Real Food Tips: 7 Reasons I Hate Artificial Food Dyes

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Artificial food dye, synthetic food dye, food coloring, FD&C Red No. 40, or Tartrazine (a.k.a. Yellow No. 5)… whatever name it’s listed under, it is all pretty much the same stuff. And as I’ve said on this site before I have no problem occasionally digging into yummy homemade treats made with plenty of chocolate, sugar, or whatever else we’re craving, but what I NEVER want to “treat” myself (or my children) to is a dose of chemicals derived from petroleum. Yep, no typos there…that’s what artificial food dye is made from and unfortunately the 15 million pounds of food dye used in the U.S. per year (5 times more than in 1955) is in much more than just colorful icing these days. Dyes, made from the same petroleum that fuels our vehicles, is turning up in an insane amount of packaged foods including Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Minute Maid Lemonade, Lunchables, Fruit Roll Ups, Cheetos, and even “Light and Fit” Yoplait Yogurt. And the crazy thing is these companies tell us right there on the ingredient label that artificial color (and sometimes “artificial flavoring”) has been added…but most consumers don’t seem to be fazed by it.

Upon discovering what this (seemingly harmless and common) additive is made from I had to tell my daughters. I explained how it’s in thousands of products including birthday party cupcakes, salad dressing, cough syrup, and even daddy’s mouthwash. Rightfully so my 1st grader looked at me a little shocked and went on to say, “Can we write a letter to the president?” Now I love how that girl thinks, but at the same time it broke my heart that my innocent child thought that’s all it would take. If we just told the president that food companies were feeding us petroleum based chemicals disguised as brightly colored food dyes he surely wouldn’t allow it anymore. And while I am not very good at politics myself what I’d like to be good at is educating and influencing all of you to vote with your dollars. I truly believe that if consumers stop purchasing artificially dyed and flavored foods we can make an impact. If enough of us speak up the big food companies will listen to consumer demand. And I know this for a fact because that’s exactly what’s happened in other countries outside of the U.S (check out #3 below).…we are apparently just behind the curve on this one.

7 Reasons I Hate Artificial Food Dyes

1. They are made in a lab with chemicals derived from petroleum, a crude oil product, which also happens to be used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and tar. “Artificial food dyes are made from petroleum and approved for use by the FDA to enhance the color of processed foods.”

2. They’ve been linked to long-term health problems such as cancer. If you’re a child of the ‘80s (like me) do you remember that rumor about red M&Ms causing cancer? Maybe it wasn’t just a rumor after all. “The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens, says CSPI. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply.” FYI – According to Wikipedia, “A carcinogen is any substance … that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer.” !!! “There’s no good reason not to ban Red 3, something then-acting FDA commissioner Mark Novitch tried to do in 1984, saying the dye ‘has clearly been shown to induce cancer’ and was ‘of greatest public health concern.’ … Other dyes, namely Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are known to cause allergic reactions in some people and have shown signs of causing cancer in lab animals. Of course, this isn’t the same thing as leading to cancer in humans, but it argues for limiting intake, especially among children, who are getting the biggest dose of food colorings from a gazillion brightly colored, fun-looking foods.”

3. Did you know that food products containing artificial dye are required to have a warning label in the U.K.? The label states that the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” So speaking of M&Ms, they aren’t so brightly colored in some countries outside of the U.S. because manufacturers would rather do away with the artificial dye than have to put a warning label on their products. “This is why if you eat a Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bar in the United States, it will contain Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1. But that same bar in the UK contains only the natural colorings beetroot red, annatto and paprika extract. In fact, the UK branches of Wal-Mart, Kraft, Coca-Cola and Mars have removed artificial colors, sodium benzoate and aspartame from their product lines as a result of consumer demand and government recommendations. In the United States, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow these toxic ingredients in countless popular foods, including those marketed directly to children.” Many Grocery Manufacturers Association members (like Pepsi, Kraft and General Mills) “have switched to natural colorings in their products in the U.K., where warning labels are required, but they’re not doing that here for the most part. That’s because no one’s making them do it, and switching would cost a lot of money.”

4. Synthetic food dyes have been shown to cause an increase in hyperactivity in children as well as a negative impact on their ability to learn.”Artificial food dyes (in combination with a common preservative) could make even children with no known behavioral problems hyperactive and inattentive.” “The science shows that kids’ behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they’re added to the their diets.” and “While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it’s hard to justify their continued use in foods—especially those foods heavily marketed to young children.” “According to scientific studies, these dyes are causing behavioral problems and disrupting children’s attention.”

5. They add absolutely no value to the foods we are eating, but do in-fact pose quite a few serious risks. “Without color additives, colas wouldn’t be brown, margarine wouldn’t be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn’t be green. Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat.” “These dyes have no purpose whatsoever other than to sell junk food.” “These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody. The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”

6. They trick your senses…just like other artificial additives including sweeteners.

In Defense of Food: “One of the problems with the products of food science is that, as Joan Gussow has pointed out, they lie to your body; their artificial colors and flavors and synthetic sweeteners and novel fats confound the senses we rely on to assess new foods and prepare our bodies to deal with them. Foods that lie leave us with little choice but to eat by the numbers, consulting labels rather than our senses.”

7. They are contributing to the obesity epidemic by attracting children (and adults) to highly processed food, which in many cases is being eaten instead of fresh whole foods. “Beyond the behavioral problems and cancer risks, the greatest hazard that dyes pose for children may also be the most obvious: They draw kids away from nutritious foods and toward brightly colored processed products that are high in calories but low in nutrients, such as fruit-flavored drinks and snack foods. Those types of foods are a major force in America’s obesity epidemic.”

Disclosure: My children do occasionally eat foods containing artificial dye because it’s provided to them by teachers, other parents, and friends, but it’s not something we spend our own money on anymore.

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451 comments to Real Food Tips: 7 Reasons I Hate Artificial Food Dyes

  • […] and even artificial colors are added to many of their “fresh” vegetable offerings – like the banana peppers and […]

  • […] used it before ourselves years ago), but what about the unnecessary extras it comes with like artificial flavors, sweeteners, and color (yellow 6)? We’ve already discussed some disturbing facts about the artificial dyes that require a […]

  • Eve

    Hello, I am in the process of transitioning my family to a dye free diet. Other than the obvious artificial coloring names (yellow 6, red 40, caramel color…)what other names should I be looking for? Are there hidden names for some of these artificial colors? Thanks in advance for your professional input!

  • Kristi

    I have recently become aware of the dangers of artificial dyes in foods. It started because of behavior problems in one of my children . But I honestly just learned even more by reading the above article. It seems if the 89,000 people who have shared this story could band together we could make a change. Where do I start?
    Concerned in OH

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Kristi. Start where you are by educating yourself and the people you care about. Let people know that we can all vote with our wallets by not buying foods from companies who act irresponsibly with our health. Food companies are waking up to the fact that consumers have power when they have a voice. Knowledge and passion are key. Did you read Lisa’s posts regarding their petition against Kraft: It’s a good example of what can work. In the end, Kraft did remove artificial dyes from some of their products. :) ~Amy

  • […] Food dyes (yellow 5, red 40, blue 1, to name a few) […]

  • […] Try This: Yummy Earth Organic Lollipops 2. Avoid This: Artificial Food Coloring 3. Read This: Why Can’t my Child Behave by Jane Hersey 4. Watch This: How to Make Natural […]

  • […] discussed GMO’s here, Artificial Colors here, Carrageenan here, Antibiotics here, and rBGH here before so I won’t go into them again in detail […]

  • […] discussed GMO’s here, Artificial Colors here, Carrageenan here, Antibiotics here, and rBGH here before so I won’t go into them again in detail […]

  • […] discussed GMO’s here, Artificial Colors here, Carrageenan here, Antibiotics here, and rBGH here before so I won’t go into them again in […]

  • Darren Bridgewater

    Just wanted to chime in in support of requirements such as those in the UK, I was born there in the late 80′s and grew up eating with no real problem, I could eat candy if I wanted to, drink soda etc. Around when I started dating my now wife (american) I suddenly had a serious of huge allergic reactions, turns out her lipstick was colored using Red 40.

    Suddenly links were made to more minor allergic reactions from when I Was younger occasionally eating cheaper frozen meals which looking back were artificially colored. However they were rare, even in the ‘cheap’ supermarkets with dollar frozen meals and every candy under the sun, almost all state ‘No artificial flavors, colours, or preservatives’.

    I thought this was the norm until I moved to the US about 4 years ago, suddenly I can’t drink any cocktail with a color as colors aren’t legally required to be reported on alcohol, amlost all candy is off limits to me, as are things like sprinkles on cupcakes, white icing sometimes, body wash (WHITE!), certain types of floss. It’s honestly ridiculous how many things these colors are in.

    It’s obviously doable, as many other countries are close to dye free, but in the US it seems that money talks louder than citizens and there are way too many lobby groups who simply pay off their studies and their congresspeople.

  • […] and even artificial colors are added to many of their “fresh” vegetable offerings – like the banana peppers and pickles. […]

  • Millie Brady

    I told my daughter today that we couldn’t buy something that had artificial colors and flavors and she said, at 5 years old, “Why do people make food with artificial stuff in it? Why? Do they want us to be sick? Or sad? They need to stop doing that!”

    Enough said.

  • […] For more information on dyes that are added to our foods: Center For Science In the Public Interest Says Food Dyes Pose a Rainbow of Risks,  Finding and Avoiding Artificial Food Dyes and 7 Reasons I Hate Artificial Food Dyes […]

  • […] ideas to get your family feeling the Luck O’ the Irish! (You will notice that there is no hazardous artificial green food colouring to be […]

  • I love that your article is packed full of information without being overwhelming. I’ll be sharing a link to this page in an upcoming post for my blog. Thanks!

  • Cody P

    I’m sorry, but I can’t take an article seriously when it starts saying dyes are “all pretty much the same stuff.” If you’ve done your research, you’ll know that Orange No. 1 and Red No. 2 are way more dangerous than most other dyes, for example. Plus, saying “They are made in a lab with chemicals derived from petroleum” is simply spreading fear, not reason. Vitamins and medications are made in a lab, sometimes with petroleum, which is a rich source of hydrocarbons. You wouldn’t say someone should avoid treating wounds with Neosporin just because it’s made in a lab with petroleum, would you?
    Also, the FDA recently released a statement that after dozens of studies, the link between artificial dyes and ADHD is uncertain.

  • […] Unless you’re paying big bucks for a natural toothpaste you’ll probably find that sodium fluoride is the main ingredient. And, further down the list you’ll find stuff like sodium laurel sulfate and artificial dye(s). […]

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