Red Dye 40 : To Eat or Not to Eat?

Learn about the most common problems parents report about red dye 40 or other artificial colorings and the effects on behavior when eliminating this from a child's diet. Artificial colors are common food additives and unfortunately, we live in a world where it is nearly impossible to find food without 10-20 food additives that we know nothing about. Being that my son has so many allergies, we have adjusted to giving him very plain food in order to limit the chances of an additive that may cause an allergic reaction.

For many parents this may not be a common practice, but for parents of children on a diet for ADHD it is more commonly known to be removed from the child's diet. I have researched the effects of red dye 40 on behavior and have found there to be a lot of parent testimonials about red dye 40 saying it does affect their child's behavior and may contribute to attention and memory difficulties, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, and impulsivity.

red apple with a bite that has been treated with red food dye 40

I have also found some articles claiming that red dye 40 has a negative impact on children, especially those with ADHD symptoms.

One mother I spoke with said that her son had a lot of difficulties around the age of 6 and after removing red dye from his diet completely, they disappeared. Of course he is older now, I believe 13 years old, and is able to eat foods with the dye and does not seem to have any problems now. However, this is only one of many incidences that show the importance of knowing what you are eating and how it may affect you or your child’s behavior.

One possible reason for the effect red dye has on behavior may be that the child has a sensory processing disorder. This particular disorder can cause a child to be oversensitive to artificial colors, which excite the brain.

Reading food labels is one of the best things you can possibly do to be aware of what your child is actually ingesting. The dye can be found in hundreds of food items without the food actually being the color red; some foods include Doritos, Twinkies, chocolate cake mix, vanilla frosting, croissants and even non-organic red apples (gotta look good right?).

How do you know red dye 40 is the problem?

Although it reportedly is difficult to conduct an actual study on the effect it may have on behavior, by simply removing it from one’s diet for at least two weeks, you should be able to know whether there is a change. Simply observing any differences in your child or by keeping a journal of what your child eats and tracking any behavioral difficulties you encounter will help. Of course the use of behavior interventions for child behavior problems in addition to removing red dye 40 is also recommended.

I am a person that prefers to try all other options before assuming that the child should be placed on medication. For some, medication may be a good option. If there as a better option, such as a change in diet, well then I would rather try that first. 

I have heard of parents being guilt tripped by teachers or psychiatrists stating that their child has a condition that needs to be treated with medication and if your child had diabetes you wouldn’t deprive them of the medication needed would you? However, even with diabetes there have been people that have been able to control it by changing their diet, exercising to lose weight, and resulted in not needing medication. 

So, should you try not letting your child eat red dye 40 for a couple weeks? I say absolutely, see if it makes a difference, and if not at least you can say you ruled out another option. If it does make a difference, well then you just made your life a whole lot easier.

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