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

  • […] anyone else think it’s strange that this brownish looking Life Cereal has artificial yellow dye in it? This is the same dye that requires a warning label when used in Europe (that states “may […]

  • Shannon

    #1 when I was a child, in the 1970’s, I couldn’t have anything with red dye in it because it would make me throw-up. Now as an adult, I seem to be fine. People have told me some reed dyes of the 1970’s are banned now–hmmm, that makes sense.

    #2 I had the chance to sit next to someone at a wedding who worked for Jello and when I asked why food had to be day-glow colored. He told me dyes int he 1950’s use to be flammable…Out of politeness and knowing I would get no where, I ended that conversation.

    #3 I was a nanny with a girl from Norway and she said the bright blue coloring we use has been banned in Norway because it considered a carcinogen–mid 1990’s. The United States is so far behind!

    #4 I tried really hard when my children were born to eliminate artificial coloring and flavoring and that is when the real wake-up call happened. This crap is in everything!! Even “clear” items have it. I gave up for a while I trying to eliminate these poisons, but by youngest has some attention and behavior problems so we are closely looking at his diet and recording what he eats and his behavior–just started, but a lot of work!

    Thanks for posting this information about food dyes! Hopefully more people will start to listen and demand change.

  • Kristin

    Why would companies like Pepsi, GM and Kraft change their product to sell abroad but keep the toxic chemicals within the product to sell here in the U.S.? Is it really THAT much easier/cheaper to use the food dyes to the point that they leave them in for sales and consumption here!? Sad.

  • E Zamboni

    How can we, their customers and reasons for them having businesses, DEMAND they use the UK formulas if available? Can we flood the FDA? Heir complaint lines? Perhaps 2015 is the year to start another petition, this time to FDA and a letter campaign. Just a thought

  • Molly Harris

    I reposted this. I am quite disgusted with our government and the food manufacturers. I would support a petition for sure!

  • Erin

    I am making an Elmo cake for my daughter’s 2nd birthday party and would love to avoid these dyes, but I don’t know of any icing dyes that make true colors (red, orange and black). Do you have any recommendations for alternatives??

  • Sandy

    Thank you for this article. I am severely allergic to Red 40. It is amazing all the things it is in. It took some time, but I gradually changed everything in my pantry to organics. For anyone else with allergies…if you allergic to aspirin you may develop an allergy to Red 40.

    • Rachel

      I have a friend that is also severely allergic to red 40, so I’d like to ask you, do you know if that means you are allergic to petroleum? He has no idea what to avoid other than the dye itself.

  • […] I asked, “What do you do when someone offers your children a treat that’s likely full of artificial dyes/flavors, preservatives, and other chemicals?” I was floored at the range of answers….here are a […]

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