Beyond Allergies – Why Food Dyes May Cause Child Behavioral Problems

by Chrystal Johnson on February 21, 2012

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During the past 50 years, the amount of chemical dye used in foods has increased by a whopping 500%. Could it be one of the causes of the alarming rise in child behavioral problems, aggression and ADHD? Studies show it’s a definite possibility. This article will help you to understand a little more about food dye, how it can negatively affect your child’s behavior and what you can do to fight back.

Symptoms of Food-Dye-Related Behavioral Problems

The type of behavioral problems caused by food dye will depend on the child. Common symptoms of food-dye-related behavioral problems are:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to Concentrate
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Insomnia (Which Contributes to Poor Behavior)
  • Aggressive Behavior
  • Irritability
  • Tantrums/Meltdowns
  • Frequent Crying Spells

These symptoms may also indicate a mental or physical illness and your child may be diagnosed as having one. However, before putting him or her on medication, which might cause unwanted side effects, take a closer look into food dyes first.

Food Dyes that Cause Child Behavioral Problems

So which food dyes should you be watching out for? While no petroleum-based food dye could possibly be considered healthy, these two food dyes have been particularly associated with child behavioral problems:

Red #40

Red dye #40 has been most commonly associated with aggressive and impulsive behavior in children. Tantrums, hitting, kicking and swearing are common reactions in children sensitive to this dye. According to research, parents whose children consumed any food with this dye experienced a sudden and violent change in personality. When the dye was removed, the behavioral problems disappeared.

Yellow #5

Yellow #5 is most commonly associated with insomnia, which can lead to behavioral problems. Hyperactivity and learning disabilities have also been associated with this food dye.

Aside from Red #40 and Yellow #5, there are dozens more food dyes that can contribute to child behavioral problems.

Sources of Food Dyes

So where are all of these behavior-altering food dyes coming from? Here is a short list of the common culprits:

  • Breakfast Cereals
  • Candy
  • Ice Cream
  • Fruit Juice
  • Gelatin Desserts
  • Soft Drinks
  • Medications
  • Toothpaste

How Do I Know if My Child’s Behavioral Problems are Food-Related?

The best way to tell if your child’s behavioral problems are related to food dyes is to eliminate all traces of foods, medication and toothpaste containing artificial dyes for a period of one month. Then, add a large quantity of food containing just one of the forbidden dyes (Red #40 or Blue #1) and wait for a reaction or change in behavior.

For example, if your son or daughter’s tantrums, outbursts or confusion returns after eating a bunch of red candy, you’ve found the cause. If not, continue to add one more forbidden food dye every other day until a reaction occurs.

Where Can I Find Safer Alternatives?

If you’re a parent or caregiver concerned with a child’s behavioral problems, it’s very important to become a label-reader. Schedule a couple of hours for your next visit to the grocery store. Turn those boxes of cereal and cans of soda over and read the ingredients. You’ll be amazed at the amount of artificial colors and preservatives in them.

Next, search for foods labeled “organic” or “natural”. There are plenty of foods that are flavored and colored with natural food dyes.

Changing a child’s diet may be a battle at first, but the switch from processed food to whole food will improve your child’s health for the better. And a healthy child is usually a happy child. If, after you’ve removed all food dyes from your child’s diet, behavioral problems still persist, another mental or physical condition could be to blame. Schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician for further examination.

Food dyes and preservatives have been reported to be a large contributor of behavioral problems in children. The best way to find out if your child’s behavioral problems are due to food dyes is to eliminate all traces of food dyes for a month and then reintroduce them one at a time. The change in your child may pleasantly surprise you and you’ll both be happier and healthier for it!


This guest post was contributed by Jaime A. Heidel, founder of I Told You I Was Sick, a website dedicated to helping those suffering with mystery symptoms find natural ways to heal.

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