Synthetic food dyes are seriously everywhere and it’s very hard to avoid them, especially during the brightly colored holiday season. Case in point, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) notes that manufacturers pour about 15 million pounds of synthetic dyes into “kid-friendly” foods annually.
When you buy neon colored breakfast cereals, candy, fruit drinks, and so on, you may think you’re getting some fun for the kids, but what you’re really getting is a heaping dose of chemicals.
Earlier this year, CSPI’s released a new report, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.” The report discusses the many serious health concerns associated with the nine currently approved food dyes used in food products.
Health dangers of fake food dyes
There are many health dangers associated with chemical food dyes. CSPI says parents, well, really everyone should be aware of the following issues…
- The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens (pdf).
- The FDA admits that Red 3, another chemical food dye is a carcinogen, but of course, as we’ve seen before, the FDA isn’t really here to protect consumers, but to support money-making industries.
- Many studies have found that mixtures of chemical food dyes cause hyperactivity and other behavioral impairments in children.
- Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have long been known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Recent tests on lab animals conducted with Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 produced signs of causing cancer, while Yellow 5 also caused mutations.
If they’re so bad, why do companies use dyes?
According to James Huff, associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program, “Dyes add no benefits whatsoever to foods, other than making them more ‘eye-catching’ to increase sales.” Brightly colored foods are seriously appealing to kiddos. Companies know that kids will holler for those rainbow cereals and insanely colored juices, and they know that most parents will give in. But you don’t have to give in.
Synthetic food dyes are purely cosmetic. However, FDA approved uses for fake food color dyes include…
- Avoiding loss of color in highly processed foods, which tend to loose natural color because of exposure to high temperatures, light, air and moisture.
- Coloring for otherwise colorless manufactured foods. Lemon ice cream, for example.
- Making foods more “fun,” for example, candy sprinkles on cookies.
- Enhancing natural (through weakly occurring) color. For example the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) points out that the FDA allows Citrus Red No. 2 to make oranges seem more orange-like.
It’s all about the money. This isn’t a huge shock. Companies want you to have pesticides so they can sell more strawberries. Major players want your family to ingest BPA. Companies and even bloggers will greenwash dairy products, toys and body care products without a second thought, simply to entice you and to eventually sell more product.
The British government and European Union are already taking the necessary steps to get fake food dyes out of food. Food companies in the United States have told CSPI that they’ll continue to use synthetic dyes until either the U.S. government orders them to stop using them or until consumers demand they stop. Since the FDA makes decisions with their wallet, not their brain it’s pretty much up to you – the consumer.
Since just about no one is looking out for your family, you need to get savvy about these issues for yourself and for the health of your family.
It’s 100% unnecessary to use fake food dyes
What’s ridiculous is that there are other options. For example, natural food colorings are available in almost as large of an array of colors as fake food dyes. There’s beet juice, beta-caramel, carotene, carrot juice, chlorophyll, elderberry juice, grape juice/skin, paprika extract, purple corn, purple sweet potato, red cabbage, turmeric and more that can be used in place of fake chemical colors.
Or how about this, we leave food the color it is naturally – god forbid, right.
What kinds of foods contain fake food dye?
Sadly, many items you see today on the grocery shelf contain food dye. Not just neon colored foods either, which would be nice actually, because then your family could avoid these dyes. Here are 12 food products that you wouldn’t assume contain unsafe food dyes, yet they do.
- Duncan Hines Frosting Whipped Frosting Vanilla
- Lender’s Premium Bagels Blueberry
- Country Time Raspberry Lemonade
- Eggo Waffles Homestyle
- Clamato Tomato Cocktail Juice
- Keebler Toast & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers
- Almost every Kraft salad dressing on the market – ranch, Italian and so on
- Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nuggets
- Safeway brand Dill Pickles – AND most every other brand of pickles on the market too
- Smart Start Strong Heart Original Antioxidants Cereal
- Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut Granola Bars Peanut
- Yoplait Light Fat Free Yogurt Berries & Cream – plus most other Yoplait flavors, along with many other yogurt brands and types
As you can see, I tried to choose foods that really, when you think about it, don’t need color right? Vanilla frosting? Tomato juice? Pickles! Really? I don’t think anyone expects a granola bar to pop with color, but yet…
In any case, this is a very small sample of a much larger problem.
Avoid chemical food dyes
- Go organic– via National Organic Policy, organic food and drink products cannot contain synthetic dyes. Buying organic, is hands down, the easiest way to avoid food dyes.
- Read food labels – not all conventional food products contain dyes. Read your labels and avoid the following dyes in particular. Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.
- Eat whole foods – whole foods like bread you make yourself, fresh produce or some minimally processed proteins and dairy don’t contain food dyes, or are less likely to.
- Grow your own food – not only does this teach your child about gardening, but allows your child to see what real food should look like.
- Ban stupid companies – if a company insists on putting food dyes in their products, ban them. Better yet send them an email or letter telling them that you banned them, because of this. Of course when you ban lame companies, you also get to support the good ones.
- Do more – tell the FDA and your elected officals to grant CSPI’s petition to eliminate synthetic dyes from the children’s food supply.
- Change the schools – work on getting your school to offer only foods that are free of synthetic dyes – i.e. this may mean banning vending machines and changing the school lunch system.
- Report it – If you think that someone in your family, especially a child, has been negatively affected by food dye, you should file a report to be sent to the FDA.
How to avoid food dyes during the holidays
The holidays can be a tricky time to avoid fake food dyes. You’re baking at home and using food coloring, plus there’s all that candy hanging around (stocking stuffers, treats, etc). However, it’s not as hard as you might think to avoid fake food dyes, even at home during the holidays.
1. When you bake and decorate cookies, cupcakes and more, use only natural food dyes. Check out the chemical-free options below:
- India Tree Vegetable-Based Natural Decorating Colors
- Seelects’ Natural Vegetable & Plant Based Food Colors
- Seelects’ Organic Food Coloring
2. When you do arts and crafts at home with the kids, also use natural food coloring or make your own homemade tea and plant dyes.
3. When buying holiday treats and candy choose organic manufacturers and/or companies who do not use fake dyes – yup there are some around. See the choices below.
- Pure Fun makes organic candy – and they always have holiday favorites. Cedar loves their Organic Candy Canes.
Yummy Earth makes USDA organic candy treats for all occasions.
- Natural Candy Store has a wide array of organic candy, plus a decent section of natural baking goods.
- When looking for chocolate, simply choose organic (and Fair Trade when possible) to avoid fake colors.
Image Fruit Loop Counter © Flickr user terren in Virginia