What do children’s cereal, sports water, candy, vitamins and cough syrup all have in common? Bright, hypnotizing artificial colors! Last year when the FDA held hearings for two days on this subject, I have been approached since then by many people with questions relative to this topic. Therefore, here is my soap box answer!
In short, they are harmful and have no benefit other than to make food more appetizing, especially to children. The color of food has nothing to do with taste, it’s all about perception. We are probably looking for foods that are embellished and beautiful. We look with disdain at gray meat and fish and find it much more appealing when it is bright and pink in color. In addition, our minds correlate certain colors to flavors. We view red as very sweet while yellow appears to us as being either tart or sour.
Recent documented studies have linked food dyes to ADHD. Food dyes are of particular concern for children due to the fact that many children’s foods and medicines are dyed artificially so that they may appear far more attractive to children. Additionally, due to the fact that children are smaller in size, they seem to be more susceptible to toxins contained in food dyes. In 2004, a meta-analysis of 16 studies in children who were already hyperactive showed that their condition was exacerbated after ingesting artificial dyes. In 2007, in a study published in Lancet, researchers tested two different mixtures of food dyes vs. placebo in children of two age groups. The first mixture increased hyperactivity in 3 year old children, and both mixtures increased hyperactivity in the 8-9 year old group. The British government took notice of this study and made some progressive changes. Food manufacturers were told to eliminate all use of synthetic dyes by the end of 2009. Unfortunately, companies within the US now make two distinct, separate versions of their products to be manufactured and sold in the US and the UK. For example, Kellogg’s Strawberry Nutri-Grain bars manufactured and sold within the US contain Red #40, Yellow #6 and Blue #1. The UK version is manufactured containing beet root red, annatto and paprika extract. At McDonald’s in England, the strawberry sundae, lo and behold is red and beautiful from, yes, you guessed it, actual strawberries. Within the US, I shamefully must inform you that the strawberry sundae, yes, of course you guessed it, is red due to Red #40! Are you quite confused? Food manufacturers have a choice and yet, they opt to manufacture foods for children that do not contain the natural colors.
Allergist Thom Rosenberg states, “I’ve seen patients here that when they eat a certain food dye they go crazy, hyperactive, throw things, become almost psychotic”. While extreme reaction is rare, it raises the question of how safe are artificial food dyes to produce this kind of reaction in anyone?
Blue #1, Red #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 reportedly produce allergic reactions in some people.
According to a recent report performed by The Center for Science in the Public Interest:
- Red #3 was acknowledged by the FDA to be a carcinogen in 1985 and was banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. However, Red #3 is still used in ingested drugs and foods. (Are we to understand that it was taken out of lipstick and yet continued to be manufactured in children’s food? I am just wondering.)
- The three most widely used dyes (Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6) which account for 90% of dyes in the US are contaminated with low levels of chemical carcinogens, as byproducts of the manufacturing process. Although the FDA places limits on the concentrations of these contaminants in the final dye products, they still may pose risks.
- Citrus Red #2 added to the diet resulted in bladder tumors.
- Red #3 resulted in thyroid tumors and caused DNA damage.
It appears as if the potential risks of food dyes include allergies, hyperactivity and cancer, therefore, why, oh why, are we consuming them while other countries have banned them? Did you know that Starbucks, as a company, does not manufacture or sell beverages or pastries containing food dyes. Great job! Here’s a thought… based on much proven evidence, why don’t we forgo any foods containing these nasty dyes and instead, consume the natural, beautiful colors of the rainbow that mother nature intended us to!