By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

We expect the kids to bob and weave under a sugar rush after their Halloween foraging.

M&Ms pix

M&Ms come in a variety of colors, thanks to an array of food dyes. (Photo:

But for some kids, the Hallowed hyperactivity, indeed, the daily struggle with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), may be triggered by the artificial food dyes used in brightly colored candies like M&Ms and Skittles, and a host of other food items (Think: Cheetos).

Numerous studies have linked these dyes to ADHD or similar behavior problems, but the issue has been largely glossed over in the U.S., where the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has declined to ban artificial food dyes, despite calls to curb them.

In Europe, food and candy makers using certain food dyes, such as Blue 1, Blue 2, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40, are required to stamp their products with warning labels because studies have linked these additives to hyperactivity. Some studies even suggest a link to cancer risk.

Now a mother and her son from Jamestown, NY, are appealing to the Mars company to treat the U.S. with the same regard it has afforded residents of the EU, where the candymaker produces most of its sweet treats without artificial dyes.

Renee Shutters of Jamestown, NY, in conjunction with health watch group The Center for Science in the Public Interest, has started a petition on asking Mars to skip the artificial dyes in all its candy. The petition now has more than 103,000 signatures.

Shutters and her 9-year-old son Trenton appeared on NBC’s Today show this week to tell how Trent was having trouble in school, at his hockey practices and sleeping, until Shutters put him on the Feingold diet, which disallows dyed, preservatives and certain foods.

“We saw amazing results at school, we saw amazing results in his attitude, he was happy; no more meltdowns at all,” she said.

“His nightmares stopped and he was able to sleep through the night,” Shutters elaborates on the petition site. “Trent changed from a child who would have a meltdown if he didn’t get his way during playtime to a calm student who could share and do his schoolwork. When Trenton returned to hockey camp, the coach couldn’t believe he was the same person. . .”

(If you want to avoid the “Halloween Hangover” that makes those kids so irritable and fidgety the day after, the Feingold Association has some solutions, including having a “parent buyback” of brightly colored treats to at least help your kids limit the daily dose. I’ve excerpted their list below.)

Food Dye, Trent Shutters...

Trent Shutters wants you to sign his petition to help get the artificial dyes out of Mars candy.

The CSPI has been fighting unnecessary food additives, excessive fat and salt in foods for more than two decades, and succeeded in winning the labeling for transfats that led to their virtual demise in processed foods. The group went after food dyes in 2008, asking the FDA to consider a ban because studies link them to hyperactivity.

“It has been established in clinical trials that artificial dyes cause or worsen problems in some, but not all, children,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson in a statement announcing the petition.

“But why tolerate an adverse impact on any children, given that these complex chemicals are serving a purely cosmetic role in M&M’s or other foods?  Mars could play an important leadership role by eliminating these unnecessary chemicals in all of their American candies, as they’ve just about done in Europe.”

Even though the dyes are present in small amounts, they’re capable of causing neurological affects in sensitive kids, explains CSPI spokesman Jeff Cronin.  “If you listen to parents who’ve had the experiment of taking their kids off food dyes, the effects seem immediate.”

Studies of the link between food colorants and hyperactivity have produced mixed results over the years, with some failing to find a strong link; but “high quality” studies that isolated the effects of artificial colorants produced a strong correlation to hyperactivity, according to a 2012 review of the research.

CSPI still hopes the FDA will move to restrict or ban food dyes, especially known offenders, Red 40 and Yellow 5 and 6. The agency has acknowledged the related health issues, but a group it convened to consider banning problem dyes voted narrowly to not take action, Cronin said.

For the record, Mars hasn’t closed the door on the possibility of changing its candy formulas for the U.S. market, though it complains in its statement on colorants that the FDA doesn’t make it easy to change formulas. (Poor federal government, can’t catch a break on either side of this discussion.)

It was difficult, Mars reports, to switch to spirulina extract to color a gum. That said, Mars considers its foods to be safe as sold, though they are formulated differently. Sometimes, they’re colorful, because that’s festive and expected. Here’s an excerpt of their statement:

Color is added to foods for a variety of reasons ranging from the enhancement of colors that occur naturally in food, to providing a colorful, festive or fun appearance to a certain food, drink or confectionery item. Mars uses a variety of naturally sourced and artificial colors throughout its product portfolio globally. In different markets, there can be slightly different formulations and products available based on consumer preferences, ingredient availability, and regulations.We want to make clear that we have absolute confidence in the safety of all the ingredients that we use, no matter where our products are sold around the world. All the colors we use in our products comply with our own strict internal quality and safety requirements as well as all applicable laws, regulations and safety assessments relating to colors added to food. Further, their safety has been validated by food safety regulators globally including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).As a company we continue to explore the use of naturally sourced colors. However, changing to naturally sourced colors is not a process that can happen overnight as it brings unique complexities and challenges.

A Few Tips to Tame the Halloween Monster from the Feingold Association.

  • Consider a buy-out. Many kids sell their candy back to Mom; it’s a big money-maker for them. (My kids continued going trick-or-treating even after they became teenagers. They were a bit embarrassed to be out with the little kids, but the income was so good they hated to give it up.)
  • Limit the damage. If you and your child go through the stash and toss out the most brightly colored candies, and eat only a limited number per day, you will probably be able to weather the event.
  • Here are some natural candies: Pearson’s Mints (available at many WalMart stores), Valomilk Cups (sold at Cracker Barrel restaurants), Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Squares with White Mint Filling (found at Kmart, Target and WalMart), Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses, and Canel’s Milk Lollipops. Linette peanut butter cups are available at WalMart in individual orange wrappings for Halloween. For fruit candy, find Florida’s Natural Au’some Fruit Juice String & Au’some Fruit Juice Nuggets: Strawberry, Blueberry, Apple/Cranberry, and Orange.


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