Healthy Kids    

Help Your Kids Avoid Scary Additives in Halloween Candy

Many parents dread Halloween, because their children often act up the next few days. In fact, teachers have long called the day after America's biggest candy holiday "the worst day of the year."

Kids can indulge in Halloween treats without having behavior problems afterwards, if parents help them avoid candy with certain synthetic additives, according to Jane Hersey, Director of the Feingold Association (, which helps children with learning/behavioral problems and chemically sensitive adults.

"If your children become little 'monsters' after Halloween, they are probably reacting to synthetic food dyes, artificial flavors or certain preservatives in the candy they collect," says Hersey.

There have been many studies showing that certain synthetic additives can trigger hyperactivity and attention deficits in children. In a recent British government-sponsored study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, parents reported that their children were better behaved while on diets free of synthetic food colorings and benzoate preservatives, regardless of whether they were considered normal, hyperactive, or allergic beforehand.

An earlier University of Melbourne study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, found that the behavior of 75% of the children with suspected hyperactivity improved on a diet free of synthetic food colorings. The children's reactions included being "irritable and restless" and the younger children's reactions also included "constant crying," "tantrums," and being "easily distracted."

The Ugly Side to Those Pretty Colors

"Some of the worst additives are synthetic food dyes," says Hersey. "Studies have linked them not only to hyperactivity and attention deficits, but also to cancer, asthma, hives, anaphylactic reactions, indigestion and abdominal pain."

According to the Food and Drug Administration, synthetic food colorings were originally derived from coal tar and are now made from petroleum.

"Humans were not designed to eat petroleum, and many of us have problems when we do," says Hersey. "Young children are especially prone to having reactions, such as temper tantrums, because of their small size. Scientists have found that just 20 milligrams of synthetic food coloring is often enough to set off a small child. That's about the amount it takes to color a teaspoon of frosting."

According to Hersey, parents should avoid buying candies with synthetic dyes by checking for color/number combinations (such as Yellow 5, Red 40 or Blue 2) on ingredient lists. Other options to consider include:

? Feed them first. Be sure your child goes trick-or-treating with a full stomach to discourage snacking en route.

? Offer a swap. Trade natural candies or toys for synthetic treats, or tell young children that if they set their bags of candy outside the door, the Halloween Witch will come by to exchange the treats for a toy.

? Offer a buy-out. Offer to buy the candy your child collects. (They may find this is a big moneymaker!)

? Limit the damage. Go through the stash with your child to toss out the most brightly colored candies and allow them to eat only a limited number per day.

? Give out balloons or toys to the trick-or-treaters who come to your home.

? Visit a health food store or healthy market, such as Whole Foods or Wild Oats, for natural options.

? Check out these natural candies: Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Squares with White Mint Fillings (found at Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart), Pearson's Chocolate Covered Mint Patties (Wal-Mart), Canel's Milk Lollipops (Dollar Tree stores), Valomilk Cups (Cracker Barrel restaurants), Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses, Beta Brands Sweet Town Milk, Chocolate Covered Cashews, and Cocoa Pete's Maltimus Maximus.

"Another option is a special evening at the skating rink, bowling alley, or movies, followed by homemade treats," suggests Hersey.

The Feingold Association

The Feingold Association ( offers a dietary program developed by the late Benjamin Feingold, M.D., Chief of Allergy at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco. The Feingold Program eliminates certain synthetic food additives and foods that have been shown to trigger hyperactivity, attention deficits, and other problems in sensitive children and adults.

The Feingold Association researches brand name foods and provides members with information about foods free of harmful additives. Its Foodlists contain thousands of acceptable brand name products and its newsletter provides monthly updates. Members of the association also receive a book on the Feingold Program that includes recipes and a menu plan, a Fast Food Guide, Mail Order Guide, e-newsletter and product alerts, as well as access to telephone and email help-lines. An online message board, recipe board and chat room are also available.

Jane Hersey

Jane Hersey has been Director of the Feingold Association since 1985 and is author of Why Can't My Child Behave? and Healthier Food for Busy People. She has testified before the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Department of Agriculture about ADHD and diet. A former teacher and Head Start consultant, she has lectured at educational associations, universities, hospitals, medical groups, and other organizations, and she frequently presents workshops at schools.

Related Articles