It's no secret that junk food manufacturers love using festive packaging and neon colors to appeal to kids and adults alike. The artificial color secret is simple: If it looks good, we think it tastes good, too. But on a recent trip to the ice cream store, I saw firsthand how incredibly effective the misleading appeal of artificial colors can be.
It was as if a behavioral experiment had fallen right into my lap.
My 2 year-old going crazy over the bright colored toppings. Her hands were moving so
quickly from one topping to the next, hence the blurry image.
It all happened when my 2-year-old daughter and I were picking up an ice cream cake for my husband's birthday. The minute we entered the ice cream shop my daughter set her sights on the toppings bar filled with brightly colored gumballs, sprinkles, and gummy bears. Nothing would stop her, it was like an addict begging for more junk food-except these are foods she's never had before. My daughter was almost magnetically drawn to the bright colors. All the scary toppings to choose from.
The unplanned experiment proves what marketers already know: both kids and adults eat with their eyes first.
Kids are the most vulnerable and innocent portion of the population because they don't have any idea how these foods will impact them. While writing Label Lessons and Unjunk Your Junk Food, we did a huge amount of research on the artificial colors that make conventional gum balls, gummy bears, sprinkles, and shelled chocolate candies so appealing to kids. Many of the most dressed up junk foods also include additives listed in the Scary Seven. These dangerous ingredients like artificial colors and flavors are linked to allergies, sinus congestion, hyperactivity, and worsened symptoms of ADD and ADHD.
I'm not unrealistic-kids love ice cream. But I avoid artificially colored flavors and toppings because they make my kids go crazy. If we go out to get ice cream, I'll often bring a little baggy of organic dark chocolate chips or sprinkles along. If I don't bring my own, I ask my kids to choose cleaner toppings like chocolate or fruit.
Chocolate and vanilla ice creams are usually the safest flavors because they're free of most chemical additives, especially compared to brightly colored, artificial color mainstays at most ice cream stores (my nemeses: bubble gum and mint chip flavored ice cream because they are loaded with nasty food coloring). My 2 year-old with her hands on the bubble gum topping. She has never even tried a piece of
The majority of the time I will buy my own ice cream at the health foods store so I have more control over what my kids eat. For my kids I buy organic ice cream with no artificial colors, flavors, hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides and for myself I'll opt for non-dairy coconut ice cream (it's my favorite!). This way I can keep the Scary Seven out of my family's ice cream experience.
Editor's Note: If you want to eliminate unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives from your diet for good, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]