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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Food Additives and Hyperactivity in Children


The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved OVER 70,000 FOOD ADDITIVES  –  from artificial ingredients to genetically modified ones, and from all natural to GRAS (generally recognized as safe). The situation is even worse with cosmetics and personal care products, with virtually no regulations on chemicals. Our skin absorbs whatever we put on it so those chemicals get into our bodies, where many of them do harm. (, 2014) Does this alarm you?


Europe Bans Food Dyes due to ADHD & Cancer Links – US FDA Continues to Allow Them.

When British researchers removed food additives from the diets of a group of hyperactive 3-year-olds, the children calmed down. When artificial food colorings and preservatives were introduced back into the children’s diets, their parents reported an increase in hyperactivity. Researchers estimate that if children were to eat additive-free, the number of them thought to have hyperactivity-related behavioral problems could be greatly reduced.  (, 2014) THE US FDA’S LAX REGULATION OF FOOD ADDITIVES (, 2014) (Thompson, 2013)

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) reviewed the food safety protection system managed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and concluded that Americans are consuming food laced with unsafe chemicals due to our federal government’s ongoing failure to oversee and adequately regulate food producers. “Rules governing the chemicals that go into a tennis racket are more stringent than (rules for) the chemicals that go into our food. At least when you put a new chemical on the market, you have to notify the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). But there’s no requirement that you notify the FDA when you make a new food additive.” – Thomas Nelter, J.D., Director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Food Additives Project Mr Nelter is a Chemical Engineer, an Attorney, a Healthy Homes specialist, and a Fellow of the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management.


Thomas Nelter, Director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Food Additives Project.

Nelter’s project studied conflict of interest issues in food safety evaluations and found that, between 1997-2012, employees of food additive manufacturers wrote 1 of every 5 safety determinations the industry submitted to the US FDA. Another 12% of the safety determinations were paid for by a consulting firm selected by the manufacturer. The rest of the safety reviews were conducted by expert panels chosen either by the manufacturer or by a consultant to the manufacturer. According to an article published in the respected journal JAMA Internal Medicine, another 13% of the determinations were written by someone working for a consulting firm selected by the manufacturer and the remainder of the reviews were conducted by expert panels selected either by the manufacturer or a consultant to the manufacturer. Hmm, this does not seem like a good way to protect the public The Pew study employed conflict of interest criteria developed by a committee of the Institute of Medicine to analyze 451generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, determinations that the food industry submitted to the US FDA over a 25 year period. The Food Additives Amendment of 1958 authorizes MANUFACTURERS to make determinations of an additive’s safety (GRAS determinations) but doesn’t require them to notify the FDA about these determinations.


FOOD DYES, ADHD, CANCER AND ALLERGIES (Curran, 2010) So many vibrantly colored products – I hesitate to call them foods – are available in the processed foods aisles we may not give their colors a second thought – yet we should because the FDA-approved food dyes used to achieve those colors present profound risks to our health. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)  published FOOD DYES; A RAINBOW OF RISKS, a comprehensive scientific report detailing the risks from nine dyes widely used in food products. The report was compiled by Molecular Toxicologist Sarah Kobylewski and Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This report presents considerable evidence for risks of cancer, hyperactivity in children and allergies posed by food dyes. THE US FOOD INDUSTRY POURS INTO OUR FOOD SUPPLY OVER 15 MILLION POUNDS OF THE NINE STUDIED DYES – PER YEAR. Three of these dyes contain known carcinogens. Four can cause serious allergic reactions. Other studies have found that seven of the nine contributed to cancer development in lab animals, including brain and testicular tumors, colon cancer, and mutations. CSPI’s Executive Director, Michael F. Jacobson, said, “These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody.” An Associate at the National Toxicology Program, James Huff,  commented, “Some dyes have caused cancers in animals, contain cancer-causing contaminants, or have been inadequately tested for cancer or other problems. Their continued use presents unnecessary risks to humans, especially young children. It’s disappointing that the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] has not addressed the toxic threat posed by food dyes.” A letter CSPI mailed to the FDA detailed reasons for banning food dyes in the US. to protect consumers.  CSPI charged that the FDA fails to enforce the law in the following ways:

  • Red 3 and Citrus Red 2 should be banned under the Delaney amendment, because they caused cancer in rats (some uses were banned in 1990), as should Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, which are tainted with cancer-causing contaminants.

  • Evidence suggests, though does not prove, that Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40 and Yellow 6 cause cancer in animals. There is certainly not “convincing evidence” of safety.

  • Dyed foods should be considered adulterated under the law, because the dyes make a food “appear better or of greater value than it is” – typically by masking the absence of fruit, vegetable or other more costly ingredient.”

CSPI charged that the FDA has been aware of the health risks posed by these dyes but has not acted to protect consumers. As of 2010, when the CSPI report was issued, over 200,000 pounds of Red 3 was added to  processed food products each year, including ConAgra’s Kid Cuisine frozen meals and Betty Crocker’s Fruit Roll-Ups. (I don’t know the statistics for the years after 2010.) If food manufacturers wish to attract consumers with food colors, they have choices other than synthetic, petroleum-based dyes: Blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, paprika, grape skin extract, beet juice, purple sweet potato, corn, and red cabbage are just a few of the many non-chemical dyes available – and used in other countries. Fanta Orange Soda manufactured in Britain is colored with pumpkin and carrot extract while the US version is dyed with Red 40 and Yellow 6. Kellogg Strawberry NutriGrain Bars are colored with Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1 in the US but with beetroot, annatto and paprika extract in Britain. McDonald’s Strawberry Sundaes are colored Red dye 40 in America but with strawberries in Britain American consumer advocacy groups have called on the FDA to enact similar policies in the this country. A British law went into effect on July 20th 2010 requiring companies to put this notice on each dyed product sold in Europe:  “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” IS OUR FDA TRULY PROTECTING US?


The images below show coloring agents used in Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars made in the US vs in Britain.  In Britain, lawmakers believe potentially harmful ingredients should be banned from foods until they’re proven safe. In the US, our FDA takes the position that these ingredients can be left in until they have been proven to be harmful. From my research, it seems even when they’ve been scientifically determined to be harmful, the FDA often refuses to ban them. GMO foods are a case in point.


NINE FOOD ADDITIVES ASSOCIATED WITH HYPERACTIVITY Here’s a list of nine food additives that could aggravate attention problems (Gardner, 2014): BLUE NO.1: A food coloring (AKA Brilliant Blue) Found in: Frito-Lay Sun Chips French Onion and other Frito-Lay products; some Yoplait products; some JELL-O dessert products; Fruity Cheerios; Trix; Froot-Loops; Apple Jacks; Quaker Cap’N Crunch’s Crunch Berries; some Pop-Tarts products; some Oscar Mayer Lunchables; Duncan Hines Whipped Frosting Chocolate; Edy’s ice cream products; Skittles candies; Jolly Ranchers Screaming Sours Soft & Chew Candy; Eclipse gum; Fanta Grape

Some products containing FDA-approved Blue No. 1 Blue No. 2: A food coloring (AKA Indigotine) Found in:

Froot-Loops; Post Fruity Pebbles; Pop-Tarts products; Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Strawberry Supreme Premium Cake Mix; Betty Crocker Frosting Rich & Creamy Cherry; M&M’s Milk Chocolate Candies; M&M’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Candies; Wonka Nerds Grape/Strawberry; pet foods

Some food products containing FDA-approved Blue No. 2 Green No.3: A food coloring, rarely used now Found in: Candy, beverages, ice cream, puddings

Example of food product containing FDA-approved Green No. 3 Orange B: A food coloring that used to added to sausage casings

FDA-approved Orange B in sausage casings

Red No.3: A food coloring (AKA Carmoisine) Found in: Candy, cake icing, chewing gum

Examples of food products containing FDA-approved Red No. 3 Sodium Benzoate: A food preservative Found in: Fruit juice, carbonated beverages, and pickles

Sodium benzoate is found in abundance in acidic foods. It is used to retard the growth of microorganisms, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Examples of foods containing FDA-approved sodium benzoate Red No. 40: A food coloring (AKA Allura Red) This food dye is the most widely used food dye in the US, exceeding both Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6. Found in: Some Frito-Lay products; some Yoplait products; JELL-O Gelatin desserts; Quaker Instant Oatmeal; Trix; Froot-Loops; Apple Jacks; some Pop-Tart products; Kid Cuisine Kung Fu Panda products; Oscar Mayer Lunchables products; Hostess Twinkies; some Pillsbury rolls and frostings; some Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines frostings; and more

Some food products containing FDA-approved food dye Red No. 40 Yellow No.5: A food coloring (AKA Tartrazine) Yellow No. 5 is the only food dye that has been tested by itself, not as part of a mix of food dyes. These studies found a link to hyperactivity. It is the second most commonly used food dye in the US. Found in: Nabisco Cheese Nips Four Cheese; Frito-Lay Sun Chips Harvest Cheddar and other Frito-Lay products; some Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding products; Lucky Charms; Eggo waffles and other waffle products; some Pop-Tarts products; various Kraft macaroni and cheese products; Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper and other products

Some food products containing FDA-approved food dye Yellow No. 5

Yellow No.6: A food coloring (AKA Sunset Yellow)

This is the third most widely used food dye in the US.

Found in:

Frito-Lay Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Crunchy and other Frito-Lay products; Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-ups; some JELL-O gelatin deserts and instant puddings; Fruity Cheerios; Trix; some Eggo waffle products; some Kid Cuisine Kung Fu Panda products; some Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners; some Betty Crocker frostings; some M&M’s and Skittles candies; Sunkist Orange Soda; Fanta Orange

Examples of food products containing FDA-approved food dye Yellow No. 6 COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF FDA-APPROVED DYES USED IN FOOD PRODUCTS

The Food and Health program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has made an extensive investigation into what’s in our food.

You can use their comprehensive IATP Brain Food Selector: A Listing of Foods and the Food Coloring they Contain to find which artificial dyes are in your child’s (and your) favorite foods.

The chart is prefaced by this information:

Synthetic food dyes, made from petrochemicals, are common in manufactured foods that are widely consumed by children. Strong science implicates food dyes with increased hyperactivity in children. That research led the British government to ask companies to stop using most dyes by December 2009. And beginning in July 2010 most dyed foods marketed throughout the European Union are required to bear a warning notice. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSIP) has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban most food dyes in the United States. More recently, CSPI published a report, Rainbow of Risks, that discusses risks of cancer, genetic damage, and allergic reactions due to dyes.

Use IATP’s Brain Food Selector to find the dyes in your child’s (and your) favorite foods.

Note that Citrus Red 2 is approved only for use on the skins of oranges not used in processing, but consumers are almost never told of its presence. Orange B is permitted on sausage casings, but has not been used for years.

Also see the IATP’s Food and Health Program’s Smart Guide to Food Dyes: Buying Foods That Can Help Learning for information on health concerns posed by artificial food dyes for children and what to buy instead.

If you’re looking for citations of scientific studies, be sure to see Appendix One on page 4 of the Smart Guide to Food Dyes (described just above) for a table of health concerns found to be caused by specific FD&C food dyes and citations of the specific research studies reporting these findings.

“The approach for your child’s overall health and nutrition is a diet that limits sugary and processed foods and is rich in fruits; vegetables; grains; and healthy fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseeds and other foods.”

– John E. Huxsahl, MD (, 2011)

REFERENCES (2014). Loopholes and Weak Enforcement Lead to Unapproved Chemicals Added to Foods. See:

Center for Science in the Public Interest. (undated). IATP Brain Food Selector: A Listing of Foods and the Food Coloring They Contain. See:

Curran, L. (2010). Food Dyes Linked to Cancer, ADHD, Allergies. FOOD SAFETY NEWS. See:

Gardner, A. (2014). 9 Food Additives That May Affect ADHD. See:,,20439038_2,00.html (2014). 70,000 food additives approved by the FDA – What you don’t know will hurt you. See:

Huxsahl, J.E. (2011). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children: What does the research say about the relationship between food additives and ADHD? See:

IATP’s Food and Health Program. (2009). Smart GuideTo Food Dyes: Buying foods that can help learning. See:

Kolylewski, S. & Jacobson, M. (2010). Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks (pdf. See: (2014). Industry Influence Found In Food Additive Reports. See:

Thompson, D. (2013). Food Additive Safety Often Determined by Those With Food Industry Ties: Study. See: © Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Comments submitted prior to 8/25/2021

Wow, very comprehensive treatment of an important subject. The red coloring in lipstick and some bright red food coatings comes from carmine, a beetle. It’s “natural” but I won’t eat it!


In reply to Sonnische.


As a Buddhist & a vegan, it’s good you’re aware of the animal source of carmine. My father worked for a processed meat company when I was in high school. When he told me that the red color of his company’s kosher “all natural” hot dogs came from ground up cochineal beetles, I stopped eating them. His description of the ingredients in the hot dogs would have produced that result anyway – especially that there’s a USDA-allowable amount of rat hairs in processed meats.

Joan Hardin

To me, this comes down to: “The approach for your child’s overall health and nutrition is a diet that limits sugary and processed foods and is rich in fruits; vegetables; grains; and healthy fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseeds and other foods.” – John E.

Huxsahl, MD (, 2011) Feeding children (and ourselves) REAL food is the best way to minimize the impact of non-food additives, coloring and over-processing. Food additives and coloring does not CAUSE hyperactivity in all kids, maybe not even in SOME kids (without preexisting sensitivity to it), but it is still a pretty ucky thing to give ANY child, and there’s really no reason to. One can find good food today, in fresh foods, in markets

that offer conscious food, in natural foods and minimally processed foods.

naama yehuda

In reply to naama yehuda.


I agree! It’s important to educate people about what to eat, why GMO foods are dangerous to them and the planet; and somehow put enough pressure on the FDA, USDA, and EPA to stop permitting the food industry to add pretty much whatever additives it wants to extend the shelf life of processed foods and make them look appealing to young children. And of course, changing our whole society to be more egalitarian so all people could earn a living wage that would let them afford to spend the money to buy organic, healthier foods for their children and themselves.

Joan hardin


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