Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives

Food Coloring


You could see these mixes as soon as you walked down the aisle. I just had to take a photo. I’ve been using natural dyes for many years; sometimes purchasing them and sometimes making my own, so the thought of buying anything that practically glows in the dark is cringe-worthy.

The average American consumes approximately 15 pounds of artificial coloring a year, sometimes by purchasing the obvious, like these cake mixes, and often times because we don’t look for them. Artificial colors can be in bread, sausage, fish, frosting, chips, crackers, and so many more items.

Here’s an article by the Environmental Working Group that is a great summary on the topic:

Artificial Colors

Artificial colors are often used to increase the appeal of foods that have little nutritional value. Questions have been raised about the safety of one class of synthetic colors, called FD&C (Food, Drug & Cosmetics) colors, and contaminants in other artificial colorings as well.

Caramel colors III and IV, for example, may be contaminated with 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), which caused tumors in a National Toxicology Program study (NTP 2004). The European Food Safety Authority has expressed concern about furan contamination, which is also associated with cancer (EFSA 2011b).

There is ongoing debate about the effects of the synthetic FD&C colors on children’s behavior. Some studies have found that mixtures of synthetic colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate were associated with hyperactivity (Bateman 2004; McCann 2007). The European Food Safety Authority concluded that synthetic coloring mixtures may have a “small and statistically significant effect on activity and attention in children,” and that this effect may be an issue for certain sensitive individuals (EFSA 2008a). Other studies have not found an association between hyperactivity and synthetic food coloring (Arnold 2012; EFSA 2008a).

Avoiding artificial colors such as Caramel III and IV can be difficult. Current regulation allows food manufacturers to simply print artificial color on the product label if the ingredient is on an FDA-approved list. But consumers can easily avoid the synthetic colors on FDA’s separate FD&C-certified list because they must be shown on the label with their full or abbreviated name, such as FD&C Yellow 5 or Yellow 5.

Here are specific details regarding each color:

Blue #1, found in baked goods, candy, and soft drinks, has been shown to damage the chromosomes in a cell’s nucleus, contributing to uncontrolled cell mutation and division that is a precursor to cancer.  In seriously ill patients, blue #1 use was associated with serious complications such as refractory hypotension, metabolic acidosis and death.

Blue #2, which is found in pet food beverages, and candy, may cause brain tumors.

Citrus Red #1 is sprayed on green oranges to make them look ripe. Like Blue #1, this dye fractures the chromosomes in a cell’s nucleus and can lead to cancer. The FDA has proposed a ban on Citrus Red #1.

Citrus Red #2, used to color the skins of some Florida oranges, can cause cancer if the peel is eaten.

Green #3, found rarely in candy and beverages, has been implicated as a cause of bladder tumors.

Red #3 is often added to canned cherry pie filling, maraschino cherries, baked goods and ice cream. Studies have linked this dye to nerve damage and to thyroid cancer.

Red #40 is found in soda, candy, gelatin desserts, pastry, pet food, and sausage, and is a suspected carcinogen.

Yellow #5 is the second most widely used colorant, and it contributes to behavioral disturbances in children, and can cause allergic reactions, primarily in aspirin sensitive individuals. It’s found in gelatin desserts, candy, pet food, and baked goods.

Yellow #6 can cause tumors in the adrenal glands and kidneys. It is found in beverages, sausage, baked goods, candy, and gelatin.



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