Petula Dvorak
Petula Dvorak
Columnist

Food dyes may make kids hyper, some scientists say, but sadly the price is right

Okay, we get it. Loopy cereal the color of a circus tent or yogurt that glows an unholy green is not good for us or the kids.

But when it turns out that barbecue sauce, beef bouillon, pickles, bread, the skin of oranges, cheese, meat and crescent rolls are also dyed to make you want to eat them, healthy eating becomes a ridiculous game of hide-and-seek that few people have time to play.

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A commission of the Food and Drug Administrations is meeting in a hotel on Colesville Road in Silver Spring this week to hear testimony on the possible link between food colorings and hyperactivity in children.

Of course, there’s no indication whether Butler Blue, the dye used by the cooks at Butler University to turn the entire cafeteria menu a spirited shade of indigo, will be threatened.

They’re in the right spirit, though. The cooks at Butler banned all red food from the dining halls. The food police have historically reserved their greatest consternation for red dye, especially FD&C Red No. 3, which was banned from drugs and cosmetics but deemed A-Okay for food. Super!

The latest studies raise new fears that certain food dyes further amp up kids who are already hyper.

Yup, it’s not necessarily just the sugar that’s making little Cayden bounce off the walls. That sugar high from the jelly beans is actually boosted, some scientists have found, by the dyes that make them so irresistible to begin with.

The bad mojo when foods become cartoonish has been a concern for a quite a while among the crunchy and wholesome crowd.

Going natural, avoiding all processed and colored food is the logical answer to being duped by food manufacturers whose profits hinge on the trompe l’oiel that only FD&C Red #40 can provide.

An entire movement — the Feingold Diet — is based on pediatric allergist Ben Feingold’s preachings in the early 1970s that hyperactivity and other conditions can be calmed by eliminating additives and dyes from the menu.

As much as we all admire the holistic approach, it is simply unreasonable and unattainable for most Americans because of the time and money it requires. Which is why an obscure food advisory committee meeting at a Maryland Hilton is another example of the growing chasm between the rich and the poor in our country.

It is expensive to shop and eat in a way that avoids the nasty stuff that manufacturers hide in our food. And if consumers are not seduced by perky pink hot dogs or Day-Glo cheese, they are often stymied by cost.

Let’s look at something as simple as yogurt packaged for kids. A six-cup pack of Stonyfield brand — organic, cows on the label, no dyes — is $3.99 at my grocery store. The same pack of Trix Very Berry Watermelon and Berry Bolt — it’s neon, trust me — is $2.99.

Go organic on every item in your grocery cart and your bill balloons dramatically.

As my kids grow and eat more while our household budget shrinks, I find myself having these debates and making compromises in every aisle of the supermarket. And my finances are flush compared with the 44 million Americans who are living in a household below the poverty line, defined as less than $22,000 a year for a family of four. They are struggling to put enough food on the table, regardless of what’s in it.

Add that to the fact that food prices just made their biggest leap in 36 years, with a 4 percent increase.

Yes, there are ways to buy healthy yogurt in bulk, dye it with beet extract and pack it into your kid’s commercial free, recycled hemp bento box and save the Earth every day. But only a tiny minority of parents have the time or interest in doing this.

Meanwhile, the other kids at school are unpacking their Dora the Explorer lunch boxes and pulling out the stuff their parents could afford: 10 percent juice drinks, neon yogurt, gummies that allege to be vitamin-packed fruit substitutes and so forth.

If you don’t buy this stuff, then you probably also don’t realize how cheap it is.

These kids will finish lunch, return from their newly reduced recess, then disrupt the rest of the class because they are jittering and bouncing like little speed freaks.

It impacts the kids who have the fancy, all-organic lunch because the teacher now has to dedicate more time to the jumping bean. And, of course, the hyperactive child is on her own, downward spiral.

Europe has banned many of the food dyes we still tolerate. Some food manufacturers even make their products in two batches, the ridiculously colored ones for Americans, the toned down edition for Europe.

If getting companies to start selling food that looks a little less like Play-Doh is acting like a nanny state, then bring it on. We can use a little help with the discipline over here.

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