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011 - Food Additives, Dyes, and ADHD

posted Nov 11, 2015, 10:01 AM by Doug Muha

Counselor Notes 11

November 15, 2013

Food Additives, Dyes, and ADHD

Recently in the news that Kraft is removing food coloring from some of its macaroni and cheese:   http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/01/health/kraft-macaroni-cheese-dyes/.  It seems that some members of the United States took exception to Kraft putting items in food for children here when those very items are banned in Europe.

Do food dyes (and additives) contribute to ADHD? Perhaps.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest http://www.cspinet.org/fooddyes/ says: 

Commonly used food dyes, such as Yellow 5, Red 40, and six others, are made from petroleum and pose a “rainbow of risks.” Those risks include hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animal studies), and allergic reactions. In 2008, because of the problem of hyperactivity, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of these dyes. The British government and European Union have taken actions that are virtually ending the use of dyes throughout Europe.

 On September 24, 2007, Time Magazine (p. 68) looked at a British study on food dyes and additives and reported that:

“A carefully designed study published in the British journal the Lancet shows that a variety of common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate--an ingredient in many soft drinks, fruit juices and salad dressings--do cause some kids to become measurably more hyperactive and distractable."


“Stevenson [Professor at England’s University of Southampton] found that children in both groups were significantly more hyperactive when drinking the beverage with the higher level of additives.”


“Some kids got revved up after consuming the amount of food dye contained in two 2-oz. (57 g) bags of candy – hardly a mega-dose.”


It isn’t like children are only getting a tiny amount of additives either:

The Food & Drug Administration has estimated that the average child consumes between 150 mg and 300 mg of additives per day in processes food, beverages, and candy.  This level is three to four times the amount used in some clinical trials that had caused hyperactive behavior to worsen in children.”  (p. 92)  From The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution by Marcia Zimmerman  ISBN# 0-8050-6128-2


Still, we can’t say food dyes/additives will be the culprit in all cases of ADHD.  As the British study noted “… some children responded strongly and others not at all.”  (Time Magazine, 10-24-07, p. 68)

This leaves parents to play the detective and see what they find may impact their child.  I would encourage parents to consult with a nutritionist before doing anything extreme.  Nashville has several: http://nutritionists.healthprofs.com/cam/state/Tennessee.html

Parents looking at food dyes and additives being a contributor to ADHD may also wish to look into:

The 8 foods that are banned in Europe but companies legally package to be fed to children in the United States.   http://blog.aarp.org/2013/06/25/8-foods-we-eat-that-other-countries-ban/  lists them as:

1. Artificially colored food made with dyes derived from petroleum and coal tar. Yellow 5, Red 40 and six others dyes — used to enhance products from Froot Loops to Nutri-Grain cereal bars — are called the“rainbow of risk” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. They are banned in Norway, Finland, France, Austria and the U.K.

2. Chicken with arsenic. Arsenic in chicken feed cuts down on parasites, makes chickens grow faster and gives their meat more color. It also gives the chicken we eat higher levels of arsenic, known to cause lung, bladder and skin cancers, a study last month by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore found. Arsenic-laced feed is banned in the European Union.

3. Drinks with brominated vegetable oil (BVO). Bromine is a chemical used to keep carpets from catching fire, among other things, so why is it in our food? PepsiCo is removing it from Gatorade but keeping it in Mountain Dew. BVO is banned in more than 100 countries.

4. Breads with potassium bromate, used in bromated flour to make bread products rise higher and faster. Found in rolls, bagel chips, bread crumbs and  flatbreads, potassium bromate has been linked to thyroid and kidney cancers in lab animals. It has been banned in Europe, Canada and China. California declared it a carcinogen in 1991.

5. Frozen dinners with azodicarbonamide. This is used to bleach and stabilize flour and also to make foamed plastic products like yoga mats and sneakers. Found in frozen TV dinners, packaged baked goods and some breads, it has been associated with inducing asthma. It is banned in Australia, the U.K. and most European countries.

6. Food preserved with BHA and BHT. These preservatives are added to cereal, nut mixes, gum, butter, meat and dehydrated potatoes to keep them from turning rancid. The debate over their safety has been going on in the U.S. for years. Meanwhile, they’re banned in the U.K., Japan and many European countries.

7. Milk with rBGH and rBST, also known as bovine growth hormones. Synthetic hormones, these are given to cows and therefore found in milk and other dairy products (unless the label specifically says otherwise). They have been linked to cancer and infertility and are banned in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the European Union.

8. Chips with Olestra or Olean, a fat substitute used in fat-free chips, like Ruffles Wow. Olestra and Olean can produce cramps and leaky bowels and are banned in the U.K. and Canada. 

10 American foods that are banned in other countries: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/10/banned-foods.aspx

WebMD weighing in on food dyes and ADHD:  http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/food-dye-adhd

Here is a good site on what foods are likely to contain additives the may impact ADHD: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20439038,00.html 

Doug Muha Ed.S
School Counselor
Waverly Elementary School

P.S.  The prevalence of ADHD in children in Europe is under 5% according to: http://www.adhd-institute.com/burden-of-adhd/epidemiology/    Our own CDC http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.htmlThe  notes that in the U.S. in 2007 “Parents report that approximately 9.5% of children 4-17 years of age (5.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD.”  I do not expect the rate has been going down in the last few years either.