May 09, 2014 2:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Planning on giving your kid Kraft macaroni and cheese for lunch? Or how about a bag of Skittles for a midafternoon snack? In both cases, you will also be serving a heaping helping of artificial dyes. A new study from Purdue University lays out in black and white just how many dyes are in those kid friendly foods, and for the first time, they are naming brand names. But while the high amounts may be shocking, should you worry about the impacts on your kids?

Let’s start with that bowl of mac and cheese. One cup of the noodles and sauce contains more than 12 grams of Yellow dye five and Yellow dye six. That’s nothing compared to the amount of dye in those Skittles though. According to the Purdue study one bag has more than 61 grams of dye, including Yellow five and six, Blue one and two, and Red 40. And while Skittles are at the top of the list, most of the other candies kids crave have at least 11 grams of dye per serving.

“Keep in mind these dyes are heavily regulated and deemed generally recognized as safe by the FDA,” says University of Utah Health dietician Julie Metos, “the The study is not designed to show that food dyes cause any type of health problems.” However, Metos is not suggesting that parents shouldn’t be careful when it comes to the amounts of dyes their children consume. Instead she says the bright colors should serve as a warning sign of other nutritional problems lurking. “The dyes are most prevalent, but not exclusively, found in foods that have poor nutritional value and that are marketed to kids. Think of brightly colored sugared cereals, sports drinks, popsicles, yogurt pops, fruit snacks and candy,” Metos says, “Dyes are one more reason to stay away from foods that are highly marketed and have color added to catch our attention.  It is an easy way to identify junky food.”

So, what should a parent do? Metos admits that in today’s world, avoiding all food dyes would leave very little to eat. “I realize dyes are used in more healthful foods, too and one needs to acknowledge that appearance is a big deal in our food selections and can be used positively,” she says. Instead, parents need to take a measured approach when it comes to choosing foods for their families, and look at the overall picture. “I tell people to not worry about the small amounts of dyes in healthful foods,” Metos says, “but to stay away from brightly colored beverages and foods that have colors not found in the natural world.”

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