Does candy taste better when it’s brightly colored?

Posted April 04, 2011, at 10:08 p.m.

Beware the Southampton Six when in Europe. But don’t fret, they are still allowed to color our food supply world — everything from juice to yogurt to candy — here in the U.S. The Southampton Six are the six artificial food colors that a 2007 British study singled out as having a connection to hyperactivity in children. The European Union now requires the warning “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children” on any product that contains one of these six color additives.

Late last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Advisory Committee voted that there is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial dyes used to color foods contribute to hyperactivity in children. The meeting was held at the request of the Center for Science in the Public Interest which petitioned the FDA in 2008 to ban eight of the nine FDA-approved food dyes. The committee members didn’t rule out the possibility that food coloring might have a negative behavioral effect on kids; they just agreed that more studies should be done before food products that contain dyes should have to carry warning labels.

Controversy over the safety of artificial food coloring has been raging for years. The Feingold Elimination Diet, popularized in the 1970s by Dr. Benjamin Feingold, promoted eliminating food additives such as dyes and preservatives as a way to treat hyperactive children. It has been in and out of favor so often I’ve lost track.

Some of the moms who testified at the recent FDA hearing urged the committee to ban artificial food coloring from foods and medicines or at least recommend warning labels. Some members argued for a label that would tell parents that there may be a connection between food coloring and attention deficit disorder since the FDA has acknowledged there is likely a link for some children. Wesley Burks, a professor of allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center, said a warning label could overstate the link between the dyes and ADD. He further stated, “When you say ‘some children,’ that’s not how a mother or father reads it. They read it as ‘my child.’”

The FDA reviewers stated that there are certain children who may be more susceptible to the effects of dyes, such as those who already have ADD or other behavioral problems. In these children, behavioral symptoms may be worsened by a number of substances in food, including artificial food dyes.

So what is a parent to do when he believes his child’s behavioral problems may be related to food dyes or other additives? Try your own elimination diet:

Keep a written record of the foods and beverages your child consumes.

Read food labels. Food dyes and additives are listed.

Keep a record of your child’s behaviors. Is there a pattern that develops in relation to meal times? Do certain foods seem to trigger unwanted behaviors? What happens if you eliminate those foods, one at a time?

For additional help, seek the services of a registered dietitian.

The elimination diet isn’t a foolproof method, because if you suspect your child is responding a certain way to certain dyes or additives, you may find what you are looking for even if it really isn’t there.

I wonder, would I still enjoy my Jelly Belly jelly beans as much if they were all white?

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