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  • Writer's pictureCoach Patty, HealthSmart! Kids

Is Your Child Hyperactive? The Link Between Food Dyes and Behavior for Kids

Updated: Jun 22

A young boy eating a bowl of  fruity O's cereal

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Are you concerned about your child’s behavior? Are they overexcited, easily distracted or hyperactive?

Research suggests that what our kids eat can affect how they behave, and artificial food dyes are one thing to watch out for. These dyes are in many things our kids love to eat every day. Especially for kids with ADHD, there's a relationship between hyperactivity and food dyes, and these colorful additives can sometimes lead to behaviors we'd rather avoid.

While scientists are still figuring out how food dyes affect ADHD, some parents and doctors have noticed that certain kids with ADHD symptoms seem to have more trouble after eating foods with dyes. Here are some things they've seen:

  1. Kids get super energetic, like they can't sit still.

  2. They have trouble paying attention or sticking with tasks.

  3. Sometimes, they act before they think, doing things without really considering the consequences.

  4. Their moods can swing really quickly, going from happy to mad in no time.

  5. They might get more aggressive, picking fights or getting angry easily.

  6. And some kids have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep.

Remember, not every kid with ADHD will have these reactions to food dyes, and it can vary from one child to another. Still, it's becoming more clear that diet and overall nutrition are important factors to consider when it comes to our kids' overall learning and behavior.

How Nutrition Affects Learning and Behavior

Kids who have a healthy, balanced diet will be able to focus on their schoolwork and have the necessary energy to play and explore. Kids who lack essential vitamins and minerals may have trouble concentrating, regulating their energy, or managing their emotions.

To put it simply, our bodies weren't designed to break down fake foodstuff chemicals, so it makes sense that artificial colors aren't easily processed by young children's bodies and may cause problems for them.

A little girl with a blue lollipop sticking out her blue tongue

Marketing of Fake Foods Directed at Kids

Manufacturers know what they're doing when it comes to making products more appealing, especially for kids. Food dyes are used to make us more likely to buy and consume our favorite processed foods. If you're grocery shopping with your little ones, their favorite characters seen on the packaging of these foods are practically jumping off of the shelves and into your grocery cart.

Because many consumers are catching on to the relationship between food dyes and potential health issues, some manufacturers are cleaning up their acts. Today it's a bit easier to find your family's favorite products without artificial colors because some companies now make alternative products using only natural colors from fruits and vegetables.

Keep a Lookout for These Favorite Foods That May Contain Food Dyes

Food dyes are still commonly found in some favorite foods for kids including cereals, chips, oatmeal, candy, waffles, flavored drinks, yogurt, fruit snacks, macaroni and cheese, baked good, and ice cream. Make it a habit to check the ingredient labels for the foods you buy. Look for options with fewer food dyes to keep your child's diet colorful in a natural way.

The Importance of a Healthy Diet for Kids with ADHD

While there's no magic fix for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there are treatments that can make a big difference in helping your child manage their symptoms and enjoy life more.

A healthy diet is essential for kids who suffer from ADHD. Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals is vital for your child’s development and can help reduce the negative effects of ADHD.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids with ADHD eat a variety of healthy foods including whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fiber.

In addition to avoiding or minimizing artificial colors, flavors and other preservatives, try to limit sugar, salt and saturated fats. Be sure kids drink plenty of water and also start their day with a healthy breakfast.

A girl showing her arm muscles while standing in front of a bunch of fresh vegetables on a countertop

More Tips to Avoid Hyperactivity from Food Dyes for Children

Along with finding substitute brands for favorite products that don't contain artificial dyes, think about nature's color foods - fruits and vegetables!

If you have a picky eater (and most kids with ADHD are selective eaters), try to introduce new foods gradually, yet consistently, alongside currently accepted mealtime choices.

Let kids help in the kitchen whenever possible as this increases the likelihood that they will eventually try new foods.

When making cookies or other treats at home, use natural food colorings instead of artificial food dyes. Whenever feasible, consider purchasing organic or 100% natural foods as they are free from artificial ingredients including dyes.

If your child is overly active or you have concerns that they might have ADHD, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor. Cutting back on artificial colors and other additives in all kids' diets can be an important step toward keeping them healthy and helping them learn and behave the best that they can.

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All blog content shared through HealthSmart! Kids is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Always talk with your qualified health care provider for managing your health care needs.

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