Dangerous Dyes Hidden in Your Food

Food has been colored since ancient times. There are many natural ingredients that can be used to change or enhance the color of food. Beet juice, for example, can dye foods pink and turmeric works for yellow. In recent years, the food industry has taken this to a whole new level.

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Hidden Dyes in 10 Foods You Would Never Expect

When it comes to food and other household products, we like them to look the way we think they ought to look. For some reason, we all think the mouthwash ought to look bright blue and that stomach medicine ought to be brilliant pink. We want baked goods that look golden brown and lemon juice that is bright yellow. And what kid doesn’t love to see multicolored snacks and vibrantly colored beverages?

Food has been colored since ancient times. There are many natural ingredients that can be used to change or enhance the color of food. Beet juice, for example, can dye foods pink and turmeric works for yellow. In recent years, the food industry has taken this to a whole new level.

Moreover, the way food colorings are described confuses us even more. In the United States, if a food says it contains “artificial colors” or notes “artificial color added,” it means that natural food dyes have been used. Yes, in the world of food additives, “artificial dye” means “natural dye.” When dyes are synthetic (made in a laboratory), they are sometimes called “certified colors” and often appear on labels as a color and number, such as Red 40 or Green 3.

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Synthetic dyes have been around for years, but Americans today consume five times as much synthetic dye material as they did in the 1950s—and dyes go far beyond the food chain. Synthetic food dyes have been linked to serious health concerns. Some of the most frequently used synthetic dyes (Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40) have been associatedwith cancer. Children seem to be particularly vulnerable to synthetic dyes (possibly because they are smaller) and pediatric use of synthetic dyes has been tied to hyperactivity, allergies, learning disorders, mood disorders, and behavioral issues. The evidence for the dye-associated risks is so compelling that the European Parliament took steps in 2010 to help phase out their use. In the U.S., the FDA is still considering how to handle synthetic food dyes, possibly requiring warning labels.

Meanwhile, they’re out there. Most of the time, they appear on labels with the color and number designation. However, sometimes they lurk behind innocent-sounding names, like “caramel coloring,” which is sugar processed with ammonia or sulfites or both.

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Jo Ann LeQuang
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