A Rainbow of Risky Food Dyes

Food Dyes

Unnecessary Chemicals in Our Children's Food

Food Dyesby Alicia Voorhies, RN

I recently made an emergency run to a local grocery store to buy a cough suppressant for my daughter who has a sensitivity to red dye.  There wasn't a single syrup out of 15 different options on the store shelves that was dye-free!  And to think that the food coloring is purely a marketing ploy and serves no purpose at all…

And it's not just medications we need to keep an eye on. There are a variety of other sources such as baked goods, drinks, candy, personal care products (like toothpaste), and vitamins, too.

The majority of food coloring now in use is synthetic and has been linked to allergies, asthma, hyperactivity, behavioral disorders and even cancer.  The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, may be contaminated with known carcinogens. And Red 3, which is produced with ammonia, has been acknowledged for years by the FDA to be a carcinogen, yet is still widely used in foods.

And here's the kicker: artificial dyes have been removed from foods for other countries. A whole host of companies, including the U.K. branches of Kraft, Wal-Mart, Mars candy, and Coca Cola have voluntarily removed artificial colors, the preservative sodium benzoate, and even aspartame from their products – particularly those marketed to kids.  For example, U.S. Nutrigrain bars are made with the color ingredients Red No 40, Yellow No 6, and Blue No 1. while U.K. Nutrigrain bars are made with beetroot red, annatto, and paprika extract.  CBS News also recently published an image of a U.S. M&M containing bright red food dye compared to a European M&M that doesn't.

So, what can we do about it?

  • Avoiding prepackaged baked goods, beverages and candy will go a long way toward reducing your exposure to artificial dyes (as I always say, eat naked!)
  • Read labels and avoid food dyes if possible. Buy products made with natural food coloring instead. That way you'll be using your money to speak out, telling food makers that don't want these totally unnecessary chemicals in our food.
  • Speak up!  Write letters letting the big brands know we want safe food for our growing children.

Are you into DIY projects? Check out this article from Free People on how to make natural dyes for your projects–no chemicals, just berries, vegetables, salt, vinegar, and water!  If you're in the market for something simpler, try baking homemade goodies using natural coloring by India Tree or Barry Farms.

Photo Source:  Flickr via the_sm