These popular snacks may cause cancer in kids

These popular snacks may cause cancer in kids

The ingredients they contain are a toxic cocktail. Find out what these snacks are now...

Parents were made to care for and protect their children. But how can we guard our kids from major health problems if we’re unaware of their causes?

This is where organisations like the US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) step in to shed light on what might be causing certain health issues in our kids, especially through food consumption.

The Seeing Red report published by the CSPI on January 19 2016 says there is an urgent need to take action on the use of food dyes in popular food items available in the USA.

To quote them: 

Other iconic foods that are synthetically dyed include McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae, which has Red 40, at least in the United States; in the United Kingdom its color comes solely from strawberries. A packet of Mars’ M&Ms contains Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 in the United States; in the United Kingdom it has natural colors plus Blue 1. A ¾-cup serving of Post’s Fruity Pebbles cereal has 13.9 mg of dyes, including Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 in a three-quarter cup serving.

The detailed report also throws light on the fact that food dyes lack nutritional value and are often used as cheap replacements for healthful ingredients.

For instance, there are no cherries or berries in Tropicana Twister Cherry Berry Blast. The colour comes primarily from a dye named Red 40.

The CSPI also mentions that “over the past 40 years, many double-blind studies have concluded that food dyes and other ingredients can impair behavior in some children.”

In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged the growing body of evidence on the harmful effects of food dyes, concluding that:

Exposure to food and food components, including artificial food colors and preservatives, may be associated with adverse behaviors, not necessarily related to hyperactivity, in certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, and possibly in susceptible children from the general population.

Studies also indicate that refined petroleum is used in many children’s food items. Petroleum by-products are reportedly often added to popular processed kids’ snacks in the form of preservatives, flavouring and bright food colouring.

For example, commonly used food dyes, such as Yellow 5, and Red 40 are reportedly made from petroleum and may pose serious health problems*.

These health problems may include:

  • Hyperactivity in kids
  • Cancer (animal studies)
  • Allergic reactions
  • Bed-wetting
  • Ear infections
  • Headaches
  • Chromosomal damage
  • Mood swings

Many of these substances can be so harmful to health that they are banned from use throughout Europe, says the CSPI.

But unfortunately, some of these additives are reportedly still finding their way into popular food  items, that are especially loved by children.

Here are the five popular food items** mentioned in the CSPI’s Seeing Red report you should avoid over-consumption of, because they are allegedly made with ingredients that could trigger a host of health issues, including behavioural problems, in children.

1. M & Ms*

m and ms sg

This is the list of ingredients of a packet of M & Ms bought in Singapore.

These popular button-shaped chocolates are often coloured using Red 40 and Yellow 5, as well as Blue 2 which is known to cause brain and bladder tumours, according to the CSPI.

The CSPI report says Blue 2 “cannot be considered safe given the statistically significant incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats. It should not be used in foods.”

Also, Yellow 5 “may be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals”, says the CSPI. Additionally, it sometimes triggers severe hypersensitivity reactions in a small number of people and may “trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children.”

M & Ms also contain Blue 1, which may cause hypersensitivity reactions.

*In February 2016, Mars Inc, the manufacturer of M & Ms, announced they would be phasing out the use of artificial colours in their foods (including M & Ms), over a five year period. Read this article for details. 

2. McDonalds Strawberry Sundae

Image from CSPI

Image: CSPI

The strawberry topping on this popular ice cream treat (in the US) contains Red 40, says the CSPI.

This dye, according to the Seeing Red report, “may trigger hyperactivity in children”, and “considering the safety questions and its non-essentiality, Red 40 should be excluded from foods unless and until new tests clearly demonstrate its safety.”

3. Fruit Loops

fruit loops sg

On the left: the list of ingredients from a packet of Fruit Loops bought in Singapore. On the right, the ingredient list of a packet of Fruit Loops in the US.

According to the CSPI, the US version of this popular breakfast cereal contains Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1.

The possible health effects of Red 40 are described in the point above. Yellow 6 “may be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions”, says the CSPI.

The possible effects of Blue 1 are described in point 1.

4. Fanta Orange

orange fanta sg

The list of ingredients from a bottle of Fanta Orange bought in Singapore. The exact colourings used are not specified.

This bright orange drink is certainly appealing to kids, but according to the CSPI, contains Yellow 6 and Red 40 — the potential health effects of both these dyes are described in points 2 and 3 above.

5. Skittles Original

skittles sg

On the left, the list of ingredients of a packet of Skittles bought in Singapore. On the right, the list of ingredients of a packet of Skittles in the US.

These colourful little treats contain a rainbow of dyes, including Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 2, and Blue 1, says the CSPI.

The health impacts of all these dyes have been previously described.

Here’s the full list of US-based food products and their dye content mentioned on page 2 of the ‘Seeing Red’ report by the CSPI.




For some great ideas for delicious and nutritious kids’ snacks made from fresh ingredients, read this theAussieparent article.


Reference: Center for Science in the Public Interest

* Click this link to see a summary of studies on food dyes and the terrible health impact they may have, as published on page 2 of the CSPI report ‘Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks. 

** Do note that the 5 food items listed in this article are not the only ones which contain food dyes — many others have them too. Please read the ‘Seeing Red’ report by the CSPI for more details. 

*** Do note that we have not spoken to any medical professionals to verify the information in this article. But it is a good idea to carefully read food labels before buying a product to check if they contain any of these substances.

****Please note that the food dyes highlighted in this article are contained in food items found in the USA, and not Europe.

This article was updated on 24/01/2016.

Do contact your doctor if you have any health concerns related to yourself or your children. 

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