You can pretty well assume that anything derived from petroleum (i.e. crude oil, also found in gasoline, asphalt, and tar) shouldn’t go in your mouth. But if you need convincing, here are five reasons why.

  1. They are carcinogenic. That means they cause cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that the three most commonly used dyes, Red #40, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6, are contaminated with known carcinogens, and the FDA has recognized Red #3 as a carcinogen for years, yet has failed to ban its use in our food supply.
  2. They cause hyperactivity and are associated with ADD/ADHD. Yellow #5 (tartrazine) is especially linked with childhood behavior problems. Small wonder, since some of the most common kid meals involve artificial cheese flavoring (Cheetos, Goldfish, Kraft Mac and Cheese).
  3. They can cause allergic reactions. Blue #1, Red #40, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6 have all been shown to trigger allergies. And is that any wonder? The immune system mounts an allergic response to unknown invaders, just in case they might be pathogenic. Food dyes are petrochemicals; they’re not food. It makes sense that the body would want to guard against them, doesn’t it?
  4. They convince people to eat processed crap instead of real food. Food dyes add nothing to the flavor of foods, nor do they add nutritional value; but you can bet any food product containing artificial coloring contains a host of other chemicals as well, and chances are it’s been stripped of any real nutritional value long ago. Take the example above of Cheetos, Goldfish, and Kraft Mac and Cheese again: these have been stripped of the fiber and nutrients naturally found in the grain from which they were originally made, leaving only the carbohydrates and the corn or gluten proteins (which have since become common allergens for a variety of reasons). If you read the rest of the ingredient list of any of these products, they contain many other unrecognizable chemicals to boot. These chemicals are partially responsible for toxicity issues, endocrine disruption, and even obesity. Do we really want to entice people to eat more of that crap?

And yet, artificial food colorings are hidden in many of our dietary staples, even those we think of as healthy. Here are some common offenders (but far from an exhaustive list):

  • Lunchables
  • Nutri-Grain breakfast bars
  • Processed sausage. Processed meats are also full of nitrates so you should avoid them for that reason as well.
  • Fruit Roll Ups
  • Yoplait “Light and Fit” Yogurt
  • Minute Maid Lemonade
  • Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
  • Mountain Dew
  • Cheetos and cheddar-flavored crackers
  • M&Ms, Starburst, Skittles, and other candies
  • Kid Cuisine frozen meals
  • Kraft salad dressings
  • Breakfast cereals (Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms—anything that shouldn’t be rainbow-colored but is)
  • Sodas
  • Cakes and baked goods

Alternatives to Food Dyes

Many countries, including Norway and Austria, have already banned artificial food dyes, in favor of natural flavoring alternatives such as beet juice, beta-carotene, blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, grape skin extract, paprika, purple sweet potato or corn, red cabbage, and turmeric. Countries in the European Union and the UK contain warnings against packages containing artificial food dyes, as well.

The moral of the story? If the FDA does not ban these chemicals, it’s up to us to vote with our dollars. If we stop buying fake foods full of petrochemicals, companies will eventually stop producing them. After all, even Wal-Mart and Costco have begun to carry organic, nitrate- and nitrite-free, free range, and other healthy food products.

What you choose to feed your family does make a difference!

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