Trick or Treat? The Trouble With Artificial Food Dyes

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Whether we like it or not, the vibrant colors of candy have become a big part of Halloween. And they certainly leave their mark (literally!) on kids. Anyone who’s seen a little one’s tongue after she eats a bright green lollipop knows what we’re talking about!

But artificial colors have come under fire in recent years. One mom even launched a campaign in 2013 to try to get the Mars candy company to stop using artificial dyes.

The link between synthetic food coloring and hyperactivity in children has been studied for several decades. And although research by the FDA hasn’t been conclusive, the agency did acknowledge in a 2010 report that “For certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, the data suggest their condition may be exacerbated by … artificial food colors” because of a unique sensitivity.” And a study in the UK’s Food Standards Agency in 2007 showed that consuming foods with dyes could increase hyperactive behavior.

One problem, however, is that food dyes are in so many foods, not just the obvious ultra-bright ones (Skittles and M&Ms came out with the highest levels in a recent study). Some chocolates and white foods even contain surprisingly high levels!

“They’re in thousands and thousands of foods, making it very difficult for people to avoid them,” Michael Jacobson, the executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has said. Some companies have been moved to action after the outcry from parents calling for a food dye curb. General Mills has removed dyes from Trix yogurts and Pepperidge Farm removed dyes from Goldfish crackers.

But dyes are still extremely prevalent in so many other packaged foods and popular candies. So what’s a concerned parent to do?

Keep an eye on labels. Steer clear of products with ingredients like FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2 and FD&C Green No. 3. And opt for safer, natural alternatives this Halloween like natural chocolates or candies made with natural flavors and colors, like Surf Sweets Spooky Spiders, which are made with organic fruit juice and are sold at stores like Whole Foods.

Kids may protest a little if they can’t eat all of those brightly colored candies that they collected in their trick-or-treating excursions. But having other fun, healthier options can help keep any disappointment at bay!

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