Anyone who has ever looked at a nutrition label knows that there are lots of additives in the foods we eat. Some of these additives may help enhance freshness, keep food from spoiling, or boost its nutritional impact. In fact, the FDA regulates about 2,500 food additives that you could be ingesting. Out of these thousands of additives, there are seven that you really should know about.
These are chemical dyes. Unlike additives to fortify food or help preserve it, food dyes offer no nutritional benefit, or any other benefit for that matter. Food dyes exist only to make food look better. Beyond that, they serve no purpose. That would not be so bad if food dyes were all made from beets or saffron or paprika or turmeric other foods—and some are. But some aren’t.
Here are 10 things you need to know about what could be lurking in the food you eat every day.
1. When it comes to food labels reporting the use of food dyes, you are entering the Bizarrouniverse. If a label describes something as “artificial coloring,” that is actually a good thing because the term “artificial color” refers to a coloring derived from nature. If a food coloring is cooked up in a laboratory, the FDA requires that it appear on the nutritional label as a name and a number, such as Red 40 or Yellow 5.
2. Please do not assume you can avoid food dyes by eating fruits and vegetables. Dyes are sometimes used to orange-up the citrus fruit or to beautify other whole foods.
3.There is very good evidence … now stay with me … that certain children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are made worse by certain food dyes. Medical journals have been reporting on this since the 1970s and the FDA has been denying it until 2011, when the FDA suddenly said it was true. Parents of ADHD children should know that science has been aware for decades that some food dyes are no good for your kids. Since no kid needs artificial food dyes, avoid them.
4. Speaking of ADHD, Ritalin®, a drug used to treat the condition, contains titanium dioxide and Ferric Oxide Yellow, an inorganic yellow pigment. These additives are not associated with worsening ADHD, but do we really need to dye our medicines?
5. Many food dyes in common use in the USA are banned in Great Britain. Contrary to industry assumptions, Brits are still eating their M&Ms—they just use different colorings.
6. Many food dyes in use in the USA are called “azo dyes.” Marketing types like to say they are coal-tar derivatives, which is a nice way of saying that we get them from industrial waste. I hope you do not need an authority to tell you it is not healthful to eat industrial waste.
7. Adverse effects linked to artificial dyes and reported to the FDA include everything from hives, itchy skin, hyperactivity, respiratory problems, and cancer.
8. In 1908, US law allowed for the use of 80 dyes in foods; in 2012, there are nine synthetic dyes allowed (two of them are only allowed for use in whole foods, like oranges). However, Americans today consume five times as much food dye per capita than Americans in 1955.
9. Organic whole foods should not contain dyes but processed foods made from organic ingredients might.
10. If you ingest very large amounts of blue food colorings, it can change the color of your stool to bright green.