I used to fly to the US on occasion for my job. I hated leaving my young daughter as she was only two at the time, so I’d make myself feel better by buying her little presents from the airports.
On one occasion I bought her a novelty toy from a very popular, trusted chocolate manufacturer. The toy had a little plastic fan on one end of a cardboard tube and the tube itself was filled with brightly colored chocolate candies.
She loved it. She switched the fan on and off (endlessly!) and was even more excited by the discovery of the chocolates which she devoured in a matter of minutes.
That night her entire body came out in an alarming rash and her eyelids and face seemed slightly puffy. In a panic, we gave her antihistamines, covered her in chamomile lotion and the reaction eventually subsided.
The use of artificial colors
The next day my eyes alighted on the empty fan and I grabbed it to check the ingredients list. To my horror, this is what I found: MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, COCOA BUTTER, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, SALT, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), SUGAR, CORNSTARCH, LESS THAN 1% – CORN SYRUP, DEXTRIN, COLORING (INCLUDES BLUE 1 LAKE, YELLOW 6, RED 40, YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, RED 40 LAKE, BLUE 2 LAKE, YELLOW 6 LAKE, BLUE 2), GUM ACACIA. CONTAINS MILK AND SOY.
These artificial colors are not used in the UK version of the brand, so it hadn’t occurred to me to check the label of the US chocolates. Research conducted by Southampton scientists in 2007, clearly showed that the artificial colors: YELLOW 6 LAKE, YELLOW 5 and RED 40 LAKE, cause significant adverse reactions in children. These reactions include hyperactivity and inability to concentrate.
Just so you know:
- BLUE 2 is a synthetic color used to dye denim jeans1
- YELLOW 5 is tartrazine, a synthetic yellow dye used in cosmetics, shampoos and tanning lotions2
- YELLOW 6 LAKE is benzenesulphonic acid treated with hydrochloric acid and sodium nitrite. Side effects of ingestion include gastric upset, diarrhea, vomiting, nettle rash (urticaria), swelling of the skin (angioedema) and migraines3
Official response to the Southampton report
Following the release of the 2007 report into these artificial colors, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK called for a voluntary ban on the food industry using them. If they chose to use these ingredients, manufacturers had to clearly label foods with the warning “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” The deterrent effect of the warnings has led many UK manufacturers to find natural alternatives.
Despite the evidence provided by scientists in the 2007 report, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made no changes to the food labeling guidelines for US manufacturers. My two-year-old daughter is legally allowed to eat these chemicals with no warnings or apparent concerns for her safety.
These candies coated with synthetic artificial colors are not food, at least not by my definition of the word. They should not be marketed as edible and they should certainly not be sold and fed to our innocent children. If there was ever a moment in my past that initiated my clean-eating journey, then this must have been it.
Just eat real food
Natural, freshly grown produce is literally bursting with nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and other components vital to good health. Fresh fruit as it was picked from the trees; vegetables as they were pulled from the earth; seeds, tree nuts, fresh fish and unpreserved meats. This is real food, this is what we as human beings thrive on. This is the produce that protects us from disease and fills us with vitality. It goes without saying that this is what we should be feeding our vulnerable and trusting children.
I’ve never forgiven myself for feeding those brightly colored candies to my young daughter because those chocolates are not food and they have no place at our table.
About the author:
Sonia Nicholas is a Biomedical Scientist; Freelance Clinical Science Writer & Editor; and Founder of The Green Apple Club, an online clean-eating community. Sonia has been working in the field of clinical science for fifteen years.
Sonia believes that everyone can improve their health by eating a clean diet free from processed food, artificial additives, chemical preservatives and refined sugar – a claim that scientific research increasingly supports.
All of the articles are evidence based and fully scientifically referenced.
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