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Food Coloring Problems

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Wednesday, October 17th, 2007 Emily Halevy | CWK Producer

“It’s a hard thing because you tell anybody about it and they’re like, ‘colors? How in the world are you allergic to colors?’ I say allergic because it’s so much easier than going down the line of everything it can do to them.”

– Tina Kleiber, mother

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Green ketchup, blue French fries and orange applesauce. The funkier the color, the more kids love the food. But are food dyes safe? Can they make a difference in how your children feel and behave?

“He would become very emotional, cry at the drop of a hat,” says Tina Kleiber, mother, explaining her son’s reaction to food containing certain dyes.

Kleiber first noticed the problem in her son, and then saw it again years later in her daughter.

“Yellow makes me very emotional and mad at stuff I shouldn’t be mad at,” says Kleiber’s daughter Brandi, 9.

“She would throw fits and lay on the floor and kick and scream,” says Kleiber.

Kleiber says the problem was food with artificial coloring — specifically red and yellow.
“It’s a hard thing because you tell anybody about it and they’re like, ‘colors? How in the world are you allergic to colors?’  I say allergic because it’s so much easier than going down the line of everything it can do to them,” says Kleiber.

In fact, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, food additives such as dyes and preservatives can affect a child’s behavior.

“They may have hyperactivity with it, they may act differently,” says Dr. Stan Cohen, M.D.

This is the first major study demonstrating a link between food additives and hyperactivity, but does that mean it causes ADHD?

“It has not been shown consistently that every child with ADHD has problems with food dyes nor that every child that has problems with food dyes has ADHD. There is a population of children that has both ADHD and a reaction to food dyes,” says Cohen.

He says that food dyes are regulated by the FDA and are perfectly safe for most kids. However, he says there is another issue. 

“The real problem with these food dyes is that they make foods more palatable so that they’re more exciting. When in fact there’s better food out there that is colored all the time — they’re called carrots and vegetables and fruit,” says Cohen.

Kleiber may only be a sample of one, but when she removed artificial dyes from her kids’ diet, she immediately saw a change.
“Within three days of not having any of those colorings in his system, [my son] was normal.  You can actually see it happen. You can see when they change and that feels good,” says Kleiber.

What We Need To Know

  • Food additives are substances that become part of a food product when added (intentionally or unintentionally) during the processing or production of that food.  (National Institutes of Health, NIH)
  • Intentional or direct food additives are added to foods to produce a desired effect, such as to maintain freshness, improve nutritional quality, assist in processing or preparing food, or make a food more appealing.  (NIH)
  • People with any allergies or food intolerances should always check the ingredient listing (label).  People who have special diets or intolerances should be careful when selecting products in the grocery store.  (NIH)
  • Start good habits early. Encourage kids’ natural tendency to be active and offer children a variety of healthy foods. It may take 10 or more tries before a child will accept a new food, so don’t give up.  (Nemours Foundation)
  • Try to include five servings of fruits and vegetables a day in your child’s diet. Plan healthy snacks and encourage kids to eat breakfast every day.  (Nemours Foundation)


  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Nemours Foundation

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