A morning muffin for breakfast. A glass of orange drink to wash it down. Sounds healthy and tasty for a young person’s breakfast? Well, think again if that muffin and drink beverage is dyed yellow with food dye.
Yes, food dye–chemicals we find in our everyday foods. Tartrazine is also known as FD & C yellow #5. It has been associated with allergic reactions. For example, in a study published in 1978, 122 patients who had a variety of diagnosed allergic reactions were given 50 milligrams of tartrazine. This dose elicited reactions such as palpitations, weakness, hives and itching in these susceptible individuals; 50 millgrams is a large dose, but could be consumed by someone drinking a few bottles of soda during the day. With 16 percent of children ages 6 to 19 overweight or obese, weight management is a serious issue, but so is management of food additives and chemicals that can prove hazardous to the immediate and long-term health of young bodies.
Tartrazine can be found in prepared breakfast cereals, gelatin desserts, dry drink powders, candy, ice cream, spaghetti, bakery products and pudding. It is important to note that there is a connection between people allergic to aspirin and allergic reactions to tartrazine.
There have also been reports of an association of behavioral changes such as restlessness, irritability and sleep disturbances in children.
It is easy to eliminate it from the diet of children since its presence in foods is required to be on the label. Sticking to a diet of only whole, natural foods will help make its avoidance much easier, as it is only present in processed foods.
Although other food dyes and additives have been implicated in hyperactivity, no definitive association has ever been made. It may be that an allergic reaction has been mistakenly diagnosed as a hyperactivity disorder. It is also possible that some children do respond to a diet free of food dyes and synthetic additives. A diet that shuns highly processed foods and relies mainly on fresh, whole natural foods is certainly a good choice for anyone, but a child who is suspected of being sensitive to additives would surely benefit. It may also be that a diet that focuses on whole natural foods has a psychological benefit in that care is being given to the preparation and eating of foods, rather than a reliance on processed “fast” foods. There may be a more relaxed and wholesome attitude that recognizes the vital role that food plays in our health and well-being.
In sum, it seems that among the food dyes, yellow dye #5 has the strongest link to allergic, and possible behavioral, reactions in children. However, any food ingredient, natural or synthetic, has the potential to cause an allergic reaction.
Implications of dyes in food for Youth Workers
Since youth workers are often after-school providers and those who may provide snacks for the youth in their care, it is prudent that we are up on what snacks we are choosing for the kids we serve. Though foods laden with dyes are often the least expensive, it is prudent to understand the connection between diet and behavior. While many of the young people we work with may be deemed at one time or another as a behavior issue, we can often troubleshoot these issues if we do a map of the young person’s diet.
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