Dangers of Artificial Food Dyes

by Michelle on March 29, 2011

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One thing I’ve been noticing a lot lately is the abundance of food dyes in all sorts of items at the grocery store. While it’s certainly nice for food to be attractive, do we really need potentially dangerous chemicals to do this, and if so, at what cost to our health? To me, it seems unnecessary to use food dyes since they add no nutritional value or even taste. And while I expect to find food dyes in highly processed foods (and unfortunately even some whole foods- more on this below), I especially dislike how they are so prevalent in kid-favorite foods.

Take a look around on your next trip to the grocery store and you’ll see an enormous selection of fake colored juices, popsicles, ice cream, cereals, candy, cookies, pop, cakes, and snacks. The artificial colors are everywhere and can make quite a trap for shoppers who might very well buy based on looks instead of actual taste and nutrition (although food dyes don’t even begin to touch on the lacking nutrition in these foods).

But what really irks me about this whole set-up is that for any dangers in consuming food dyes, kids are really taking the brunt of the impact. Natural News states that artificial food dyes are produced from petroleum (obviously not something we’re meant to eat!) and that some colors have actually been banned in the past for causing cancer.

In addition, there is some still question as to whether the food dyes currently being used are even safe. CSPI states that the three most used dyes (Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40) contain carcinogens. Some food dyes have also attributed to learning disabilities, ADHD, and violent behavior. This is pretty scary stuff just to make food look more appealing!

Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, consumers still have to be careful even if purchasing whole, nutritious foods (such as fresh fruits and vegetables) as some dyes are allowed to color foods that were picked before being ripe to give the appearance of freshness and nutrition. Shoppers can easily be fooled by a fruit, such as an orange, vibrantly colored unnaturally and without the true nutrition that should be present.

Overall, for mass produced food items, it’s not possible to tell the quality of a product just by looking at it. Instead, it’s important to know how the food was grown and processed. This is another reason for the importance of purchasing locally grown foods that are truly fresh as well as getting to know the farm’s practices so you can be sure of safe and quality products.

Luckily, there are also some more naturally produced foods which use colors derived from vegetables and plants such as beet juice and annatto. These natural dyes can often be found in organic products and in food items at health stores. There’s also plenty of delicious snack options that can be easily prepared for kids without artificial coloring. For example, try making homemade popsicles from blended fruit, smoothies, natural sodas, or homemade ice cream (even if you just use a banana to make it!).

And last, but not least, I have to share one more thing with you. A “fun fact” so to speak. Guess how the food dye called carmine (a.k.a. Red #4) is made?

With ground up insects. Beetles to be exact.

I’ll pass.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mandi @ Life Your Way March 30, 2011 at 6:51 am

Great post, Michelle! Getting rid of food dyes is my next baby step (and I’ll admit I’m dreading it after all the pushback I’ve gotten from my family on other changes), and I’m reading everything I can about them in preparation.

Thanks so much for linking to Life…Your Way!

Michelle March 30, 2011 at 9:23 am

Thanks, Mandi! I’m with you, dyes are a tough step because it seems like they are in everything. And I know what you mean about pushback, it takes a while sometimes but luckily my husband usually comes around! And I’m looking forward to trying the banana ice cream myself! :)

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