Why Are Those Cheetos So Orange?: FDA May Call For Warnings About Artificial Colorings

On Wednesday and Thursday, the U.S Food and Drug Administration will ask a panel to review the evidence for a possible link between food colorings and behavioral changes in children. Depending on the panel’s conclusions, foods that use the likes of red dye #3 may have to have labels warning parents that the bright yellow, red, blue, etc. colorings in that shimmering bowl of Jello might cause hyperactivity.

As the New York Times says, the FDA outruled a link between food colorings and behavior or health problems years ago. However, anecdotal reports continue to circulate among parents and in the vast unregulated encyclopedia that the Internet has become. 

A few studies, such as one published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 2007, have found that artificial food colorings “might lead” to behavioral changes in some children. A consumer advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, would like the FDA to ban the dyes or at least to make it necessary for the government to provide warnings that “artificial colorings in this food cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.”

Two quotes in the New York Times, one from a parent and one from a doctor, illustrate the differing views about the effects of food dyes on children:

Renee Shutters, a mother of two from Jamestown, N.Y., said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that two years ago, her son Trenton, then 5, was having serious behavioral problems at school until she eliminated artificial food colorings from his diet. “I know for sure I found the root cause of this one because you can turn it on and off like a switch,” Ms. Shutters said. But Dr. Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., said evidence that diet plays a significant role in most childhood behavioral disorders was minimal to nonexistent. “These are urban legends that won’t die,” Dr. Diller said.

Parents, who of course observe and interact with their children constantly, see notable changes in behavior and energy levels after consumption of foods like Cheetos, Kraft macaroni and cheese and the like. Doctors and other medical professionals refer to scientific studies which find either no, or limited, evidence of a link. Parents then feel frustrated that doctors are not listening to them and a frustrating cycle results.

I’ve long watched out for the presence of food dyes in what our son Charlie eats, as he has little language, and not enough to tell us how a certain food makes him feel. I haven’t seen any actual connection—it’s frankly hard to tell what might lead to Charlie needing to run a few laps on the neighborhood streets—though I do have to say: My husband has (actually diagnosed) severe ADHD and, by his own account, his hyperactivity is something that just occurs, regardless of what he eats or what he does not.

Let’s hope the FDA’s panels lead to some more conclusive studies. If the panel does conclude that the public needs more warnings about the potential effects of food coloring, certainly, labels on foods would not be a bad thing and might at least help parents to make thoughtful choices about the foods they are giving their kids.


Previous Care2 Coverage

FDA to Hold Hearings on Food Coloring Safety


Photo by RVWithTito.


Peggy B
Peggy B1 months ago


Charles B.
Charles B6 years ago


April Thompson
April Thompson6 years ago


Kerrie W.
Kerrie Waldron6 years ago

Just a couple of relevant books from the scores of excellent books I've read on how foods effect the brain/behaviour (anyone doubt alcohol effects behaviour and brain?) *and these authors have been saying it since the 1980s so it's all a bit "old news" by now..........

Dr Doris Rapp "Is This Your Child?"

Sue Dengate "Fed Up with Children's Behaviour "(DVD)


colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

it is a difficult things. I don't know how many natural items make colors, just that one comes from an insect. which would exclude vegans and some people of some religions. I don't know what plants that red can come from, or if the food is an allergen.

just how important colors in food are. to psychology and marketing. biologically it is a lie, as I can soak mashmellows in color. but that dosen't mean it will be the same "good to eat purple" as an eggplant.

would soaking marshmellow in beet juice make them healthful?

mary l.
mary l6 years ago


criss S.
criss s6 years ago

Thank you for the article. I dream of the day for food without all the added garbage.

Bon L.
Bon L6 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Julie W.
Julie W6 years ago

Strange how the FDA jumps on a natural supplement and bans it, but only wants to 'warn' people about food colouring. I wonder why? Hmm.

Shelly Peterson
Shelly Peterson6 years ago

Every 3 months or so, I crave something salty to eat and indulge my self in a bag of Cheetos or microwave popcorn!...the food coloring is only a marketing ploy, and can be eliminated..if you've ever eaten those snacks, you know how you have to scrub the stains off of your fingers, so I know its not good for me..(sometimes I just have to be "bad"!)....But I do believe the dye is bad for all of us, especially our children...there is enough garbage in and on our food as it is...Just my opinion. Thanks!