Artificial Colors in Food – A Poison Rainbow?

Those bright and friendly colors that bring joy to your child as she slurps down a drinkable yogurt or mixes Froot Loops with some milk are actually dangerous poisons. Or at least have the potential to wreak various forms of damage to your child – starting from neurological issues and all the way to cancer. These accusations, in yesterday’s press release and research report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit consumer watchdog organization.

The report Food Dyes – A Rainbow of Risks [download PDF] reviews the risks that have been known for quite some time:

Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have long been known to cause allergic reactions in some people. CSPI says that while those reactions are not common, they can be serious and provide reason enough to ban those dyes. Furthermore, numerous studies have demonstrated that dyes cause hyperactivity in children.

Tests on lab animals of Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 showed signs of causing cancer …

Yellow 5 also caused mutations, an indication of possible carcinogenicity, in six of 11 tests…

In addition, according to the report, FDA tests show that the three most-widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are tainted with low levels of cancer-causing compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl in Yellow 5.

What you need to know:

Once upon a time, there were no food colorings. Then folks figured out that food looks better and sells more when it can be enlivened through dyes. For most of food history, the dyes were from natural sources – beet juice for red, turmeric for yellow,etc..

However, in the quest to maximize profit by lowering costs, artificial (and much cheaper) dyes were introduced to market.

Now if the artificial colors were only in candy, parents could worry a bit less. The problem is that the dyes have found their way into so many foods that the levels ingested every day have skyrocketed in recent decades.

Why did the FDA approved these artificial colorings? Because the risk has not been proven sufficiently. In other countries, additives are approved only after safety HAS BEEN proven. Innocent until proven guilty is the US approach to crime, but in the case of dangerous chemicals, shouldn’t we take more precaution and assume guilty until proven innocent?

In Europe, federal agencies have been pressuring the food industry to phase out some of the artificial colors. One example is by requiring warning notices on foods with artificial dyes. Can you imagine Twinkies with a warning label “contains Red #40 and Yellow #5. May cause cancer”?

Don’t hold your breath.

What to do at the supermarket:

In the meantime, scan ingredient lists of cereals, yogurts, cakes, snacks, soups, meats, and virtually any processed product for the colorings in the image above. If you see them, move on to an alternative product. If a product is too bright and colorful, and it’s not a fresh fruit or veggie, be suspicious.

Get Fooducated

  • Kathryn

    So what about using food coloring in homemade foods? Like frosting for a birthday cake? I just read the ingredient list on my package of food coloring, you know the classic rectangular box with four different color squeeze bottles inside, and here’s what it revealed:
    Contains: water, propylene glycol, FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Red #40, FD&C Blue #1, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative)
    That doesn’t exactly look consumer friendly. Should I just stick with white vanilla frosting and regular chocolate frosting instead of making colors like pink and green for cakes and such? Thoughts? Only one or two drops of food coloring can go a very long way…how much is too much?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Kathryn, excellent question. I don’t think anybody has a definitive answer. Are there natural alternatives available in your supermarket? Or maybe at Whole Foods? That would be the best choice.

  • Kathryn

    @Editorial Staff
    A perfect example of learning habits from our parents and then just assuming that’s the way things are: “need food coloring? Okay, this is what I’ve always used before so I’ll just get it.” And that happens nearly all subconsciously. There probably are natural alternatives at some stores nearby, I’ll be sure to look next time :) Thanks!

  • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

    @Kathryn – go to our facebook page, some good people have left some links to places where you can get natural colors….

  • http://www.eatingfree.com Dennis Allio

    I grew up with food coloring as a common way to make deserts more fun. Back then desert was a special treat and probably limited the exposure. It’s sad that the colors are so prevalent in processed foods today. This is just one more reason to spend more time in the kitchen and see how beautiful fresh, home cooked foods are and how good it makes you feel to eat them rather than eating from a box.

    • Rrem80ster

      Knowing what I have went through with my older two and know where I am with my youngest , most hyper one of all..who is starting kindergarten…this all make me cry!!! I love your comment, agree and thank you for posting it.  I wish it was easier I have know idea how to find time and skill to be able to go back to the old day way of doing things in the kitchen for your loved ones, but I have to figure it out!!!! cause this is hurting my kids :(

  • http://thetakebacktour.com Renee

    AMEN!! I have shared about the data from the UK several years ago about artificial colors & preservatives esp. Red #40 causing hyperactivity in young children. Are we just giving our kids artificial colors that make them hyper then punish them for misbehaving? or worse still drugging them with strong drugs when all they need is real food? I know that red #40 specifically makes my son (age 8 now) a different child. When I FINALLY convinced my family to avoid it for a trial, everyone remarked how much calmer and mature he seemed. Someone then gave him a red (red#40) sucker one Valentines’ Day and 35 minutes later he was jumping on the bed and crying because he did not know why he was behaving in such a manner when he knew it was wrong. I bake using real sugar and agave nectar and noticed no differences when he consumes real baked treats without artificial ingredients. I have also noticed the aggression with red#40 consumption. Other parents with whom I have shared this information have also noticed the significant reduction in aggression in their boys and general calmness in their kids in just 3 days without Red#40! Red#40 is the hardest to avoid as it is in everything from white icing (why is red dye in white icing?) to children’s medicines. Thank goodness some companies make dye-free versions of children’s medicines. Stock up on the dye free because sometimes they are discontinued. For a list of snacks for kids WITHOUT artificial colors or preservatives you can find in your regular grocery store for a reasonable price, check out http://www.thetakebacktour.com/1/archives/03-2010/1.html for the guilt-free lunchbox treats.

    • Rrem80ster

      I am soooooooooo thankful there are you people who have researched and have experiences and are here telling others!!!!!!!! I have very hyper children and I need to help them and rid them of the poison meds the docs prescribed and geton track with you all and find out what is effecting them …I just feel like it will be SOO hard because everything is so full of artificial and dyes in this country :(

  • http://wiyama.com Joanna Davis

    @Kathryn
    These dyes are the same as what is in our foods, and the little bottles are a hugely concentrated form. Two of my children are HIGHLY sensitive to blue #1. One of them twitches and has ticks if he gets it. It is creepy to see. The other was so hyper as a small child that one time, after eating fruit gummies, I thought I was going to have to take him to the hospital. We have phase ALL food dyes out of our diet. It took us over a year to get it all out. You would be surprised what it’s in. Macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, cheese its, etc…

    You can get natural dyes at any health food store. I have used blueberry syrup to color frosting once, and chlorophyll tincture make an excellent green dye. Raspberries can be cooked down into a syrup, strained and can make a reddish dye. Tumeric can make a pretty yellow dye. There are ways if you need to decorate a cake, to do it w/o risking your health.

    Now… next on our to go list… the Microwave! *evil grin* (my family will LOoooooove this one)

  • Poppy Pembroke

    I made pink frosting for my daughter’s birthday cake using some beet juice. Everyone loved it!

  • Amy

    Whole Foods and most local health-food stores carry natural food colorings. Usually made with glycerin and beet juice (red), turmeric (yellow), or blueberry extract (blue). A little more vegetable-y and dull than you might be used to, but totally worth it to me. My kids don’t notice anything because we don’t buy ANYTHING with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s not all that hard a switch to make if you do it gradually, and then once you’ve made it, it becomes second nature.

    We liven things up by mashing and freezing, or just plain freezing, fresh in-season fruits at this time of year, and then trotting them out as toppings for birthdays and holidays in the winter. At Christmas, we get a lot of red in through cranberries, which are native to our area and still hanging on then.

  • kathy minns

    And my sons allergists insists there is no connection between red dye and hyperactivity ect……INSISTS!!!!Some of the red dyes are made from insects which could cause an allergy….but supposedly the kosher ones do not and But I have seem reactions…even something as much as a burn mark on the skin….May be I am hallucinating……again…. Anyone hacve a reaction from red licorice??

    The food dyes from Walmart contain carcinegenic food dyes. My daughter did a science project and looked them up and all were know to be carcinogens yet they sell them as food additives….

    Chines dry wall. chinese dog food, Melamine food dishes/bowls from China…Are they dangerous? Bottled water hahahahah… water from the tap!!!!!
    Getting scared to but anyting but natural……Even then they coat them with poisons….

    • Loisduff

      i have seen the effects of artificial coloring in my family and it is dangerous. my son nearly died of asthma attacks untill he was 4 years old and i heard dr fiengold on the television. read his books put my son on a color free diet and no more hyperactivity or asthma attacks. and people are wondering why they cant control the kids in school and what is causeing all the autism in children in the us. other countrys dont permit it in thier foods. money controls this society. the fda will never ban these colors you just have to read your lables.

      • Enamc13

        my kids have been on the feingold program for 2 wks now. I was just wondering if you only eliminated the artificial colors or if you also eliminiated artificial flavors and preservatives. I have done all 3 and was wondering if you saw a significant difference with just eliminating the colors.

        • Loisduff

          all i eliminated was the colors. i didnt even restrict sugar like so many claim causes hyper behavior. of course every child is different. the dyes were our problem and still is. does your child get a geographic tougn (sp?) when he has eaten artificially colored food. that is an indication of an allergy to something they ate.  a geographic tougn looks like a map with red and raised places on it.  i wish they would ban all of the dyes. other countries dont allow them

      • Rrem80ster

        you are SOOO right I totally AGREE  and I thank you for posting this :)

  • http://www.babyminding.com Jennifer

    There is a similar post today at babyminding.com. It also includes some additional information that you may find really gross like I did. Can’t wait until artificial food coloring is banned in the U.S….

    • Rrem80ster

      yeah I wish but this will probably never happen :(

  • rainbow riches

    Food coloring can be used generally but not totally everyday…it just gives a twist to our favorite foods.

  • mama

    You can always use fruits to color food.If you use a juicer you can get the color and flavor from strawberries,blueberries,mulberries,cherries,carrots,plums,avocado,pineapple,etc,etc, instead of making food look pretty make them taste good with lots of fruit flavor,there is an indefinite amount of choices.decorate it with the fruit itself by making fun shapes out of them.You will have lots of different color and eatable adornments.

  • K.

    As someone who has struggled with hyperactivity (ADHD) throughout life, I am a little saddened to see you link to an opinion article about how “food dyes cause hyperactivity!” I have never experienced it, however, I know that my own anecdote is not going to hold up much water.

    I do want to present a different idea, that maybe it’s not the food dyes but the type of products that use large amounts of food dyes are usually saturated with sugars, high trans fats, and all sorts of not-so-great-things. I guess the question would be what type of food products have the highest content of these dyes?

  • paula

    Need an opinion about food dyes and anger/emotional issues with my 8 year old son, just now learning about food dyes and hyper activity,

    • D.

      We’re just now trying this with our kids ages 4 and 8. The youngest, my son, was having some severe outbursts and struggles with hyperactivity. A friend mentioned that she had tried this with her son and saw some difference so I did my own research. We decided to take away all foods in our house that had any dye. And included medicine and toothpaste (yes the dye is in those too!). We’re on week 3 and are almost completely dye free (Easter was tricky!). It has taken awhile but we’re finally starting to see some results. The outbursts come less frequently and my son us actually starting to listen more when we speak to him. My children are starting to get along better and are more peaceful towered each other than before. They do still argue, but I have seen improvements! Its definitely not a cure-all, but we’re pleased with how things are changing. I will tell you this: don’t expect quick results. Like I said, we’re on week 3 and sometimes find dye in stuff I didn’t think about. Also, for us the first 2 weeks were really hard! It was like taking a drug addict of drugs cold turkey. His outbursts actually got worse and I just wanted to cry. But sticking it out had been worth it, especially for the health of my children. Good luck!!

  • MaryseTorres

    wow i didnt know that its so weird nd creppy

  • butt

    i like this because it cool

  • love u

    twinlies cause cancer

  • ANonyMs

    Found this after having a reaction to what I can only assume was Yellow #5 three times in last two weeks. It was the only common ingredient in the trigger foods. But I am having a very hard time finding real information on this. There seems to be little scientific research. My reaction is anaphalactic, so it is not just a “sensitivity” or something I want to “try” to avoid…but getting info and testing is proving difficult. Any advice or resources?

    • http://www.facebook.com/meganlee32590 Megan Lee Freeman

      Yellow 5 has the same effect on me, the doctors all thought I was crazy so I took matters into my own hands and stopped eating and drinking everything with Red 40 (which I am also allergic too) and Yellow 5 as well as 6 and the allergic reactions went away. Unfortunately this is hard when going out to dinner so every now and again I have a mild allergic reaction but at least I know now what it’s to. So my best advice for you is to cut Yellow 5 out of your diet, it’s not easy as nearly EVERYTHING has it in it, but it’s not impossible. Good luck and hope this helped some.

  • Ckleppetsch

    .This is not something new. My step brother was diagnosed over 30 years ago. And we decided to look into all sorts of things from food, additives, soaps, carpets,etc. We took him off all food coloring, dyes, and started using natural soaps. We were all amazed what a. NEW kid he was and got him off all meds. (Which the side effects are/were scary in itself ). He was a happier child which made life for everyone a lot better and easier. We could always tell when he would eat something with dyes in it. We also used an all natural similar diet she. My Mother got diagnosed with cancer. Except we cut her red meat down to once a week and used beans as a meat/protein substitute. Back 30 yrs ago their wasn’t “AS” many colorings/additives/high fruitose syrup out there. Now its just a convience issue, and slap the stuff together because people are busier now then. Before and don’t take the time to make healthy meals. As time has gone on our food quality SUCKS! Never have outbreaks of bad toxins in our food like we do weekly. So sad.

    • Rrem80ster

      thanks for your reply! :)  I find it so hard to know how to make wholesome food, time is a real factor in making this difficult today.  I am trying and it has been going well.  I especially make sure that they are not eating a lunch at school that has any of this in the foods I give them to take.  I have taken all my kids off meds and I will not turn back, they are doing alright so far in school.