Artificial Colors: A Real Danger

According to the FDA a color additive is “any dye, pigment or substance which when added or applied to a food, drug or cosmetic, or to the human body, is capable (alone or through reactions with other substances) of imparting color.  The FDA is responsible for regulating all color additives to ensure that foods containing color additives are safe to eat, contain only approved ingredients and are accurately labeled.”

cherry creek first egg This sounds fine on the surface. But remember the FDA is also the organization responsible for the US Dietary Guidelines, the food pyramid, and the condemnation of eggs as a healthy food. The FDA is the organization that says it is safe to feed your children Twinkies and Diet Pepsi but says that milk from healthy cows living outside on green pastures must first be cooked (pasteurized) or it is dangerous.

So, the FDA is responsible for color additives.  They are the ones who say the additives are safe to eat. They are the ones who give approval for the ingredients and make sure they are accurately labeled.  They also allow food companies to claim “Zero grams trans fat!” as long as one serving has 1/2g or less – who cares if your serving size is artificially small (who really only eats one Oreo?).

Why add color to foods? To give the illusion of a healthier product, and for profit.  Color is  added to things that are colorless to make them, in the FDA’s words, “fun”.  Without color additives colas would not be brown, margarine would not be yellow, mint ice cream would not be green and Cheetos would be gray instead of orange.  Food companies say people think colorful food tastes better – no taste testers wanted uncolored Cheetos, they tasted bland even though the taste was identical to the orange-colored version. The vast majority of these colors are synthetically produced. Again the reason comes down to money.  The artificial colors are more intense, more uniform in appearance and less expensive.  Using naturally derived color additives are more expensive and there are some colors that just aren’t available in nature that we have come to expect in certain foods.  Hang around the concession stand at any little league ballgame and you’ll hear a conversation like this: “What flavor do you want?” “Gimme a blue.”  Blue isn’t a flavor, it’s a color, and one not often found in real food, but most kids don’t even know what flavor these colors are supposed to represent anymore – they just know what color they like.

If color were the only thing affected by these synthetic color additives in our food it might not be such a big deal.  But unfortunately there is much, much more than just blue or red sports drinks to worry about.

Numerous independent studies have shown for many, many years that certain people have serious reactions to certain synthetic food additives.  These reactions range from chronic troubles with ear infections and asthma to full-blown attention deficit, learning disabilities and depression. These chemically sensitive people are at the greatest risk but they are not the only ones at risk.  Other numerous independent studies have shown convincing evidence that many synthetic food dyes cause tumors and cancer.

The FDA’s website FAQ section poo-poohs these claims. They say the idea that food additives cause behavioral problems is an old hypothesis from the 1970s. They say eliminating food dyes from children’s diets is extremely difficult and not recommended since it isn’t likely to help anyhow.

Tell that to the thousands and thousands of people who have literally found a new life with the Feingold Diet which is, in essence, eliminating synthetic food dyes and other artificial ingredients from ones diet.

The CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) petitioned the FDA for a complete ban on Red 3 in 2008.  All the way back in 1983 there was a committee who reviewed Red 3 and recommended that it be banned. But due to pressure from other interests the FDA caved and Red 3 is still in use today in spite of convincing evidence that it causes thyroid tumors. You can still find it today in cake icing, fruit roll-ups, ring pops and chewing gum. I have a packaged ring pop sitting on my coffee table as I write this blog that was given to my daughter at a party and Red 3 is on the label. Ironically so are the words “Made With Real Fruit Juice!”  Without the red dye the ring pop wouldn’t look very fruity or appealing.

Yellow 6 is the third most widely used coloring and is found, among other things, in beverages, candy and packaged baked goods.  Yet food industry-sponsored animal tests indicated it caused tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition to that there is no way to produce Yellow 6 without contamination by several known carcinogens including benzidine (linked to bladder and pancreatic cancer and included in the EPA’s list of Chemicals of Concern.) People who are chemically sensitive often have severe hypersensitivity reactions to Yellow 6.  This reaction is so common that any prescription drug containing this color must wear a warning label.  But  bake up a box of butter flavor cake mix and you’ll be eating a lot of it!

If these reasons aren’t enough to make you eliminate synthetic colors from your diet then consider this. These food colors are manufactured from petroleum.  They are NOT FOOD!

I think the CSPI summed it up well with these words: “Most artificial colorings are synthetic chemicals that do not occur in nature.  Because colorings are used almost solely in foods of low nutritional value (candy, soda, gelatin desserts, etc.) you should simply avoid all artificially colored foods.  The use of coloring usually indicates that fruit or other natural ingredients have not been used.”

To add insult to injury you need to know that any food company that sells their products to the United Kingdom or many other foreign countries already has formulations of their products made without artificial colors because they are banned in those countries. Yet the exact same item sold to Americans (usually by American companies) are made with the synthetic version.

photo from CSPI

photo from CSPI



This article was originally written in February of 2011. Since then I received this testimonial from a reader:

comment from “Jenny”

We have been on the Feingold Diet since August 2009 and find it has helped our son SO much… but not only that, it’s just healthier. And the thing is, he can obviously tell a difference in how he feels b/c he doesn’t fight us on it. Yes, he is disappointed occasionally when we say he can’t have a favorite food item, but there is almost always an appropriate alternative. Feingold doesn’t necessarily mean “healthy”, but it is a first step to taking control of what you put in & on your body – and your kids’ bodies; and it’s a wonderful alternative to both unbearable behavior (or medical conditions) and undesirable medications. And if you hesitate to try it, just realize it can’t hurt to try and results can be seen in a matter of days.
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