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Are Artificial Food Colourings REALLY Bad?

Food Colouring

Looking at the ingredients labels on bottles tins and cans when my kids were little would have me literally scream inside and look around carefully for the bad mother halo replacement to be plonked on my head if I chose to feed them something with horrific artificial content.

I’d plonk the offending food items back on the shelves and carry on sanctimoniously with my shopping.

Food additives seemed almost impossible to avoid unless we made everything from scratch.

All of my boys suffer from ADHD along with the other things they live with daily.  I’d spent a lot of time and effort researching what is good and what isn’t for them, and still I got it wrong.

Giving the boys a Fruit Shoot would have them bouncing off the walls and heading for the roof.

At one time, Haribos being fed to my boys would see me looking for the nearest bolt hole to sit out the impending devastation that someone else’s mother has wreaked on my home in the aftermath of their feeding my kids things I’d asked them not to.

I really didn’t give a monkeys about sugar.  A sugar rush was NOTHING in comparison to some of the effects of other foods their bodies seemed to send them begging on their hands and knees for.

Additives have to be assessed for safety before they can be used in our food and drink, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all ok for every person.   Due to EU laws, all food must be labelled clearly in the ingredients section, but here too, I found it difficult to tell the difference when there are several terms that can be used for the same thing.

I quickly learned that there were ingredients to avoid, and others that didn’t matter too much.

The Food Standards Agency has also said that consumption of mixes of some artificial colourings with the preservative called sodium benzoate could also lead to an increase in hyperactivity in some children.

The artificial colours they identified were:

  • sunset yellow FCF (E110)
  • quinoline yellow (E104)
  • carmoisine (E122)
  • allura red (E129)
  • tartrazine (E102)
  • ponceau 4R (E124)

The FSA states

“A European Union-wide mandatory warning must be put on any food and drink (except drinks with more than 1.2% alcohol) that contains any of the six colours. The label must carry the warning ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’.”

As a family, we’ve noticed a big difference with sunset yellow and sodium benzoate.  It rules out a lot of orangey / yellow coloured drinks, but the kids are glad now that some of the things they used to be banned from, they can now eat.

  • Eating smarties – or rather not eating them was a major upset when my boys were little, but now they can.
  • I believe Fruit Shoots have made their drinks more child friendly, but as we’ve not used them for years, I have no idea how much better they actually are.
  • Haribos seem to have new labels on their sweets too, but I’ve not checked closely enough to see just how many additives they’ve removed.

I’ve a lot of respect for the companies actually making the effort to provide good substitutes for artificial colorings in food.  I wish more would do the same, and consider doing away with monosodium glutimate too as that gives me a headache.

Research was also undertaken by Southampton University which suggested eating or drinking some artificial food colourings could be linked to a negative effect on childrens’ behaviour.

The FSA has amended their advice to state:

” If a child shows signs of hyperactivity or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), eliminating the colours considered in the Southampton study from their diet might have some beneficial effects on their behaviour.”

Nobody knows more about the effects of some additives and foods on our individual children, but if you need to find out more about the research, it’s available on the FSA website.

Chronic and acute effects of artificial colourings and preservatives on children’s behaviour


8 thoughts on “Are Artificial Food Colourings REALLY Bad?

  1. I suspect that some colourings and artificial colours are an issue. My concern about the original study was the lack of individual testing and from memory there were some issues with blind testing, I’m not sure if they addressed that in follow up studies.

    I used to be a bit ‘meh’ about the people who went on about artificial food colourings. My argument was, if you saw the amount of natural colourings required to produce a similar colour you had to wonder. I hate that assumption that just because something is ‘natural’ that it’s automatically more healthy. Not necessarily so. there are plenty of things which aren’t healthy which are perfectly natural.

    But now I’m a mum and I’m paranoid! What I’ve found since is that my son is a monster if he has a poor overall diet, i.e. low in vegetables and high in sugar. Maybe he’s not susceptible to the colours which are an issue, maybe he’s not had them, if I’m honest, on the few occasions he has foods likely to contain them, I’ve not checked. What I do is ensure that most of his foods are made from scratch. I’d rather he has a home made cake than a pack of sweets if I’m honest even if both are full of sugar. I know not everyone thinks this way but I can tell the difference in him more when he has food made from scratch than anything else. Might be all in my mind but I don’t think it can be bad for him either.

    1. The findings back up how I found my kids affected by some of the food colourings. I agree on the “natural” sell that seems to go on just now, as we really don’t know how much those affect us in the doses used instead of the artificial ones. My goal was just to avoid or keep to a minimum and I’ve found that harder to control as they’ve got older and can make their own choices with influential friends. Secondary school in particular is an issue where my eldest would buy sweets instead of lunch where possible and then the aftermath has to be dealt with.

  2. 9 years ago I went down the route of avoiding all artificial colourings & preservatives as a result of my eldest sons behaviour, it took 5/6 weeks before we noticed a difference but what a difference it was!
    Family commented on how much his behaviour had improved & we explained it was simply due to resorting to natural food & cooking from scratch, the only sweets he had were pure chocolate bars.
    He was 5 at the time & it was heartwarming to see him at parties asking has that for colours in because if it has I can’t have it because I’ll be naughty.
    As he grew older he would be offered items such as creme eggs on the understanding that if he started to feel agitated he needed to tell us so we could take him somewhere quiet, this worked & he learnt to balance the effects of the colours with the effects on his behaviour.
    It was frightening the effects these approved colours had on my Son, I’m thankful we were able to so something about it.

    1. I went OTT when I started and spent a small fortune on things like Omega 3 fish oils which made no difference whatsoever to mine. We avoided them as much as possible, but going on playdates and to parties I found the biggest challenges when other parents were in charge of the food and drink.

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