What red cordial really does to your kids 1260x542

What red cordial really does to your kids

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Concerned about recent news reports that confirm the link between food colouring and hyperactivity in children? You should be – but there’s a lot you can do about it, writes Stephanie Oley.

It's a parenting in-joke – when kids run amok at parties, they've had too much raspberry-flavoured cordial.

Links between artificial additives and hyperactivity in children have been made since the 1960s, with processed foods making up an increasing part of our diets.

Food colours (additives 100 – 160b on food labels) are one type of additive considered potentially harmful. Recently, in July 2009, the discount grocer Aldi made headlines in Australia by announcing it would no longer stock food items containing several colours that were highlighted in a 2007 UK study.

The study of 300 children in the UK found six reds and yellows to be particularly reactive: sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) and ponceau 4R (E124). Parents can now add yellow foods, like pineapple-flavoured cordial and too-golden pastries, to their shopping blacklist. 

Which foods contain the ‘bad' colours?

An alarming 1154 foods in Australia contain the harmful reds and yellows. Here's an overview:

  • Cakes and biscuits – Lurid confections such as rainbow layer cake and jam rollettes, as well as less colourful ones like Danish pastries and carrot cake.
  • Chips and lollies – Many brands of prawn crackers, chocolates, jellies, ice cream and almost any type of candy imaginable. 
  • Condiments – Gherkins, pickles and some curry pastes and mustards.
  • Drinks – Soft drinks, cordials, sports drinks and takeaway fruit smoothies. 
  • Meat – Some brands of meat pies, rissoles and satay sticks. 
  • Medication – Cold and cough remedies, mouthwash and toothpaste.

You can visit Fed Up With Food Additives to view a full list of the exact products that contain the colours.

What happens when kids eat colours?

In addition to being linked to behavioural problems, artificial colours, flavours and preservatives can cause allergic reactions in children including hives, eczema, dermatitis, respiratory problems and headaches and migraines.

However, according to Sue Dengate, author and anti-additive campaigner, it's important to realise that children don't have an immediate reaction to additives.

They don't detox instantly, either, once these foods are eliminated. "Some children start improving within days, but overall it takes about three weeks to see maximum improvement," Dengate says. "Additives can be addictive, so it is important for parents to expect withdrawal symptoms, usually on days four and five." 

Fighting the colourful baddies

Learn to read labels, familiarise yourself with brands that don't contain harmful additives, and cook from basic ingredients whenever possible, suggests Blackmores naturopath Lynda Brewer. This is important for good health in general, and applies especially if your child is chemical-sensitive.

You could also increase your child's intake of some nutrients. "To a degree, antioxidants such as vitamins E, C and beta-carotene help to reduce the negative impact that preservatives can have on the body," notes Brewer. 

Colour your food – naturally!

What would a kid's party be without a rainbow-coloured treat or two? Skip the toxic tones and look for natural food colour sets instead. Alternatively, make your own:

  • Yellow – Turmeric powder mixed with hot water to form a paste
  • Pink – Canned beetroot juice
  • Purple – Canned blueberry juice
  • Green – Juice of boiled fresh spinach
  • Brown – Carob powder

Did you know?

Potentially harmful food colouring is found in everything from readymade rissoles to commercial Danish pastries, toothpaste and children's cough medicine. Most food colouring is made from petroleum products. You can find natural food colour alternatives quite easily, or even make your own amazing tints from foods like beetroot juice and turmeric.

References available on request