Do food dyes aggravate ADHD?

Do some food additives make hyperactive kids more hyper? A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel meets Wednesday and Thursday to take up the question, which was first asked in the 1970s. Consumer groups say food additives, such as dyes, can trigger behavioral problems. The food industry insists they're safe.

The research at the center of this debate indicates kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can have exaggerated symptoms if exposed to some food additives, including some preservatives and food dyes.

Registered dietitian Cynthia Sass explained on "The Early Show" that, if the additives are taken away, their symptoms improve.

"Right now, the research isn't looking like these cause hyperactivity, but they can certainly exaggerate it in those kids," she said.

Sass said the newer research has led some countries in Europe to package products with warning labels that indicate a food contains dyes that may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.

"So in Europe, they're a little bit more apt to put these warnings when they have preliminary studies," she said. "Now, for the first time, the FDA is looking at this and is saying there may be an issue here, and they're exploring whether or not we should restrict the use of these dyes, put a warning label on the food, or do we just need more research?"

The amount of dye in foods has exploded in recent years, Sass said.

"In the United States, the approval of the amount of dyes that are used in food has quadrupled," she said. "So we're seeing them in everything from candy to chips to, you know, cereal. All kinds of snack food. They're pretty ubiquitous in the food supply."

Sass said the use of dyes points to a bigger issue in nutrition.

"Kids who are eating these artificially processed foods are (missing) out on the important nutrients in whole foods," she said. "So if you're a parent, you're concerned about hyperactivity because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 percent of children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD. So if you're concerned about that, or even just being a parent in general, move away from the processed foods, limit or restrict their use, and, you know, have your kids gravitate more towards the whole foods, the fruits, the vegetables."

Co-anchor Chris Wragge asked on "The Early Show," "How difficult is it to get the kids to go to the more natural, I guess the more natural side?"

"(The whole foods are) certainly not as bright and colorful. But in some cases ... like macaroni and cheese, there's very little difference. ... A lot of these, if you look at the packaging, it's very kid-friendly marketing. As long as the outside of the package looks good, the food tastes good and it's similar in terms of texture, you may be able to get them to switch over."