Are food colourings safe for children?

Are food colourings safe for children?

Does your child love:

  • Lollies
  • Cordial
  • Soft drink
  • Ice cream
  • Store bought cakes and slices?

These foods are really attractive to kids as they contain artificial colours. Articifical colours are even in certain brands of pickles, smoked salmon and salad dressing, as well as medications.

Children are the biggest consumers of food colours.

Is it something we should be worried about?

Food colours can either be produced naturally or derived synthetically (artificial colours)

Naturally derived food colours include:

  • Beetroot extract (purple)
  • Chlorophyllin (green)
  • Beta-carotene (from yellow and orange vegetables).

Annatto is also natural, but has been associated with head banging in children, so still not a good choice.

Levels of hyperactivity in young children have been shown to increase when consuming mixtures of certain artificial food colours, and the preservative sodium benzoate.

Research in 2007 at the University of Southampton looked at the possible effects of artificial food colours on children’s behaviour.

It revealed behaviour changes in children after consuming food colours and preservatives, even though these children had no previous behaviour problems or known food sensitivities.

The addition of food colours and benzoate preservatives to the diet resulted in significantly more hyperactivity in children’s behaviour, shown by increased movement, impulsivity and inattention.

This evidence suggests children with behavioural and hyperactive disorders would benefit by the removal of the following 6 food colours from the diet:

tartrazine (102), quinoline yellow (104), sunset yellow FCF (110), carmoisine (122), ponceau 4R (124) and allura red AC (129).

So what are the potential effects of these food colours?

The list is remarkable:

  • Asthma
  • Hyperactivity
  • Skin ailments (rash / hives)
  • Behavioural problems
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Learning difficulties

Alarmingly, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) reviewed the study and did not find sufficient evidence to lower the safety limits of these colours in food.

Therefore the Australian standards do not acknowledge the link between eating food colours and hyperactivity, and have not put restrictions in place.

Currently there are more than 300 food additives approved for use in Australia that are hidden in commonly consumed foods, many of which are banned or restricted in other countries.  

Aldi supermarkets in Australia have responded by removing the six previously stated food colours from its own-brand products, plus a further eight additional colours.

The European Union has required food colours to have a warning statement on packaging stating ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children‘.

The British National Food Regulator encourages food manufacturers to find alternatives to these colours and many manufacturers and retailers in the UK have since taken action to stop using them.

We hope Australia follows in this path soon!

How should you and your child avoid the colours?

Try to avoid packaged and processed food!

If you have to eat packaged food, always check the label.

Additives to take a note of to AVOID:

Artificial Food Colours Preservatives Synthetic Antioxidants Flavour Enhancers
Yellows – 102, 104, 107, 110 Red – 122 to 129 Blues – 131, 132, 133 Green – 142 Black – 151, 153 Browns – 154, 155 Natural colour – 160b (annatto)   E.g. Lollies, soft drinks Sorbates 200-203 Benzoates 210-213 Sulphites 220-228 Nitrates, nitrites 249-252 Propionate 280-283, ‘cultured’ or ‘fermented’ anything e.g. ‘cultured dextrose’   i.e. Processed foods Gallates 310-312 TBHQ, BHA, BHT 319-321       E.g. Oils Glutamates including MSG 620-625 Ribonucleotides 627, 631, 635 Hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP) E.g. Noodles, shapes

These food colours, preservatives, and other additives are mostly found in processed and discretionary foods, which are advised to eat as occasional treats anyway.

To avoid these additives, I recommend opting for as many unprocessed, whole foods as possible.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and proteins is going to keep your child the healthiest and happiest. 

It is worth trialling the removal of these food colours and additives from your child’s diet to see if any behavioural improvements are noticed.

Next steps

If your child has any of the conditions mentioned above, it is worth getting professional help to make sure their diet isn’t contributing to some of their issues. By having an appointment with me, I can help you optimise your family’s diet and improve their health. Click here to make an appointment.

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