A few weeks ago, a friend emailed me a link about the FDA’s decision to take a closer look at the possible link between artificial food coloring and hyperactivity in children.
"Wow!" she wrote, "Do you believe it? The FDA’s finally taking a stand!" My friend has four kids, so I can understand why she was interested.
But, ever the cynic, I wrote back, "Yes, but it’s just a ruse. They’ll review the data and then say ‘we’ve looked at it and determined there’s no problem.’ So go ahead, eat all the Froot Loops and Jello Jigglers you want!"
Sure enough…I was right.
The FDA panel decided that food coloring does not cause hyperactivity in most children. (There is plenty of scientific research that proves otherwise. To see the research for yourself, go www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/petition-food-dyes.pdf.)
The panel did concede, however, that artificial food coloring might affect children who already suffer from hyperactivity. They called for more research into the matter, but stopped well short of banning artificial coloring.
In addition, the panel voted 8 to 6 against adding warning labels to food products that carry eight types of food dye. (Actually, that’s a much tighter margin that I would have ever predicted!)
Apparently, it’s too much of a hassle to add warnings to food packages. According to Tim Jones, Tennessee’s deputy state epidemiologist and a member of the FDA panel,
"If we put a label that long on every chemical and ingredient that hasn’t been adequately studied, you wouldn’t see the package anymore. It’s a question of relative concern and severity, and that’s a hard one."
Okaaay…so, do I have Jones’s argument right? We can’t add warnings about these chemicals — even though we believe some kids can’t tolerate them — because it would cover too much of the food package?
Really, Tim, did you ever think about cutting out the mysterious chemicals? You wouldn’t have such a packaging dilemma on your hands. But I have bigger concerns with the FDA’s ruling and it doesn’t have anything to do with warnings on wrappers…
FDA ignores powerful data
I’m not sure which studies the FDA reviewed, but I have a feeling they did not consider this major study…
A few years back, the British researchers found that common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate could cause healthy children to show signs of hyperactivity.
For this study, British researchers recruited 300 children between the ages three and nine. They divided the children into three groups. One group received a fruit drink that contained artificial coloring and sodium benzoate. The second group received the same drink, just with lower levels of the additives. The third group received a pure fruit drink with no additives.
Teachers then assessed the children throughout the week using standardized behavior tests. They found that children given the drinks with artificial colors showed "increased hyperactivity." In fact, these children scored poorer in areas of restlessness, concentration, fidgeting, and interrupting. Plus, the younger child was, the greater the problem.
Because of this study and a few others, the European Parliament now requires that food manufacturers print those pesky warning labels to foods that contain certain types of food coloring and preservatives. (See Tim, it’s really not that big of a deal.)
Unfortunately, food dyes are only a fraction of the problem. There’s also the problem of artificial preservatives, such as sodium benzoate…
Beware of more hidden dangers
Most foods that contain food coloring also contain preservatives. Food manufacturers use these to extend a product’s "shelf life." That’s why white bread stays "fresh" in your breadbox much longer than natural whole grain bread. It’s loaded with preservatives. sodium benzoate
Just pick up a product along the inside aisle of your local grocery store. Unless, you’re standing in the health nut aisle, I bet the product contains a preservative. sodium benzoate
Here is a list of commonly used preservatives:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Propyll Gallate
- BPA and BHT
- Sodium benzoate
- Potassium bromate (banned everywhere in the world but the U.S. and Japan)
No matter your age, you’ll want to avoid products containing these chemicals. Nitrites and nitrates are especially dangerous. Used to cure meat and prevent the growth of bacteria, these chemicals go hand-in-hand with processed meats such as hot dogs, lunchmeat, and bacon.
Recently, Harvard researchers reviewed 20 different studies using processed meat. They found that just one serving of it per day increased heart disease risk by 42 percent. It raised diabetes risk by 19 percent. Plus, nitrates are known carcinogens…
In once recent study, Swedish researchers reviewed the eating habits of 4,700 people. They found that eating just one ounce of processed meat a day increased stomach cancer risk by up to 38 percent. That’s incredible!
If people knew that eating just one slice of ham per day could increase their stomach cancer risk by that much, the lines at the deli counter would probably disappear!
How to choose safer options
Hormel makes a line of additive-free lunchmeat. You’ll also find additive-free meat at organic grocery stores like Trader Joe’s.
Overall, try to keep natural foods the mainstay of your diet. Also, stay out of the center aisles at the grocery store. Stick to the perimeter and you’re in much better shape. Here you will find 100 percent whole grains (bread, brown rice, pasta) foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables (organic, of course). Also, strive to eat fresh, wild fish several times a week. Some red meat is okay. Just make sure it’s organic and hormone-free.
For snacks, avoid the processed stuff. Instead, go for fresh nuts and seeds. Also, go ahead and try out that one "healthy aisle" in your grocery store. Believe it or not, you can find tasty additive-free snacks here. You just have to look a little harder…and be a little adventurous!
Dr. Allan Spreen
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