LOS ANGELES (CBS) — When it comes to food, there is more than what meets the eye with synthetic dyes added to everything from cereal to fresh fruit and some believe it could affect our health.

Like the colors themselves, the debate is beyond black and white over the ingredient that for decades has been dripping with questions.

When it comes to behavior of Kelly King’s daughter, she is certain of the difference that food dyes make.

Doctors diagnosed her with ADHD last year and put her on powerful drugs.

“It just didn’t feel right to me,” King said.

A few months ago the Kings heard about a possible connection between dyes and hyperactivity. Within weeks of removing them from her daughter’s diet, she no longer needed medication.

“We’ve had amazing results. She’s like a whole new child and she is herself again,” King said.

“What I look at when I talk to the parents is, ‘what kind of food are you giving your kid,’” Dr. Arlen Liberman said.

Taking dyes out of kids diets is a big part of Dr. Liberman’s practice. At the clinic he shares with his daughter, they have seen again and again the change they make.

“They have risk and they have no benefits. The only benefit that they have is the look,” said Krystle Lieberman, a licensed and registered dietitian.

Food manufacturers in the U.S. can use nine dyes – Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 make up 90 percent of the market. They also cause the most concern.

Take a shopping trip and you will see them everywhere, listed on a bright cereal box or even the more covert packaging of a pickle jar. They can be found in all kinds of products, from cough syrup to toothpaste; waffles to crackers.

Synthetic dyes are sometimes even sprayed on fresh fruits to sharpen their shades.

“They are really ubiquitous in this food supply that we have created,” said Dr. David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

He believes that the science is there for customers to be concerned, saying that they dyes mess with metabolism. He added that yellow dyes deplete zinc levels enough in some kids to cause hyperactivity.

An added concern – the dyes include petroleum products, which he says have been shown to increase the risk for cancer.

Countries across Europe have already responded to the controversy. For the most part, you will not find the dyes on their grocery-store shelves.

Rather than scaring customers away, American companies, like Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft, did away with the dyes overseas.

So some foods in Europe, like M&M’s, do not look as bright.

“Why should the U.S. be the dumping ground for a worrisome food diet,” Dr. David Wallinga asked?

The FDA did take up the issue last spring. Its scientists found that dyes could affect children, who already have behavioral disorders.

But the agency said that most children will not see a reaction, so they decided against putting labels on foods, saying that more research was needed.

Some grocery chains, like Whole Foods, decided on their own to stop selling products with synthetic dyes.

“I think it’s great. It’s so unnecessary to put that stuff in the body, especially for young kids,” one shopper said.

“I would ban these dyes in a moment,” said Dr. Liberman.

So does Kelly King, who says the difference in her daughter is beyond coincidence. For her there is no grey area when it comes to removing dyes from food.

In a statement the FDA said, “Approved food color additives are considered safe and they have not found a cause and effect relationship between dyes and hyperactivity in children.”

Meanwhile, natural food colorings are becoming more common — you just need to check the labels.

Comments (19)
  1. Eliza says:

    “Approved food color additives are considered safe and they have not found a cause and effect relationship between dyes and hyperactivity in children.”

    Maybe so but what about the average consumer, say 20-30 years down the road that has been ingesting the color additives? I think long term affects need to be addressed. Wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are numerous side effects including neurological disorders.

  2. Edward Bryan says:

    9 Food Additives That May Affect ADHD

    ADHD and food additives
    By Amanda Gardner
    Will eliminating dye-containing foods from a child’s diet help ADHD? Experts say there’s not enough evidence to recommend this action, although a small subset of children may benefit.

    Most studies of a possible link analyzed blends of additives, not single ingredients, making it difficult to find a culprit.

    However, here’s a list of additives that could aggravate attention problems, although none (with the exception of Yellow No. 5) has been studied alone in humans. A comprehensive list of dyes in food products can be found at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

  3. Lynn Meade says:

    Once again Europeans take caution and protect their citizens and Americans won’t change anything until there are obvious casualties. Protect the companies. Americans: Eat at your own risk. FDA what good are you?

  4. Edward Bryan says:

    These food colors come from Kuwait known as Motor oil or 10w40

  5. Emily says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. My daughter has awful reactions to Red Dye 40 (hyperactivity, violent temper tantrums and sometimes hives). I had no idea the dangers in other dyes. It blows my mind how often it is used when it is not necessary. The fact that it’s used in antibiotics and children’s OTC drives me batty! My daughter has gone spastic on amoxi, because it’s dyed pink. She spends more time bouncing off the wall, then resting and getting better.

    1. Edward Bryan says:


      The Autonomic Nervous Systems

      peripheral nervous system

      autonomic nervous system

      Sympathetic nervous system

      Parasympathetic nervous system

    2. Edward Bryan says:

      Emily, The food colors shouldn’t be in the food at this point, since 1960 the FDA had to find a way to keep food from going bad, Well it’s 52 years later we now have good refrigeration to keep food from going bad. The food colors come from kuwait ( Motor Oil ), or ( Coal Tar ). If you do anything at all, you must start with a petition ( 100 Signatures ) Min. to the FDA. Its a tough battle.
      I found out with my children, the less food colors, the healthier they are and better control.


  6. meginp says:

    Spice Supreme artificial food dye sold in stores says on the back that it is ” “safe” “. Yep, they actually label it “safe” in quotes right on the package like safe is a matter of opinion. I called the manufacturer, Gel Spice, Inc to ask them why safe is in quotes on the back & no one was ever available to return my call

  7. R.C. says:

    Can anyone recommend children’s medications without dye? My 8 and 11 yo are so much better behaved without the dye but I find it hard to find fever-reducer and other such medications without dye. Can anyone help? Thanks

    1. Y.H. says:

      I took my child off of food dyes 10 years ago. I use Diabetic Tussin for coughs, throat,congestin it is dye free. Advil for fever.

  8. Gayle says:

    Talk to the pharmacy, they do have a clear tylenol but not all places carry it. My friends daughter can not have red dye at all, she will have a very long temper tantrum when she does.

    I can’t believe even Twinkies(which are yellow) have red dye in them.

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