Artificial colouring may be making foods more attractive and appealing but the effects they have on your health, particularly your children’s health, certainly isn’t worth it. These additives have been directly linked to causing a vast array of health issues – from asthma and allergies to hyperactivity, learning impairment and behavioral problems. What may surprise you the most is that they’re hidden in all kinds of food items, including cereals, candies, soft drinks, gelatin, desserts, and so much more. In this article, we discuss the most important information about artificial food colouring so you can make the best, information-based decision for your family’s health.
What is Food Colouring?
Food colouring is defined by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “any substance that imparts color to a food, drug, cosmetic, or to the human body”. Interestingly, they leave out a crucial tidbit: food dyes are made from petroleum, a crude oil problem commonly used to make things such as diesel fuel, asphalt, plastic and gasoline. So, it’s no surprise that various studies have found synthetic dyes to pose many serious risks to one’s health, especially in children. Despite knowing the risks and having the option to choose natural colorants from foods like beets, manufacturers continue to opt for the synthetic versions.
As a result, there are hundreds of different types of food dyes used today that have been found to be toxic, nine of which are approved by the FDA who claims that they do not pose any significant health risks. However, studies show otherwise and many of the dyes allowed in the United States are banned from human consumption in other countries, making it difficult to determine whether or not they’re safe.
The Harmful Effects of Artificial Food Colouring
If you have a small child, you’ve likely met some of their friends or their friends’ parents who proclaim that they cannot have red dye or that they have an allergy to something similar. Without the correct information, it’s easy to take this at face value. But with a bit more research, you’ll quickly discover that these little ones aren’t necessarily allergic to the food dyes but rather, have experienced the dangerous side effects that come with them. It isn’t an isolated event or a rare allergy. It’s just what food dyes do.
Various studies have discovered that synthetic dyes commonly found in children’s food present a vast array of health concerns in children. These dangerous side effects affect their physical and mental health, as well as their behavior, learning, mood and much more.
So, before you pick up those bright-coloured products at the grocery store, take a look at some ways the food dyes can be negatively impacting your child.
Artificial food colouring have been shown to present the following concerns:
- Hyperactivity, including ADHD
- Behavioural changes, such as increased irritability and depression
- Sleep problems and restlessness
- Hives, asthma and allergies
- Learning impairments
- Increased inflammation
- Disruption to the immune system functioning
- Negative impacts on the functioning of the live and other vital organs
- Effects on nerve cell development
- Interference with digestive enzymes
Additionally, some food dyes may contain cancer-causing contaminants. For example, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 may contain Benzidine, 4-aminobiphenyl and 4-aminoazobenzene, which are potential carcinogens. However, they’re allowed in dyes because of the small quantity used, so they’re presumed to be safe.
Types of Artificial Food Dyes
There are 9 artificial food dyes currently approved for use in food as per the FDA. These dyes are found in a vast array of different food products, such as cereals, ice cream, candy, and pastries.
The nine dyes to look out for in foods are:
- Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue): A greenish-blue dye used in canned peas, packaged soups, ice cream, popsicles and icings.
- Blue 2 (Indigo Carmine): A royal blue dye commonly used in candy, cereal, ice cream and snacks.
- Citrus Red 2: A dye used to color the skin of non-organic Florida oranges.
- Green 3 (Fast Green): A green dye used in breakfast cereals, cakes and cupcakes, drink mixers and frozen treats that’s FDA-approved but banned in Europe.
- Orange B (No longer used in the United States but was never officially banned)
- Red 3 (Erythrosine): A cherry-red dye used in candy, cake-decorating gels and popsicles.
- Red 40 (Allura Red): A rich red coloring used in candy, cereals, condiments and sports drinks.
- Yellow 5 (Tartazine): A yellow dye used in candy, cereals, chips, popcorn and soft drinks.
- Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow): An orangeish-yellow dye used in baked foods, candy, preserved fruits and sauces.
The most popular dyes used in foods in the United States are Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. These make up 90% of all food dyes used across the country. Additionally, many foods contain a mixture of artificial coloring to give you a colorful range of potential health risks.
Tips for Avoiding Synthetic Food Dyes
Considering artificial colouring has next-to-no nutritional value and several proven risks, there’s no better time to start removing them from your (and your child’s) diet. The best way to do so is to eat a diet filled with more whole, unprocessed foods. Some common food items that are usually dye-free include:
- Dairy and eggs: Cheese, cottage cheese, eggs, milk, and plain yogurt.
- Meat and poultry: Fresh, unmarinated chicken, beef, fish and pork.
- Nuts and seeds: Cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and unflavored almonds.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables: All fresh fruits and vegetables (but watch out for oranges that contain Citrus Red 2).
- Grains: Barley, brown rice, oats and quinoa.
- Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils and navy beans.
Additionally, these tips can help you identify and avoid artificial colouring:
- Always read the label: Check nutritional labels for any artificial dyes and opt for foods that use natural food coloring from fruit and vegetable extracts instead.
- Look out for dyes in children’s medicine: Some children’s cough syrups and tablets contain food coloring, so look for dye-free options.
- Opt for homemade: Instead of purchasing your child’s favorite cookies, desserts and snacks, try making them at home instead. It gives you some fun family time and you have complete control over what goes in your food. To add in an extra splash of color, use dyes from a natural food store.
- Make healthy food choices a habit: Try to avoid giving your kids processed foods, so they don’t get in the habit of eating them. If they already eat these types of snacks, slowly and gradually swap them out for healthier alternatives. You may also want to take this time to teach your little ones about the importance of making healthy choices for their bodies.
- Model good behavior: Skip the dyes too, mom (and dad!). Lead by example and avoid those dyes too, even if they don’ t have a negative effect on you.
- Teach your children how to make healthier choices: There will be a time when your child is offered a dye-filled drink or snack and will have to decide what to do. Encourage them to opt for healthier alternatives, such as apple juice instead of soda.
While artificial coloring may seem like all fun and games, the negative effects they have on your children’s health, behavior, mood and/or learning just aren’t worth it. What’s worse is that they are in everything, including healthy foods. For example, Citrus Red 2 is used to dye the skin of orange to make them appear more orange. Fortunately, making a few simple changes can help keep your little one’s free of the dangers associated with synthetic food dyes.