Which of these happy childhood memories do you have?
- Decorating Christmas cookies with brightly colored icing
- Dying easter eggs different, fun colors
- Eating brightly colored cereal like Fruit Loops or candy like M&M’s
Do you know what all of these things have in common?
They require the use of artificial food dyes!
Adding Artificial Coloring to Food is Old News
In the early 1900s, it became common for U.S. food manufacturers to add artificial coloring or dyes to foods. The use of artificial food coloring has been steadily increasing since the 1950s. And within the past 50 years, the amount of synthetic dye used in foods has increased by 500%!
Artificial coloring is used in thousands of foods, including soda, breakfast cereals, candies, snack foods, baked goods, frozen desserts, pickles, and salad dressings.
Although artificial coloring is commonly added to food, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to eat. These dyes raise significant health concerns, especially with children.
Read on to find out why we add artificial coloring to food, what synthetic dyes are made from, and the harmful effects they may have on our health.
Why do Food Manufacturers Color Foods with Artificial Dyes?
First, using artificial dyes to color foods gives the food no nutritional value and is used primarily for aesthetic purposes.
Specifically, artificial dyes are added to foods to:
Make the food look more appealing and attractive to consumers, especially to children
Masks are the absence of brightly colored natural ingredients, such as fruit.
They are much cheaper, have a longer shelf-life, and are brighter than most natural food colorings.
What Exactly are Synthetic Dyes aka Coloring Added to Foods?
The FDA defines a color additive as “any substance that imparts color to a food, drug, cosmetic, or the human body.” This definition leaves out a significant tidbit:
Food dyes are man-made, complex chemicals initially made from coal tar but now from petroleum. Petroleum is a crude oil product commonly used to make gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt (the sticky black stuff that a driveway is paved with), and plastic. Sounds pretty tasty.
What Food Dyes are Currently Used in Food?
There are nine synthetic dyes that the FDA currently approves for use in food:
- Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue)
- Blue 2 (Indigo Carmine)
- Citrus Red 2
- Green 3 (Fast Green FCF)
- Orange B (No longer used in the U.S., but was never officially banned)
- Red 3 (Erythrosine)
- Red 40 (Allura Red)
- Yellow 5 (Tartrazine)
- Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow)
Foods commonly contain a mixture of different colored dyes. For example, foods such as cereal, ice cream, candy, and toaster pastries contain all 6 of the most commonly used artificial food colors (Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, & Yellow 6).
Note: *Foodnerd’s 1st ever raw and sprouted mega food cereal, SeeReal, contains only REAL ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, and never any artificial dyes. SeeReal also contains superfood powders that have known health benefits and give the food a natural coloring. These superfood powders include turmeric, cacao, and spirulina.
Is Food Coloring Bad for You?
Over the past 100 years, food dyes have been riskier to our health than any other category of food additives. Despite being commonly used in processed foods, the majority of artificial food colorings have been found to raise significant health concerns:
1. Increases inflammation and disrupts the functioning of the immune system.
- Consumption of foods containing artificial dyes can cause an inflammatory response in the body, which leads to the activation of the immune system (increases the number of white blood cells entering the bloodstream).
- Artificial dyes contain small molecules which can attach to proteins in our bodies. This can cause disruptions in the immune system since the immune system finds it difficult to defend the body against them.
2. Contain cancer-causing, toxic contaminants.
- Some of the most commonly used food dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) are contaminated with known carcinogens or cancer-causing substances, such as 4-aminobiphenyl, 4-aminoazobenzene, and benzidine. According to the FDA, these contaminants are present in food dyes at “safe” levels.
- Red 3 was found to be an animal carcinogen in 1990, but for some reason is still allowed in our food.
3. May cause cancerous tumor development. Some of the most commonly used food dyes are linked to many different forms of cancer:
- Citrus Red 2 caused bladder and other tumors in mice and bladder tumors in rats.
- Red 3 caused thyroid tumors in rats.
- Blue 2 may cause brain and bladder tumors in rats.
- Red 40 may cause reticuloendothelial (immune system cells spread throughout the liver, spleen, and lymphatic system) tumors in mice.
- Yellow 6 may cause adrenal and testicular tumors in rats.
4. Causes hypersensitivity, especially in children.
- Red 40 has been shown to trigger hypersensitivity in children.
- Yellow 5 has been linked to hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, and other unfavorable behavioral effects in children.
- Studies have shown that eliminating artificial food dyes from children’s diets may help reduce symptoms of attention-related disorders and other behavioral problems in children.
Artificial food dyes have also been shown to:
- Negatively impacts the functioning of the liver and other vital organs
- Interfere with the digestive enzymes that our bodies produce to help properly break down the food that we eat
- Increases intestinal permeability aka “leaky gut”
- Linked to respiratory disorders, such as asthma and bronchitis
- Negatively impacts nerve cell development
- Eat REAL food. Strive to eat unprocessed, REAL food that does not contain artificial food dyes or other synthetic food additives (*Foodnerd’s products contain only natural, REAL superfood ingredients*).
- Look at the food label. When choosing to eat processed foods, look at the food label to see if there are any food dyes in the ingredients list. Try to stay away from those foods and eat primarily foods that are colored by natural ingredients.
Most foods containing artificial food dyes are highly processed, have little, if any, natural nutrients, and are high in calories and added sugars. Food dyes are likely to be detrimental to our health, which is supported by the cancer-causing, immune-disrupting, and hypersensitivity effects linked to them.
Remember, what we put in our bodies has a massive effect on our cells, affecting our health and well-being. Do a big favor for your health and choose to put healthy, naturally-colored foods in your body!
- “Color Additives Questions and Answers for Consumers.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 2018, www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/color-additives-questions-and-answers-consumers
- Kobylewski, Sarah, and Michael F. Jacobson. Food dyes: A rainbow of risks. Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2010.
- Kobylewski, Sarah, and Michael F. Jacobson. "Toxicology of food dyes." International journal of occupational and environmental health 18.3 (2012): 220-246.
- Okafor, Sunday N., et al. "Assessment of the health implications of synthetic and natural food colorants—A critical review." UK Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biosciences 4.4 (2016): 01-11.
- Vojdani, Aristo, and Charlene Vojdani. "Immune reactivity to food coloring." Altern. Ther 21 (2015): 1-100.