too much sugar might be the culprit; however, after eliminating sugar from my son's diet for a month, I couldn't see any positive changes in his behavior. Then, I started doing my own research and found out how artificial colors and dyes (such as Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, etc.) were banned in Europe due to their adverse effects on children's health. In addition, food products containing artificial colors are required to have a large warning label in the U.K. They are even getting rid of artificial food dyes and replacing them with natural colors (anatto, beet, carmine, etc.).
So, I decided to do my own test. I eliminated all foods containing artificial colors from my son's diet, and the results, although unscientific, were amazing. After about a week without food dyes, my son was more focused, stopped throwing unreasonable tantrums, and had the typical energy level of a 2 year old (instead of bouncing up and down nonstop). My son was a different kid! His attitude and behavior had changed tremendously! From that point on, my husband and I took label reading at the grocery store very seriously, and wouldn't buy any fruit juices, yogurts, snacks, or even marshmallows(!) that contained artificial colors. We still permitted caramel color, anatto, and other natural colorings.
Now, you may be wondering... How do you know if it is really the artificial dyes causing the behavior problems? Your son might really have ADHD! Right? Hold your horses! The symptoms of ADHD don't come and go as they please... My son was fine for days or even weeks at a time, and then he would suddenly change his behavior. It was odd. Even nowadays, I can easily tell when my son eats something with artificial color at school or special events (it's hard to monitor every food he consumes at other places besides home). For example, my son, on a regular basis, is focused, does his homework without any problems, obeys, plays outside like any other boy at his age would play, etc. Then, all of a sudden, after consuming a product with food dyes, he comes home extremely defiant, can't concentrate, can't stop moving, etc. Suspicious, I ask him what he ate at school for lunch and bingo! Usually a dessert or cupcake containing food dyes. It usually takes a few hours for the food dyes to affect his body (usually 2-3 hours after consumption), and it also takes about 48 hours for the artificial colors to get out of his system. After 2 days, my son goes back to his normal self again. The same is also true with my youngest son. It's even more strange because normally, my youngest is even more focused than my oldest one. However, as soon as he eats something containing food dyes, his behavior is also altered.
I have discussed the issue with many mothers who come to me presenting a similar case, and I even have some of the mothers agreeing with me and seeing a positive result in their children's behavior after eliminating food dyes from their diet. I'm not here to say that artificial colors affect every child, but we ought to think, why are dyes banned in Europe but not here in the US? Money perhaps? Dyes may be cheaper than natural coloring...
The FDA keeps insisting on the need for more research... Ok, we will be here waiting patiently for the results. Meanwhile, if you are experiencing a similar situation with your child, do an experiment and remove food dyes from your child's diet. Read the labels of the products. Find alternatives for products that contain dyes. Now, don't expect miracles happening in one day... it might take more than a week to notice any difference in your child's behavior. And even if the the smallest colorful candy containing Red#40, Yellow#5or#6, Blue#1or#2 gets eaten you'll be back to square one. But, if it means raising a healthier, happier child, it's worth the effort!
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/broterham/38615433/">broterham</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>