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Food colours and hyperactivity

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If your child shows signs of hyperactivity or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eliminating some colours from their diet might have beneficial effects on their behaviour.

These colours include:

  • sunset yellow (E110)
  • quinoline yellow (E104)
  • carmoisine (E122)
  • allura red (E129)
  • tartrazine (E102)
  • ponceau 4R (E124)

These colours are used in a number of foods, including soft drinks, sweets, cakes and ice cream.

If any of the six colours listed above are in food or drink, the food label must also have a specific warning saying that the colour 'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'.

You can avoid certain additives by checking the label. If you buy foods sold without packaging you will need to check with the manufacturer or the person who is selling the product.

Certain additives, such as sulphites and benzoates, can also cause allergic reactions. Read more information about the causes of food allergy.

What is the difference between hyperactivity and ADHD?

In the context of this advice, hyperactivity is when a child is overactive, cannot concentrate and acts on sudden wishes without thinking about alternatives.

There is no single test for diagnosing hyperactivity.

It is important to remember that hyperactivity is also associated with other factors in addition to additives. These include premature birth, genetics and upbringing.

ADHD is more than just hyperactive behaviour. It is linked to a specific pattern of behaviour, including reduced attention span and difficulties concentrating to the extent they affect the child’s ability to learn and function at home and school. Children with ADHD often have learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

Read more information about ADHD.

All food additives must go through rigorous safety assessment and approval procedures, and must comply with European Union (EU) legislation. EFSA is reviewing the safety of all food additives (including colours) approved for use in the EU.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.