Kraft removing artificial dyes from some mac and cheese

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(CNN) – When SpongeBob SquarePants skips onto shelves in boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese next year, he may be a little less, well, yellow than your kids are used to.

Kraft has revamped its character-shaped product line for 2014, according to company spokeswoman Lynne Galia. The new versions will have six additional grams of whole grains, be lower in sodium and saturated fat, and will use spices instead of artificial food dyes to create its famous yellow-orange color.

“Parents have told us that they would like fun Mac & Cheese varieties with the same great taste, but with improved nutrition,” Galia said in an e-mail.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest on Friday hailed Kraft’s decision. The company plans to remove Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 from boxes containing pasta shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants and those with Halloween and winter shapes. Two new shapes of the popular pasta will also be free of food coloring, Galia said.

Michael Jacobson, the center’s executive director, said he is pleased with the announcement but is “puzzled” as to why Kraft would not change its original elbow-shaped macaroni product as well.

“As Kraft has today shown, it is clearly possible to make macaroni and cheese without these harmful chemicals,” Jacobson said in a statement.

Galia said Kraft will use spices such as paprika, annatto and turmeric in its new products.

After months of sleepless nights and countless exchanges with her supporters, Food Babe blogger Vani Hari said she was also thrilled to hear the news. Hari started a Change.org petition along with “100 Days of Real Food” blogger Lisa Leakes to convince Kraft to remove these “potentially harmful” dyes from all of the company’s products.

“We recently discovered that several American products are using harmful additives that are not used — and in some cases banned — in other countries,” the pair wrote on the petition. “One of those products is an iconic staple that almost every American, us included, has had at one time or another: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.”

In Europe, foods with Yellow No. 5 are required to include a warning label that says, “This product may have adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Yellow No. 5 has been linked to hyperactivity, allergies, some skin conditions and cancer, but the evidence is inconclusive, scientists say.

The Food and Drug Administration must approve color additives in the United States; Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 were approved for use in foods in 1969 and 1986, respectively.

Jacobson urged parents to continue signing Hari’s petitions on Change.org.

“As long as the Food and Drug Administration remains perched up in the bleachers and not on the playing field, action on the part of the consumers is the only thing that will get these companies’ attention,” he said.