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Ask an Expert: Questions about food dyes

Nutritionist Cathy Schmelter says parents should be concerned about food dyes and flavorings even though the research can be mixed.

Q. I’ve heard red dye can make kids super hyper. Is that true?

A. Any of the artificial additives or preservatives can have an impact on kids’ moods, their alertness, their ability to concentrate. So yes, there is a possibility that food dyes could make children super hyper. It depends on the child and how they process things.

What happens is that when chemicals break down they are not absorbed right away and end up staying in the blood stream. The chemicals go to the brain and can interfere with neurotransmitters.

When doing research for my book one thing I found out about artificial colorings in general – and I probably read 1,000 studies – one thing that came up time after time again was that artificial food colorings can cause cancer.

In my research, none of them are safe. It’s sad because they’re in all these kids’ foods. Many people are campaigning for Kraft to ditch the dyes in its iconic yellow Macaroni & Cheese.

As far as food dyes or red dye causing ADHD, that is more challenging to pin down because the research is contradictory.

Suggestions? Avoid dyes or flavorings, including anything that says “natural flavorings.” You have no idea what that is made from. In a November 2011 episode of “60 Minutes, researchers revealed that strawberry and vanilla flavor can come from the gland in a beaver’s backside, and that is still labeled “natural flavor.”

More tips If you can’t read it, don’t eat it. Eat foods that are not processed at all – or minimally processed. Think fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. One easy and healthy snack for kids would be hummus and pita chips, for example, with some fruit or vegetables on the side. Also, edamame (soy beans) is usually a crowd pleaser, or even bananas with cocoa powder on top if your child has a sweet tooth. Try to buy only organic produce.

Good luck, and please share other tips for healthy snacks and meals that your kids like.

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