On Thursday I am giving a nutrition talk at a preschool in Manhattan. I plan to cover a few topics: organics, healthy snacking and vitamins. When talking about snacks for kids and vitamins I find it impossible to ignore the topic of food dyes. Certain artificial food dyes have been shown to be carcinogenic to animals, others affect mood and intensify ADHD and a few are associated with fertility even sterility. This is not a laughing matter. I bet you’re wondering how these dyes are approved for use; I don’t blame you if you do. The British government has urged companies to stop using most dyes, and the European Union requires a warning notice on most dyed foods. In European countries these colorings are considered hazardous until they can be proven safe. Sadly, in the US we have the opposite approach. These colorings are safe until proven otherwise. As a consequence, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s, and other American companies that do business in Europe use safe, natural colorings over there — but harmful, synthetic chemicals here. As far as I’m concerned, this is a case where the proof may indeed be in the pudding and I’ve already reached my verdict, read on and see what you think.
I asked Lisa, Foodtrainers’ favorite nutrition nerd to provide answers to some questions I’m “dye-ing” to know:
I always tell parents the food dyes are more likely to blame for hyperactivity than the sugar, what does the research show?
A British study reported in “Archives of Disease in Children” in 2004 found that hyperactive behavior increased in children given food coloring plus sodium benzoate, a preservative. Hyperactive behavior decreased when the additives were withdrawn. A 2007 study published in The Lancet showed that children have increased levels of hyperactivity after consuming drinks laced with food coloring. According to the Mayo Clinic, yellow food dye no. 5, no. 6 and no. 10, and red no. 40 all cause an increase in hyperactivity. Food additives that may increase hyperactive behavior include: Sodium benzoate, Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow), Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow), Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) and Red No.40 (allura red) Yellow No. 5, used in beverages, candy, ice cream, custards and other foods, may be more likely to cause reactions than other additives. The Food and Drug Administration requires that Yellow No. 5 be clearly labeled on food packaging along with other ingredients. This label is just indicating Yellow 5 is in the food. This is not a warning label.
People may think food dyes aren’t an issue if you don’t eat candy or neon-colored food but food dyes are found in some sneaky places, aren’t they?
Food dyes can be found in pickles, some farmed salmon, certain mustards, granola bars and Life Cereal. As you see from this list, food coloring is lurking in foods that seem pretty much colorless. And another place dyes are used is in medicine. Specific colors are not always listed but look for “color added”, “artificial color” or “artificial coloring added.”
Aside from mood, what more serious things are dyes connected with?
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, food coloring such as blue no. 1, red no. 40, yellow no. 5 and yellow no. 6 cause allergic reactions. Yellow food dye no. 5 has triggered asthma episodes in children and other dyes, such as red no. 40, cause skin conditions such as eczema. Yellow #2 has been connected with male sterility and ADHD. Blue 1 and Blue 2 used in beverages and often in pet food has been associated with brain tumors in animal studies and Red 3 is linked with thyroid tumors.
What are examples of healthy ways to color food?
Better choices include annatto extract (yellow), dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown), beta-carotene (yellow to orange) and grape skin extract (red, green). These colorings are not required to be named and you may simply see colorings or color added. For home use matcha green tea powder, beet juice (makes icing pink), cocoa and avocado can be used. Here is a recipe you’ll love for frosting for St Patrick’s Day.
Thanks Lisa, this is great information. My advice is that everyone needs to check their food labels particularly for foods they consume regularly. If these foods contain dyes consider switching to a product that doesn’t. And parents, know that when children leave a birthday party their behavior is not due to a “sugar high.”
Do you look for food dyes on food labels? Have you ever had a reaction to a food dye? Are you at all shocked that these are approved for use?
*Congratulations to Gayle, she’s the winner of the Hardwick giveaway.
*Congratulations to Gayle, she’s the winner of the Hardwick giveaway.
I just checked the kids vitamins and phew, no artificial color. Now, off to the pantry.
Claire, good job. We all need to take another look, as Lisa mentioned there are surprises and if a staple item, not worth it. Also, if you're not brand loyal for something with dye easier to switch. Let us know what you find. Condiments, cereals- nothing is off limits for nasty dyes.
The kids bread has yellow # 5 & #6 – UGH
I love to use fruits (like blueberry), veggies(spinach) and tea (matcha powder) to make food more colourful and appetizing.
Lauren, I am taking some Collagen-Hydrolysat these days…now I mix them in juice (sometimes yoghurt), I wonder whether it's okay to dissolve them in tea as I drink lots of tea.
I am so glad you have a post on this. It really infuriates me that these dyes are banned in Europe, but still used in the U.S. Since it doesn't look like we will be getting rid of them anytime soon, it is so important for us as consumers to read labels and avoid them as much as we can. Great tip that "food coloring is lurking in foods that seem pretty much colorless." Just another reason why we always need to be reading ingredient lists. Or better yet, don't eat anything that has an ingredient list.
I was particularly frustrated to see that these dyes are used in medicines and vitamins. Here parents are thinking they are doing a good thing for thier children by giving them vitamins every morning with their breakfast, when in reality many of these choices are a daily dose of chemicals that may be effecting their childrens behavior and longterm health.
I'm going to share this post on my facebook fan page! Thanks!
Fantastic entry. Thank you for this information, I will share this with all my loved ones!!!!
not really but try hard to limit process foods and have natural colors from fruits and veg
Rebecca, agree about limiting processed food and thus limiting dyes BUT when dyes lurk in salmon, mustard and hot sauce then it gets so tricky.
Lauren, I love this post! Navigating the world of dyes is daunting because it is blatantly in counter-intuitive products (medicine – benadryl!) and hidden in unexpected items because it is used as a preservative (cake mix, etc).
And, most of the time poor sugar is the scapegoat 🙂 Awareness is key, kudos on the post!
Thanks for sharing this Lauren. I agree that we need to get these synthetic dyes out of our food supply, and I think the research is there to justify this. I might add carmel coloring to the list which has come under scrutiny lately as a potential carcinogen. Here's a link from CSPI: http://www.cspinet.org/new/201102161.html
I'm intrigued by the frosting recipe using avocados…have you tried it yet???
I"m with Melissa who said "Better yet, don't eat things with long ingredient lists." Couldn't have said it better myself! Such a great article and what great detailed information from one science nerd to another! I'll be sharing this article!!!
This is such a great post! Someone brought in dried fruit to work and I checked out the list and what do you know, food coloring. Gross. It is always so important to read the label.
I was SHOCKED when I checked the Life Cereal label at my mom-in-law's house. Why does cereal need yellow food coloring? Because it might look too brown? Argh.
We have been very careful for the past few months to keep my kids away from all artificial food colorings. If my son accidentally eats or drinks something with food coloring, we can tell INSTANTLY as his mood changes and he has trouble controlling his actions.
This issue is so frustrating because as a parent it is very difficult to keep your kids away from food coloring all the time. I am working to educate our family on the issue, especially extended family that likes to send treats for every holiday.
Great article! It drives me crazy that foods and snacks loaded with artificial food colorings are marketed to children.
I totally agree with the above post about how frustrating it is to keep the kids away from foods and drinks that contain food colorings. My cousin bought my boys an icee at the baseball fields this past weekend and I wish I could have been there to buy them something else. Talk about a toxic drink for kids loaded with food colors.
I try to avoid these dyes as much as possible!!!!! Which means no green anything for st. patty's unless its a vegetable!!!! =) i'm entirely ok with that too! hehe
Jenn @ Peas & Crayons
Great post, Lauren. I just convinced my sister to buy the veggie-based dyes that Whole Foods sells. Will be passing along your informative post.
Thanks for this, Lauren. Since I was about 2 or 3 I've been allergic to food coloring — each time I ate some, a different part of my body would swell up. Once one of my feet had swollen up so much I had to get a different size shoe for it! Once I was old enough to realize what food dyes actually were, it made me thankful that my body warned me about them! I learned early on to use beets, spinach, etc for dyes if I wanted color. I also learned that dyes are super sneaky! Thanks for all of this information – I wish someone had written this when I was younger!
Lauren, great post…very informative and sure makes us aware of the colors in food and snacks…have a wonderful week ahead 🙂
that is so true, food dye turns up when you least expect it! i don't eat a lot of packaged food so *cross fingers* we don't have any in this house. thanks for passing on the info!
I just did a report about the dangers of food dyes and used the same research as Lisa. I was just as surprised as most to find out dyes are used extensively in the US, but are banned in most European countries. More people need to know what's in their food.