Toddler Nutrition 101: Understanding food dyes

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There has been a lot of talk about food dyes and their impact on children’s health lately, with food dyes being linked to behavioral issues including hyperactivity and ADHD as well as other health concerns. Here’s the lowdown on what we know about food dyes, how to spot them and how to find healthy options for your child.

Adorable girl sit with set of good in shopping cart in supermarket

By Dr. Suzanne Bartolini, N.D.

Food dyes, also referred to as “food coloring” or “food additives”, are nothing new. Saffron, for example, was a popular coloring agent in food as far back as the Roman Empire and ancient Egypt. The difference is that in recent years, food dyes have changed. Most manufacturers now use artificial chemical dyes that are petroleum-based.

While there are more and more companies going back to nature to brighten food, most use chemical dyes which are less expensive and produce more vibrant results than most natural colorings. Here’s what I’ve learned about the role of food dyes and their potential impact on children’s health.

How are food dyes used?

Food coloring is used by manufacturers to enhance color, increase shelf life, and to improve the overall texture and appearance of a product. You’ll find food dyes in countless items, including packaged and processed foods, beverages, condiments, candies, desserts and even salmon. Dyes can make foods look fresher, more exciting and even healthier by simulating the presence of healthy and colorful fruits and vegetables.

How safe are these food dyes?

In recent years, there has been concern about the adverse health impacts of these chemical food dyes, especially on children. Here are some of the notable issues:

  • Ongoing research is finding a link between food dyes and behavior in children ranging from hyperactivity to ADHD. Because many of these dyes are found in children’s foods, health professionals believe they are a contributing factor to restless and agitated behavior, concentration issues, and hyperactivity.
  • Another major point of contention in the food dye debate is whether or not food dyes have a connection to cancer. According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, many of the commonly used food dyes are known to be contaminated with known carcinogens.
  • More research is showing that these artificial food substances can contribute toallergies and various other allergic reactions such as skin irritation, as well as to anxiety, headaches, and migraines (in both children and adults). They also contribute to the obesity epidemic by attracting children to highly processed foods that have little to no nutritional value.

How to spot artificial dyes on food labels

Companies are required to list food dyes in their list of ingredients, so take a moment to read the label before you buy. In the United States, the most commonly used food dyes include:

  • Blue #1 (“brilliant blue”)
  • Blue #2 (“Indigotine”)
  • Green #3 (“fast green”)
  • Red #40 (“allura red”)
  • Red #3 (“carmoisine”)
  • Yellow #5 (“tartrazine”)
  • Yellow #6 (“sunset yellow”)

What are some healthy alternatives?

The easiest way to steer clear of food dyes is to eat freshly prepared foods wherever possible. Keep pre-packaged foods with unnecessary preservatives and additives like food dyes to a minimum, and seek out wild salmon when possible.

Luckily, more and more companies are responding to consumer concerns by using healthier additives in their packaged and processed foods. These food colorings come from pigments of vegetables and minerals. Examples of these natural additives include: saffron, paprika, turmeric, beet powder, annatto extract (a tropical tree), carotene, lycopene and elderberry juice.

By understanding more about what goes into our children’s food, we can make choices we feel good about and help our kids feel great.

Dr. Bartolini is a Naturopathic physician with clinic locations in Toronto and Oakville. For more information, please visit


4 Ways to Boost Bone Health for Kids

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Childhood is the most important period for the development of healthy bones. Read on for four ways to ensure good bone health for kids.

Bones – the living tissue that makes up the framework for growing bodies – work over-time in your little one’s body and childhood is the time when they are developing most actively. For parents, this means ensuring children get enough of the essential nutrients they need for bone health.

How bones work

Bone is continuously forming and breaking down through cells called

osteoblasts and osteoclasts. During childhood, as your child’s body grows in size, more bone is formed than is broken down. Bones reach their maximum strength (referred to as “peak density”) when we are in our mid-twenties, after which, progressive bone loss occurs. This is why childhood is a crucial time for building healthy bones for life. Here are the four ways to ensure good bone health for kids.


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies, and is most well-known for its important role in keeping bones and teeth healthy. Young children aged 1-3 years require 500-700mg of calcium per day.Children aged 4-8 require 800-1000mg, and children over 8 require 1200mg per day.


Milk is the food most often associated with bone health. Cow milk is one option, with 300mg of calcium in an 8oz glass, but for children with the common problem of cow milk intolerance [link to allergy vs intolerance], goat milk is a good solution.

Other dairy products, such as cheese and yogurtalso deliver on calcium – one 4oz pouch of Kabrita Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit [link to product] contains 48mg of calcium. Another easy way to serve up calcium for toddlers is Kabrita Goat Milk Toddler Formula – one 4oz serving contains 163.2mg.

Vegetables, especially dark green, leafy vegetables like bokchoy and broccoli, are also great choices. Other good sources include almonds, beans and lentils, sardines and salmon. Calcium-fortified drinks such as fortified orange juice, almond or rice milk are another options and all contain 300mg of calcium in an 8oz glass.You can work calcium into meals and snacks throughout the day,such smoothies, cereal, pizza, pasta, soups and sandwiches.

Vitamin D

Calcium is important, however Vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) is also essential. That’s because it is crucial for calcium absorption. Optimal vitamin D3 also prevents rickets, a childhood disease that causes softening of the bones, poor growth and severe bowing of the legs.

Vitamin D is made by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight – in most climates about 15 minutes of sunscreen-free time outside a day is enough for children. It is also found in fortified foods, fish, and egg yolk. Ensuring approximately 400-800IUs (international units) in children up to age 8 is ideal.One 4oz pouch of Kabrita Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit contains 20% of the recommended 400IU allowance, and each 4oz serving of Kabrita Goat Milk Toddler Formula contains 16%.


Optimal magnesium also plays avital role in bone health. Not only does itbalance calcium, it is also needed to convert vitamin D to its active form. Nuts, legumes, and green leafy vegetables are good sources of Magnesium. For children up to age 8, 80-130mg is generally recommended.


Along with proper nutrition, the other keybone health habit is physical activity. Activities like walking, running, swimming, and playing team sports are great ways for the whole family to stay fit and active.

Establishing good bone health in childhood isn’t just good news for their physical development to adulthood. It can also reduce the risk of future diseases such as osteopenia and osteoporosis, two degenerative conditions that can result in weak, fragile bones prone to fractures later in life. By establishing healthy nutrition and fitness habits early, parents can encourage good bone health for life.

Below is a simple chart of some foods and the amount of calcium they contain.

1 cup yogurt = 350-450mg

1 8oz glass o f cow milk = 300mg

1 8oz glass of calcium-fortified orange juice = 300mg

1 8oz glass of calcium-fortified almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk = 300mg

1 ½ oz cheddar cheese = 300mg

1 cup collard greens = 120-180mg
1 cup white beans = 115 mg
1oz almonds=80 mg
½ cup broccoli = 35 mg