Artificial Colours – the ADHD link

We eat with our eyes… food is more appealing if it looks good (okay, it helps if it smells good too). This is why food companies will add colouring to foods – to make them more pleasing to the eye. But does it come with a cost to our children?

The ADHD Link

There are a number of studies on the effect of food colourings on ADHD. The results of these studies vary widely from no reported results to recommendations to avoid artificial food colours. However, this statement sums up the findings perfectly.

“AFCs [artificial food colours] are not a main cause of ADHD, but they may contribute significantly to some cases, and in some cases may additively push a youngster over the diagnostic threshold.”

Arnold, L. E., Lofthouse, N., & Hurt, E. (2012). Artificial Food Colors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Symptoms: Conclusions to Dye for.Neurotherapeutics, 9(3), 599–609.

Additionally, some studies recognise a ‘cosensitivity’, suggesting that avoiding food colours alone may not deliver results.

What does this mean?

There is no guarantee that avoiding food colours is going to put a stop to your child’s ADHD symptoms. There is a possibility that it would have no effect whatsoever. However, it is also possible that it could have positive results, particularly if other food additives linked to ADHD (such as artificial flavours, preservatives, MSG, artificial sweeteners – more to come) are also avoided.

No one-size-fits-all approach exists and what works for one child may not work for another. If you suspect that artificial colours are contributing to your child’s symptoms, I encourage you to trial an elimination.

How can I avoid them?

Become familiar with reading food labels. Avoiding the colours listed below should yield the best results:

  • 102/E102 – Tartrazine; Yellow 5
  • 104/E104 – Quinoline Yellow; Yellow 10
  • 110/E110 – Sunset Yellow; Yellow 6
  • 122/E122 – Azorubine or Carmosisine
  • 123/E123 – Amaranth; Red 2
  • 124/E124 – Ponceau
  • 127/E127 – Erythrosine; Red 3
  • 129/E129 – Allura Red; Red 40
  • 132/E132 – Indigotine; Blue 2
  • 133/E133 – Brilliant Blue; Blue 1
  • 142/E142 – Green S
  • 143/E143 – Fast Green; Green 3
  • 151/E151 – Brilliant Black
  • 155/E155 – Brown HT
  • 160b/E160b – Annatto (natural colour also associated with ADHD)

Have you trialled an artifical colours free diet? Did it help? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time,





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