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April 2011 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

How to create a healthy Easter basket

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Butylated Hydroxytoluene, Blue 2, Isoamyl Acetate, Yellow 6, Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, Dimethyl Sulphide.

Would you feed your children foods containing chemicals like these? That may be exactly what you are doing if you give them a typical Easter basket.

“Many parents do not realize that the pretty candies in their children’s Easter baskets are often loaded with artificial additives like synthetic dyes, which can actually harm their children,” said Jane Hersey, national director of Feingold Association, a charity that helps special needs children and is based in Rocky Point, NY.

These dyes have been linked with many health problems in children, including hyperactivity and inattention.

“If you notice that your children act up after eating brightly-colored candies, synthetic dyes are the most likely culprit,” said Hersey, whose own daughter was affected by these additives. “If the Easter Bunny ate these candies, he would probably be bouncing off the walls!”

In a 2007 British study, Dr. Jim Stevenson found that synthetic food dyes trigger hyperactive behavior in all children, not just those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He and his team later reported to Britain’s Food Standards Agency that the harm done by artificial food dyes to the IQs of children is similar to the impact of lead on their developing brains.

The European Union already requires labels on most foods containing synthetic food dyes to warn that these additives “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” The Food Standards Agency has also called on manufacturers to voluntarily remove the dyes and has advised parents to limit their children’s consumption of dyed foods if they show signs of ADHD.

In the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics has acknowledged in its journal that “a trial of a preservative-free, food coloring-free diet is a reasonable intervention” for hyperactive children. The website of the American Academy of Family Physicians states that “studies have shown that certain food colorings and preservatives may cause or worsen hyperactive behavior in some children.”

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration held a public hearing addressing the concerns over the adverse effects of synthetic dyes on children’s behavior. “The FDA should prohibit these dyes and require warning labels in the meantime,” said Hersey.

Preparing a healthy Easter basket

So how can a parent put together an Easter basket kids will love while avoiding synthetic dyes, preservatives and other additives? It seems like it would be a daunting challenge, right?

“Actually, parents have a wide range of Easter treats they can use to prepare an Easter basket that most kids would love,” said Hersey.

She recommends the following tips:

• Avoid buying Easter candies containing synthetic food dyes (such as Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 1), artificial flavorings, or the preservatives BHA, BHT, and TBHQ.

• Replace some candy with dried pineapples, figs, raisins, or dates, which are naturally sweet and much more nourishing.

• Add 100 percent fruit roll-ups or homemade trail mix.

• Put a stuffed animal, such as a bunny or chick, in the basket to help take the emphasis off sweets.

• Include educational toys, books, or disposable cameras in the basket.

• Tuck a coupon from the Easter Bunny, good for an outing at a theatre or amusement park, in among the cellophane grass.

• Consider using brightly-colored plastic Easter eggs or coloring your boiled eggs with either natural dyes or plastic sleeves that are slipped over the eggs and dipped in hot water.

• Feed your children breakfast before letting them indulge in Easter sweets, in order to reduce the amount of candy they eat.

• Plan an Easter egg hunt to help children work off excess energy and get some exercise.

“Following these simple steps can help your family enjoy a happy and healthy Easter,” said Hersey.

Individual dietary needs vary and no one diet will meet everyone’s daily requirements. Before starting any new diet, check with your doctor or nutritionist.

For more information on the Feingold Association, visit its website, www.feingold.org, or call (800) 321-3287.


Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 230, Dec. 1, 2010, edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-30187.pdf

“Modernising the rules on food additives and labelling of azo dyes,” European Parliament, July 8, 2008 (www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?language=EN&type=IM-PRESS&reference=20080707IPR33563)

Schonwald A. “ADHD and Food Additives Revisited.” AAP Grand Rounds DOI: 10.1542/gr.19-2-17, 2008; 19;17

American Academy of Family Physicians, website, familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/children/parents/behavior/118.html

McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, et al. “Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.” Lancet. Nov. 2007;370(9598):1560-7. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17825405)

“Banning food additives ‘could cut hyperactivity by 30 percent,’” Daily Mail, April 2008, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1012023/Banning-food-additives-cut-hyperactivity-30-cent.html

Updated 5:45 pm, April 1, 2011
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