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Shocking Color Additives in Food Marketed to Kids

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Shocking Color Additives in Food Marketed to Kids

Foods marketed to kids often have many more additives than we think – especially when it comes to artificial coloring.

It’s no secret that bright, vibrant colors attract children to food products. A large portion of children’s cereals, beverages, and treats are brilliant shades of the rainbow. But do you ever wonder how these foods got their colors? The majority of these products are loaded with artificial food dyes – synthetic chemicals that are made in a lab and never found in nature. Think Red No. 40, Blue No. 2, or Yellow No. 5.

Why do food companies load up children’s food products with these artificial chemicals? Simple. They are cheaper than natural dyes and produce longer lasting, brighter colors that attract consumers. This translates to better sales and higher profits for food producers.

If that wasn’t enough, food companies are upping the ante through targeted marketing. They are partnering with well-recognized children’s brands and cartoon characters to appeal to and attract even more children to their products.

Tricks with Food Marketing

Take the newest partnership between Crayola and the candy manufacturer Bee International. They have created a “Color Your Mouth” line of candy that is loaded with artificial food dyes that stain children’s mouths different colors! The Crayola brand draws children in, and the parallels between coloring on paper and consuming the candy to “color” your mouth sounds like a fun game to kids.

“Many kids would pass on these products if they simply stated the manufacturer’s name on the front of the pack (Bee International). Instead, by branding the candies Crayola, the candies are instantly recognizable and are much more desirable to kids,” according to Jessica Almy, a member of Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) senior nutrition policy council. Per Almy, Crayola once used its brand to promote a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. The company should return to promoting healthy choices, instead of dye-laden candy.

An informed consumer is a powerful one. Don’t be fooled by food manufacturers clever marketing techniques. Here’s the real deal on artificial food colorings, and some natural food coloring alternatives for your family to enjoy.

The Problem with Artificial Food Colorings

Artificial food dyes were approved by the FDA for use in food products beginning in the 1960’s. To date, there are nine artificial food dyes permitted for use in the food supply. While they are considered “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, several studies have linked these chemicals to increased risk of allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Some animal studies, although inconclusive, show certain food dyes can cause brain cancer in male rats while others may cause other types of tumors.

Check out this new campaign against these “Color Your Mouth” candies on with a mother-daughter duo, Julie and Alessandra Rossi. Here’s the link:

Unsuspected Sources of Food Additives

Although we usually associate food color additives with sugary treats like candy, they can be hidden in many unsuspecting foods. Check out this list of shocking foods that contain artificial colorings! Be sure to read the labels to determine whether your favorite brand contains dyes.

  • Baked Goods
  • Beverages
  • Cereal
  • Chips
  • Condiments
  • Crackers
  • Flavored Instant Oatmeal
  • Granola Bars
  • Lunchables
  • Over the Counter Medicine for kids (like cough medicines or antihistamines)
  • Pickles
  • Toothpaste
  • Yogurt
  • Vitamins

Natural Alternatives

The REAL question is why do we have to put CHEMICAL dyes in our foods? Would you teach your child to color their skin with a non-toxic marker? Of course not. So why would you have them ingest these dyes?

Instead, let’s get REAL! Let’s show our kids that artificial is OUT and REAL is in.  Teach your kids that super kids are always in the mood for real food! Make it fun by teaching your children a new fun fact with each healthy colorful food they enjoy. For example, you can teach them how strawberries, which are NATURALLY red, are a great teeth whitener. They have an enzyme called malic acid that loosens stains on our teeth.

REAL doesn’t need to mean no fun. Why not color naturally? Here are some great natural suggestions:

  • Have a blue tooth content and see whose teeth and tongue can get the most blue from eating frozen blueberries. The best part is, blueberries can boost your kid’s brain power and protect their little hearts!
  • Don’t stop at blueberries, try homemade frozen grape juice popsicles. I have so many memories from turning my mouth purple and as an adult, I still enjoy doing it with kids!
  • See who can have the reddest lips and mouth with frozen cherries!
  • Experiment with real natural colors and make frozen fruit smoothie popsicles, fresh squeezed orange juice popsicles, or natural sorbet by blending frozen fruit.
  • Try colorful herbal or fruit teas –purple, pink, orange –and have fun building healthy memories so kids can promote good health and grow to their full potential. Plus an abundance of colors can help prevent diseases, including cancer, later in life, and it starts with teaching kids to get more real!

Get your kids to think outside the wrapper. Talk to them about marketers’ true intentions, and remind them that companies are generally not interested in benefiting our health, but are concerned with their pocketbooks. Teach your children to outsmart the advertisers. With over 70% of televised commercials for kids advertising the least nutritious foods, show them how to evaluate what the commercial is selling. Don’t stop at food colorings, have them look for other food additives that sound like alien words and are strange and hard to pronounce –because they’re not REAL! For more information on the dangers of artificial food dyes, check out our comprehensive review of the subject: Food Dyes, A Rainbow of Risks.


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About the Author

Picture of Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master's in nutrition education. She is the founder of SuperKids Nutrition Inc. Read more about her Super Crew children’s books and her experience as a registered dietitian on the About Melissa and Shop page. Discover how nutrition can help you live your best health potential through her plant-based books and newsletter on Melissa’s Healthy Living.

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