As parents or guardians, we are quick to blame all sorts of things when it comes to our children’s reactions to external stimuli of sorts. This rings true with symptoms of ADHD, autism, anxiety, Oppositional Defiance (ODD), depression and many other conditions closely associated with children.
What we are always striving for is the one specific item, whether it be food, television, video game or particular friends, that will give us our “Aha!” moment …. the moment when we realize the specific culprit that has caused the new behavior unbecoming of our own flesh and blood.
While sugar has a direct impact on ADHD symptoms, there is one avenue that should be looked at first - artificial colouring and dyes. ADHD symptoms, like inattention and hyperactivity, can be exacerbated by artificial chemical food dyes and have also been shown to produce ADHD-like symptoms in children who don’t actually have an ADHD diagnosis. These are added to processed foods, drinks, and condiments to “improve” the appearance but their disclosure is not required on nutritional labeling, so it’s often difficult to know if an item contains one or more of them. Many commercial foods that figure prominently in a child’s diet—such as orange juice and orange-coloured cheese, canned fruit, and even oatmeal!—frequently do. Yes, even orange juice!
It has been tossed around that one colour (Red 40) is worse than all others, however, the safest bet is to avoid them all.
Artificial food dyes (AFDs) were originally synthesized from coal tar, but are now produced in a lab with chemicals from petroleum, which is a crude oil product which also happens to be used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt and tar. Food dyes are not used simply to make our food look pretty, but are used by manufacturers to help compete in the market and sell their products. AFDs are more economical than natural dyes, and improve the appearance of generally bland looking foods (starches, brown chocolate) while grabbing the consumer’s attention. Essentially it makes foods that lack colour more appealing.
Why Are Natural Food Dyes Not Used?
Unfortunately, going the natural route in food dyes can be expensive but will save a lot of issues in day to day life at school, at home, on the soccer field, during tutoring or just during life in general. The cost will absolutely be worth it.
Natural food dyes also have shorter shelf lives (their colour fades more easily), and don’t have the same impact visually as artificial food dyes. As well, natural colours are less stable over time and begin to fade and mute especially if exposed to sunlight.
Some natural food colouring agents include:
freeze dried fruit (beet, raspberry, passion fruit)
algae powders (blue spirulina)
When to Use Artificial Food Dyes
Artificial food dyes, unlike many other food additives, add absolutely no nutritional or health benefit other than to market a product. Some people may view artificial food dyes as harmless, and are indifferent to consuming them. However, it’s long been argued that most or all of the food dyes pose some health hazard and are not worth the risk. There are many foods and drugs we consume (or over consume) that we know are not particularly healthy, but continue to do so. As well, what’s harmful for one individual may not be as harmful to another.
So with all of this being said, is it worth the risk - especially when your child’s livelihood is involved? No, it’s not. Good habits today will speak volumes later on - and here is something that will make life so much easier for you …. there are a few companies today that refuse to use artificial food dyes, such as President’s Choice and M and M Foods, in any of their products.
This simple diet modification will make all the difference in the world and optimize not only your child’s physical health but especially their brain health as well. Garbage in is garbage out and will resonate in many forms - diabetes, poor heart health, poor kidney health, obesity and behavior issues galore. So eat well, sleep well, exercise and be mindful about what you’re putting into you and your family’s meals as it will make all the difference in the world later on.
Karen Ryan, NNCP, RHN is a registered clinical and holistic nutritionist and Integrative ADHD and mental health practitioner specializing in drug free strategies for managing ADHD and mental wellness. She is a firm believer in the correlation between food and mood and believes that a clean diet is the best medicine for sound health of body and mind. Guided by her extensive education, research and experience in both nutrition disciplines, Karen dedicates her focus to helping all people, including children and teens, eat healthier, live happier and increase better levels of mental wellness for improved quality of life.
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