Trying to reason with your toddler about food choices can feel like an endless battle. Sure, you want her to enjoy fresh produce, but she is drawn to the most hyper-colored things in the grocery store. Of all the food available, why does she want the florescent yellow cupcake? And is it safe for a toddler to have food coloring anyway? Because some of those hues do not exist in nature, so it’s normal to worry if they even remotely belong in your child’s body.
Although the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed artificial food colorings safe for consumption, other groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) disagree with this assessment. The CSPI said that many common food dyes, including Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40, may induce hyperactivity in children. (Because if there’s anything your toddler needs, it’s more energy.) Additionally, Yellow 5 may also worsen symptoms of asthma, according to WebMD. On a more concerning note, the CSPI found Red 3 may cause allergic reactions, and is potentially a cancer risk. As with many consumer health concerns, it is difficult to discern the true safety of food coloring when so many prominent organizations have conflicting opinions on the subject.
It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out and scream, “Just tell me what’s safe to feed my kid already!” As a parent, you have to gauge the risk factor for you and your children. You might reduce or eliminate the consumption of products with food dye in your own home, and perhaps permit them as a special treat for birthdays or other occasions. Or you can decide to trust the FDA and continue serving your toddler the only kind of cereal she will eat: the one that has more colors than a rainbow. It’s a judgement call.
If you do decide to reduce or eliminate the use of artificial food dyes from your family’s diet, you don't have to settle for a life of bland chow. If you enjoy cooking and baking, then look into natural food dyes. As Greatist said, you can buy food coloring brands that use plant and fruit extracts to make their dyes, so you can still whip up some bright yellow cupcakes with no artificial ingredients.