Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids?

Are-artificial-food-dyes-safe-for-kids

Each year, UBC dietetics students have a class project where they practice writing nutrition articles for the public. This year, I asked students Mei Ho and May Hasegawa to research are food dyes safe for kids. Here's what they found ~ Kristen

When you are shopping for snacks for your child, do the bright colours make you think twice about about adding it to your basket? Many foods we come across in our everyday lives have colour added in order to make it appear more appetizing. It is very common to see vivid colours in foods and beverages marketed towards children, such as candies, desserts and chewing gums. Foods can be coloured by natural food dyes like caramel colouring, or artificial food dyes, which are colours made from petroleum1. Today we will be looking at food dyes in the context of artificial food dyes, which have been used more commonly in foods in recent years.

Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe for Kids?

As early as the 80’s, researchers began to study the effects of artificial food dyes on children’s health. The results of their studies have been controversial, and has stirred concern amongst consumers. Some have suggested a possible link between artificial food dyes and hypersensitivity in children3. Others have researched possible risks of organ damage, cancer, birth defects and allergic reactions1. While no study findings have been conclusive, countries in Europe such as the U.K. have banned artificial food dyes altogether for safety measures1.

What Are the Safety Regulations of Food Dyes in Canada?

Regulations in North America state that there is not enough scientific evidence to say artificial food dyes cause negative effects on children’s health3. Canada permits the use of food dyes in everyday foods from bread, butter, milk to cheese. All food dyes must first be approved by our federal regulatory body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). At this time, Canada has approved ten dye colours for use in food and beverages.

However, it has not been ruled out that food dyes may affect children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behavioural problems differently3. Researchers agree that more research on artificial food dyes is required.

Food Dyes Across the Globe

In 2009, the U.K. imposed strict regulations to remove certain food dyes from foods and beverages. This prompts us to think, why hasn’t North America followed along? It is interesting to note the different approaches used by North America and the U.K. when it comes to ensuring public safety through foods.4

  • North America: tries to find the strongest evidence available before implementing new regulations.
  • UK: uses a more precautionary approach, meaning that it will take action to protect the public even if the evidence is not entirely conclusive.

Moving Forward: What Can You Do?

With all this information, it can be confusing to decide whether you want your children to be consuming artificial food dyes. It may first be helpful to understand how to identify whether something contains artificial food dyes. By law, companies are required to list the name of the dye on the ingredient label. It may be tricky for shoppers to recognize the commercial names of artificial food dyes. Here are the names of 10 common artificial food dyes in Canada:5

  • Allura red
  • Brilliant blue FCF
  • Citrus Red No.2
  • Sunset yellow FCF
  • Tartrazine
  • Fast green FCF
  • Indigotine
  • Erythrosine Red
  • Amaranth Red
  • Ponceau SX

There are also ways to add colour into your cooking at home without using food dyes! Kids are drawn to bright colours, and baking at home can be more fun if your child has the chance to make their own colours. This can be done by boiling, blending, and/or pureeing vegetables or fruits for their natural colours.6

Ideas include:

  • Raspberries, pomegranate and beets - pink/purple
  • Carrots – orange
  • Turmeric powder – yellow
  • Blueberry – blue
  • Spinach – green
  • Red cabbage – purple and blue
    • For purple, boil cabbage in hot water until water is dark purple colour
    • For blue, slowly add some baking soda to purple water

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - May’s Opinion:

While there is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial food dyes are harmful to our body, I feel that more research is needed to fully understand their effects on our health. I like to refrain from using artificial food colouring in my own baking, and opt for more natural options like using juice from fruits or vegetables.

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Mei’s Opinion:

As the research is inconclusive, it is ultimately up to the consumers to make an informed decision. New food labelling requirements in Canada will now include the commercial names of synthetic food dyes in the ingredient list, but it is questionable whether or not consumers will recognize these names or be able to associate them with food dyes.

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Kristen's Opinion:

Call me conservative, but I am suspicious of foods that are highly processed. My motto is "foods closest to the way nature made them are the healthiest choice". Artificial food dyes are about as far from nature-made as you can get. So, I would recommend steering clear of artificial food dyes for day-to-day eating. But I'm also practical. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive. Eating foods with artificial dyes once in a while is likely not going to cause harm. So if your child is invited to a birthday party where they serve cake with bright green icing, let your child enjoy the cake right along with the other kiddos.

If your child has behaviour concerns, such as ADD/ ADHD, I think it's worth doing a food trial where you eliminate all food dyes and see how your child's behaviour responds. There may be no effect. Or, your child may be a member of the sub-set of kids who have a link between behaviour and food dyes.

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Sources:

1Kobylewski, Sarah, et al. “Food Dyes a Rainbow of Risks”. Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010.

2Stevenson J, Sonuga-Barke E, McCann D, et al. “The Role of Histamine Degradation Gene Polymorphisms in Moderating the Effects of Food Additives on Children's ADHD Symptoms.” American Journal of Psychiatry. 2010; 167:1108-1115.

3 “FDA panel concludes food coloring isn't associated with hyperactivity in children.” Nutrition Today. 2011; 46:104.

4Banned in Europe, Safe in the U.S. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/banned-europe-safe-us/

5Food Colours - Permitted Synthetic Colours in Canada and Corresponding United States and European Names.

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/list-of-ingredients-and-allergens/food-colours/eng/1348150903240/1348150959157

68 Ways to Make Organic DIY Food Colouring. http://www.networx.com/article/8-ways-to-make-organic-diy-food-coloring

Peanut Banana Chocolate Ganache Bites

Decadent peanut banana chocolate ganache bites plate

YAY! It's my annual chocolate recipe. Perfectly timed for Valentine's Day.

If you're new to following me you might wonder why a dietitian is sharing a chocolate recipe. Quite simply, because food is more than just fuel for our bodies. Food feeds our minds and soul too. Denying ourselves the pleasure of food isn't healthy.

This recipe is super simple to make. And WOW is it decadent. Like the middle of a truffle without that pesky shell. I first made experimented by making this in regular-sized muffin tins and it was simply too much (and believe you me, it takes a lot of rich chocolate to make me come to that conclusion!). Mini muffin tins make the perfect size. Just like those 2 bite brownies, but healthier for you and more decadently delicious.

These really are for dark chocolate lovers. So they may be more of an adult treat. But you never know. Make them with your kids and see what their verdict is.

The inspiration for this recipe was from chocolatecoveredkatie.com

If you follow these lifestyles, you'll be happy to know that these heavenly bites are vegan, paleo, gluten-free and have no added sugar.

You can easily make them peanut-free by omitting the peanuts. Go completely nut-free (note: they do contain coconut) or substitute pistachios, chopped almond, or hazelnuts for the topping.

Peanut Banana Chocolate Ganache Bites Ingredients

  • 4 TBSP coconut butter (Note: This isn't the same as coconut oil. Also, if your jar of coconut butter has separated, scrape off the oil and use the lower level - the coconut butter)
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 3 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 3 small pinches salt
  • 4 TBSP unsalted peanuts

Peanut Banana Chocolate Ganache Bites Directions

This recipe happens really quickly so you'll want to prepare all your ingredients before you start cooking.

  1. On a small plate, mash the banana really well.
  2. Chop peanuts.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the coconut butter, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the mashed banana. Stir constantly until completely combined.
  5. Lower heat. Add cocoa powder and 1 pinch of salt. Mix well and remove from the heat.
  6. Moving quickly, spoon into a mini muffin tin. Be careful, the mixture is very hot.
  7. Top with chopped peanuts and sprinkle with salt.
  8. Freeze for 1 hour.
  9. Enjoy!

Note: The ganache bites are at the absolute perfect texture when eaten after freezing for 1 hour. If you make them ahead of time and freeze for longer, remove them from the freezer and warm them to room temperature for at least 30 minutes (otherwise they'll be rock hard).

Check out these other healthy chocolate recipes:

Chocolate Chia Pudding

Chocolate Nut Spread

Mint Chocolate Whip

Sugar-Free Easter Ideas

sugar-free easter ideas

Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, there are so many holidays that involve a lot of candy. I'm often asked by health-conscious parents how to handle these holidays. Here are some sugar-free Easter ideas to keep all the fun of the season, without all the sugar.

Sugar-Free Easter Ideas: Create Non-Candy Fun

There are lots of ways to celebrate Easter that don’t involve sweets. Examples include:

  • Join your child to decorate the house with Easter themed decorations.
  • Colour Easter Eggs. Extend the fun by first creating your own natural dyes.
  • Plant some veggies in the garden or pots.
  • Bake a low-sugar treat such as carrot cupcakes.

Next week I'll be sharing a fun, healthy (and delicious) recipe that's perfect for Easter.

Take Advantage of Toddlers’ and Preschoolers’ Naiveté

Toddlers and preschoolers have very short attentions pans. Use this to your advantage. Who says that Easter egg hunts need to involve finding more than 3 – 5 small pieces of chocolate? If we’re really honest, it’s we adults, not the kids, who enjoy longer games because we have a vested interest in reliving our childhoods.

Sugar-Free Easter Ideas: Create a New Family Tradition

Who says that it has to be chocolate that kids find in Easter egg hunts. Why not hide the eggs that you dyed? Or, how about hiding snack-size Ziploc baggies full of mini carrots? Easter bunnies eat carrots after all. Get your thinking cap on to invent a new, fun family tradition that doesn’t involve candy.

Sugar-Free Easter Ideas: Include Non-Candy Basket Stuffers

There are all sorts of fun and seasonal ideas to include in Easter baskets. Some examples include:

  • Spring or Easter-themed stickers
  • Arts and craft supplies
  • An Easter-themed colouring book and crayons
  • Veggie or flower seeds
  • Baby animal figurines
  • Story books on seasonal topics such as baby animals or planting seeds
  • Hair accessories in spring colours

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How to Handle Halloween Candy

how to handle halloween candy

Halloween is a fun and exciting holiday for kids. And, while as a parent you may not love the idea of all that candy, the last thing that you want to add to an already hectic day is a battle over food. Here’s some ideas about how to handle Hallowe'en candy.

Before I go into the ideas, first let me tell you that I’ve never come across any research studies where they specifically looked at family rules for Halloween candy and how it impacted kids’ life-long eating habits. But there have been studies about how sweets/ junk food in general are handled in the home and it’s impact on life-long eating habits, so that’s on which I’m basing my advice.

The reality is that unhealthy food is all around us. It’s an important life skill to be able to make healthy choices. Halloween is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn that skill of self-regulation.

Whenever I discuss this topic I’m transported back to my own childhood and how my brother and I had such different Halloween candy strategies. A child’s Halloween candy strategy is such an indication of their personality. Me: I ate it quickly. My brother’s pile, on the other hand, seemed to last forever, beckoning to me as I walked past his open bedroom door. I was certain that he ate it so slowly, and put it on display, just to torture me - a clever payback to his bossy older sister :)

How to Handle Halloween Candy: Toddlers and Preschoolers

Take advantage of these little ones’ naiveté and short attention spans. Limit the number of homes at which you trick or treat to only 2 or 3. This way they get to be involved in the fun of the holiday, but there isn’t too much candy received.

How to Handle Halloween Candy: School-Age Kids

Step #1 Fill Those Tummies: Fill their tummies before they go out trick or treating with a filling, healthy, favourite meal.

Step #2 Celebrate the Haul: When kids return home from trick or treating, let them pour over and be excited about their hauls. Afterall, they’ve been looking forward to this night for weeks!

Optional Step #3 Switch Witch: I like the idea of the growing tradition of the ‘Candy Fairy’ or ‘Switch Witch’. Inspired by the Tooth Fairy, kids can choose to leave out their candy for the ‘Candy Fairy’ who takes the candy away and leaves behind money. I’ve heard that some dentists and others are even getting in the act so that parents don’t have to pay out of pocket. An important point regarding this idea is that kids need to be able to have the choice of keeping their candy or leaving it for the ‘Switch Witch’. Remember, it’s important for kids to be given the opportunity to learn how to self-regulate with candy.

Step #4 Structure and Choice: For kids who keep their candy, I recommend letting them eat as much as they want on Halloween night. It’s a part of this one day’s celebration. But the next day, life is back to normal with planned meals and snacks (or as I like to call them: opportunities to eat). As the adult, you choose when candy gets to be on the menu. For example, at afternoon snack. Provide foods from 2 – 4 food groups along with the candy as normal. Let your child choose how much candy they want to eat at the meal/snack that candy is on the menu. Yes, it may mean that your child eats nothing but candy for that meal/snack. But it’s only once a day. And, they’ll eat through their candy faster. Create balance by not providing other treats at other meals (i.e. stay away from sugary breakfast cereal, sugary granola bars, no dessert at dinner).

Here’s an alternative strategy for older school-age kids who help to pack their own lunches and understand how to have healthy bodies we need to eat a balance of healthy foods and treats. You determine how many pieces of candy that your child can have in their lunch, e.g. 3 pieces. Your child chooses what pieces they want to pack. Again, balance this by not providing other treats at other meals.

Healthy Hallowe'en Fun

Are you looking for some fun, but healthier, Halloween ideas? I share lots on my Pinterest board. Check it out at: www.pinterest.com/kristenyarker

Happy Halloween!

What to do About Halloween Candy

What-to-do-About-Halloween-CandyHallowe’en is a fun and exciting holiday for kids. And, while as a parent you may not love the idea of all that Halloween candy, the last thing that you want to add to an already hectic day is a battle over food. Here’s some ideas about how to handle all that Halloween candy.

Before I go into the ideas, first let me tell you that I’ve never come across any research studies where they specifically looked at family rules for Halloween candy and how it impacted kids’ life-long eating habits. But there have been studies about how sweets/ junk food in general are handled in the home and it’s impact on life-long eating habits, so that’s on which I’m basing my advice.

Toddlers, Preschoolers and Halloween Candy

Take advantage of toddlers’ and preschoolers’ naiveté and short attention spans. Limit the number of homes at which you trick or treat to only 2 or 3. This way they get to be involved in the fun of the holiday, but there isn’t too much candy received.

 

School-Age Kids and Halloween Candy

For school-age kids, I turn to the excellent advice of expert Ellyn Satter.  I can’t say it any better than her, and because of copyright reasons I can’t cut and paste her advice, so use this link to read her short article here.

 

Candy Fairy / Switch Witch

I also like the idea of the growing tradition of the ‘Candy Fairy’ or ‘Switch Witch’. Inspired by the Tooth Fairy, kids can choose to leave out their candy for the ‘Candy Fairy’ who takes the candy away and leaves behind money. I’ve heard that some dentists and others are even getting in the act so that parents don’t have to pay out of pocket. An important point regarding this idea is that kids need to be able to have the choice of keeping their candy or leaving it for the ‘Switch Witch’. Remember, as Ellyn Satter shares, it’s important for kids to be given the opportunity to learn how to self-regulate with candy. The reality is that unhealthy food is all around us. It’s an important life skill to be able to make healthy choices.

And, if you’re still feeling anxious about your child and all that Halloween candy, I recommend taking a listen to exceptional story-teller Stuart MacLean tell about the antics of his fictional family. Here's the link to the podcast. I listened to it on the weekend and was laughing out loud. Not only was I laughing at the story that Stuart was telling, I was transported back to my own childhood and how my brother and I had such different Hallowe’en candy strategies. A child’s Halloween candy strategy is such an indication of their personality. Me: I ate it quickly. My brother’s pile, on the other hand, seemed to last forever, beckoning to me as I walked past his open bedroom door. I’m sure that he ate it so slowly, and put it on display, just to torture me. What do you remember about how you, and any siblings, managed your hauls?

Happy Halloween!

Check out my picky eating book for more successful tips for getting kids to eat well.

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