Do Red and Yellow Food Dyes Disrupt Children's Behavior?
By Annie B. Bond
Birthday cakes with all the colors of the rainbow were the touchpoint that would change our friendly and gentle daughter into a belligerent crank puss for a few hours after eating her slice. We always braced for the aftermath of the birthday parties. Given that we didn't serve meals with FD&C food dyes at home, it wasn't too hard to track down the cause of her dramatic behavior changes as they only happened under isolated circumstances.
Anecdotal evidence, yes. But I surely paid attention when I heard that in 2007 the EU required a label on foods containing synthetic food dyes that states the product "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." In 2011 in the U.S., however, the Food and Drug Administration held a Food Advisory Committee Meeting about certified color additives, and while they determined that more study is needed, labels alerting hyperactivity in children was unwarranted.
Where does the division of the EU and the U.S. recommendations leave parents? To make up our own minds, draw our own conclusions and make our own choices.
Chemical food dyes have a long, nefarious and toxic history. They were used to disguise rotting food and adulterate food's appearance in general. In the 1800s, people died or were sickened after being poisoned from dyes made of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
We have butter to thank for the practice of a more widespread use of food dyes. Until the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the color of butter naturally varied with the seasons. It was yellow in the spring and summer when cows ate foods rich in yellow carotenoids, and white in the fall and winter when they were fed corn that is low in such carotenoids. It was a breakthrough for dairies when they could make butter the same color year-round. These new and increasingly popular synthetic dyes were less costly and more stable than natural colors made from plants and minerals, but there was a downside: They were made with toxic coal tar.
Coal tar started to be widely used for consumer products including food dyes in the industrial revolution, though in 1775 coal tar was linked to "chimney sweep carcinoma," one of the first chemicals to be linked to cancer from occupational exposure. Coal tar is made by combining aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene, xylene, benzene, and petroleum distillates, and has high amounts of the ubiquitous environmental pollutants, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
In the U.S., the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 reduced the permitted list of synthetic coal tar colors from 700 down to seven. According to the FDA, those dyes for food use are chemically classified as azo, xanthene, triphenylmethane, and indigoid dyes. Although certifiable color additives have been called coal-tar colors because of their traditional origins, today they are synthesized mainly from raw materials obtained from petroleum.
The current nine artificial colorings permitted by the FDA in food are:
- FD&C Blue No. 1 (a triarylmethane dye)
- FD&C Blue No. 2 (an Indigo carmine dye)
- FD&C Green No. 3 (a triarylmethane dye)
- FD&C Red. 3 (organoiodine compound)
- FD&C Red No. 40 (an Azo dye)
- FD&C Yellow No. 5 (an Azo dye)
- FD&C Yellow No. 6 (an Azo dye)
- Orange B (not used in many years due to safety concerns)
- Citrus Red No. 2 (used rarely on oranges amid safety concerns)
The two FD&C dyes called out for hyperactivity in children are Red #40 and Yellow #5. An NIH study recommends that since current dyes do not improve the safety or nutritional quality of foods, all of the currently used dyes should be removed. There is a general agreement that there is inadequate testing for FD&C dyes.
What tests there are on how food dyes affect behavior seem to show that some children are genetically vulnerable to behavioral changes from dyes and that a smaller subset have very strong reactions.
"In Europe, that's enough to get it banned because a manufacturer has to show lack of toxic effects," said Bernard Weiss, professor emeritus of the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "In this country, it's up to the government to find out whether or not there are harmful effects." Weiss supports banning artificial colors until companies have evidence that they cause no harm.
"The fundamental problem is that good research studies about food dyes are very hard to do. The default position of the regulatory industries seems to be that food dyes are safe until proven otherwise," notes Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann.
In 1965, Dr. Ben F. Feingold, a pediatrician and chief of allergy at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers in Northern California, was way ahead of his time in seeing a biochemical relationship to behavior. His hypothesis was that "hyperactivity can be triggered by synthetic additives—specifically synthetic colors, synthetic flavors and the preservatives BHA, BHT (and later TBHQ)—and also a group of foods containing a natural salicylate radical. This is an immunological—not an allergic—response."
Feingold went on to develop the famous Feingold Diet, removing food additives including artificial coloring. The Internet is overflowing with success stories written by grateful parents. The Feingold site has an impressive compellation of studies on the topic. The diet's benefits are still controversial, but the Feingold Association claims that more than 50 percent to more than 90 percent of children responded well to the diet.
Prevention and Solutions
Imagine the array of colors in heirloom foods and plants of all kinds that could be used for natural dyes, just as they had been for centuries by weavers. For example, a natural match for Red #40 can be made from beets, elderberry, and even purple sweet potatoes.
The FDA has a broad list of approved natural colors that are exempt from certification, including beets, caramel, B-Carotene, cochineal extract, carmine, grape color, turmeric, paprika and more.
Baked goods, candy, cereal, beverages, orange peels, ice cream, sausage, maraschinos, medications, over-the-counter treatments and more, can all contain FD&C dyes. If you weren't a label reader before, now is a good time to start.
Parents like me who decided to follow the evidence before our eyes, that Yellow #5 and Red #40 caused behavioral changes in our children, look far and wide for natural food substitutes for those with these synthetic additives. It was wonderful when a candy shaped like an M&M but dyed with natural colors came on the market.
Baking with blueberry and beet juice becomes a common way to bring festive colors to holiday baked goods in households like mine. A child standing on a chair to be tall enough to stir the bowl hardly knows the difference between that and the commercial FD&C food coloring kits.
Experimenting with natural dyes can be a fun family adventure. You can juice spinach for green, carrots for orange—the list is as endless as the beautiful colors found in nature. Natural dyes are less neon, more nuanced, and can be very beautiful.
Once you have the colors you want to use, here, below, is how you can use them in baking. This one example for making red baked goods can be used for any color.
DIY Folk Formula for Red (Valentine) Cookies and Cupcakes Frosting
Choose any red juice that stains clothing! Examples include beets, strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Canned beets work effectively. Just drain the juice to use. Alternatively, thaw some frozen berries in a bowl and you'll find that there will be plenty of juice.
Substitute in equal measure the amount of juice you are using from the recipe's liquid. If the recipe doesn't include liquid, add enough additional flour to help absorb the liquid.
Every Parent Concerned About Their Kids’ Health Should Read This Book https://t.co/Fxdkvbj8TX @nytimeshealth @Healthy_Child @naturallysavvy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517885105.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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