In March 2011, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel concluded that not enough evidence exists to prove that artificial food colorings contribute to hyperactivity, distractibility, and other behavioral concerns exhibited by children. The panel did conclude, though, that certain children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be unique and vulnerable to food additives, including food colorings. It appears that only a small number of children within that group are vulnerable to the effects of artificial additives, and it is difficult to identify those children.

If you are concerned about the impact of artificial colorings in food on your children, here are some recommendations from the Harvard Mental Health Letter published in July 2011.

  • Avoid making radical diet changes because they are not necessary. No evidence supports eliminating all processed foods, fruits, and vegetables from the diet of most children with ADHD.
  • Experiment. Try eliminating some foods, if you are concerned about changes in a child’s behavior. The major dietary sources of artificial colorings and additives are candy, junk food, brightly colored cereals, fruit drinks, and soda.
  • Be sensible about food choices. The best advice for anyone—with or without ADHD—is to follow a sensible diet. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthful unsaturated fats, and good proteins.
  • Get moving. Physical activity is good for both the body and brain. We all benefit when we start moving, whether from an organized activity or simply free play.

These recommendations are healthy choices that are beneficial to anyone. Make healthy choices a family affair.