Purdue study: Artificial dyes highest in beverages, cereal, candy

By Maggie Hennessy

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Purdue study: Artificial dyes highest in beverages, cereal, candy
New research from Purdue University scientists has revealed the dye content of scores of packaged food products, some of which contain more than the 35 mg per serving that has been shown in certain trials to affect behavior among a small percentage of children.

Of all the cereals tested, the one with the most artificial dyes was Cap’n Crunch’s Oops! All Berries, with 41 mg. General Mills’ Trix cereal contains 36.4 mg of Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Red 40, while Fruity Cheerios has 31 mg of food dyes including Red 40, Yellow 6, and Blue 1.  

Among the largest sources of artificial dyes in the American diet is beverages, according to the researchers. They found that Full Throttle Red Berry energy drink contains 18.8 mg per 8-ounce serving; Powerade Orange Sports Drink, 22.1 mg; Crush Orange, 33.6 mg; Sunny D Orange Strawberry, 41.5 mg; and Kool-Aid Burst Cherry, 52.3 mg.  

Other findings included:

  • Target Mini Green Cupcakes contain 55.3 mg of artificial dyes per serving, in the form of Yellow 5, Blue 1, Yellow 6, and Red 40;
  • Mars Inc.’s Skittles and M&M’s, which are dyed with Blue 1, Blue 2, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40, had the highest levels found in candies. Skittles Original had 33.3 mg per serving; M&M’s Milk Chocolate had 29.5 mg per serving; and
  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese contains 17.6 mg of artificial dyes per serving. Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Crackers had 14.4 mg of artificial dyes, and Kraft’s Creamy French salad dressing had 5 mg. 

According to the researchers, the amount of artificial food dye certified for use by the Food and Drug Administration has increased five-fold, per capita, between 1950 and 2012. They estimate that a child could easily consume 100 mg of dyes in a day and that some children could consume more than 200 mg per day.  

Some studies have shown that modest percentages of children are affected by doses up to 35 mg of mixtures of synthetic coloring, with larger percentages generally being affected by doses of 100 mg or more. However, the amount of dye that triggers reactions in the most sensitive children is not known. 

“In the 1970s and 1980s, many studies were conducted giving children 26 mg of a mixture of dyes,”​ said Laura Stevens, research associate in the Nutrition Science Department at Purdue and lead author of the study. “Only a few children seemed to react to the dyes, so many doctors concluded that a dye-free diet was pointless. Later studies using larger doses showed that a much larger percentage of children reacted. But some researchers considered those doses unrealistically high. It is now clear that even the larger amounts may not have been high enough. The time is long past due for the FDA to get dyes out of the food supply or for companies to do so voluntarily and promptly.”   

“Until now, how much of these neurotoxic chemicals are used in specific foods was a well-kept secret,” ​said Center for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael F. Jacobson, in a statement responding to the release of the study. “I suspect that food manufacturers themselves don’t even know. But now it is clear that many children are consuming far more dyes than the amounts shown to cause behavioral problems in some children. The cumulative impact of so much dyed foods in children’s diets, from breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, is a partial reason why behavioral problems have become more common.”​   

Artificial food colors long a source of controversy

Controversy over the safety of artificial food colors has been raging for years, but reached a new frenzy in 2007 following the publication of a controversial study by the University of Southampton in the UK suggesting a link between six food dyes – the ‘Southampton Six’ – and hyperactivity in children. They were E110 (sunset yellow/FD&C Yellow #6), E104 (quinoline yellow), E122 (carmoisine), E129 (allura red or FD&C Red #40), E102 (tartrazine/FD&C Yellow#5) and E124 (ponceau 4R).

While EFSA concluded that the results could not be used as a basis for altering the acceptable daily intakes of the colors in question, the European Parliament ruled that products sold in the EU featuring any of these colors should include warning labels noting that they “may have an effect on activity and attention in children”​. However​an FDA advisory committee examining the link between food coloring and hyperactivity voted against recommending EU-style warning labels on products containing these dyes in the US at a hearing in Maryland in 2011. 

Still, several major companies have pulled artificial dyes from some of their foods. Kraft has removed food dyes from some child-oriented varieties of its Macaroni & Cheese; General Mills removed dyes from its Trix and Yoplait Go-Gurt lines; Frito-Lay has removed dyes from Lay's seasoned and kettle-cooked chips, Sun Chips, and Tostitos; and Pepperidge Farm has removed dyes from its Goldfish Colors crackers. 

Source: Clinical Pediatrics
DOI: 10.1177/0009922814530803
​Amounts of Artificial Food Dyes and Added Sugars in Foods and Sweets Commonly Consumed by Children”
Authors: Laura J. Stevens​, John R. Burgess​, Mateusz A. Stochelski​, and Thomas Kuczek


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