Don’t (Color) Blindly Trust Your Food

Updated: Mar 14





When we walk into the grocery store, we want to be able to make a selection from any of the items available on the shelves. Unfortunately, there are many harmful ingredients hiding in most pre-packaged and processed foods. Many of the food additives allowed in food in the United States are banned in several other countries. In fact, many companies that use artificial food dyes in the United States, use natural coloring methods in their European products, due to the stricter regulations. For this reason, it is important to read ingredient labels on every item you intend to purchase.

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the ingredients that are potentially hazardous to your health! There are some obvious ingredients to try to reduce from our daily lives, and then there are others that could potentially cause harm, that you may want to reduce where you can. Its especially important to pay attention to the ingredients in the food our children are consuming. Food marketed to children tends to come in bright, attractive colors. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay, to our health, when consuming brightly colored food products. Artificial food dyes are a common food additive, but are easy enough to avoid, if you are paying attention.


When reading an ingredient label, artificial dyes are listed as “Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, or caramel color”. Each of these different chemical colorants comes with their own risks of adverse effects to your health. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks”, the currently approved artificial food dyes raise several health concerns. CSPI advises more studies need to be done, but since there is no health benefit to these additives, they should not be included in food products until more research can be done to confirm their safety.


Red 40 is the most widely used and consumed food dye, but comes with the risk of triggering hyperactivity in children, especially those with Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This has been reported from wide-scale anecdotal evidence. In some studies, when exposed to Red 40, mice experienced an acceleration of immune-system tumors. Additional concerns surrounding the consumption of Red 40 is chromosomal damage and lymphomas. Red 40 is also an ingredient in some medications typically prescribed for ADHD treatment, which would seem counterintuitive if there is a possibility of increased hyperactivity.

There is also evidence to support Yellow 5 contributing to hyperactivity and other adverse effects children’s behavior, including aggression and violent behavior. Consumption of Yellow 5 has been linked to chromosomal damage, neurochemical effects, insomnia, asthma, thyroid tumors, lymphomas, and allergies. Yellow 5 is banned from use in Norway. Consumption of Yellow 6 has been linked to adrenal tumors in animal studies. It has also been found to cause hyperactivity, chromosomal damage, thyroid tumors, allergies, asthma, eczema, and hives. It is banned from use in Norway and Sweden.


Although it was recognized in 1990 as a thyroid carcinogen in animal studies, Red 3 can still be found added to some food products. Red 3 can have neurochemical and behavioral effects and cause chromosomal damage. Blue 1, which is banned in both France and Finland, has been shown to cause chromosomal damage. In animal studies, consumption of Blue 1 was possibly linked to kidney tumors in mice. Similarly, rats consuming Blue 2 had a higher incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas. Blue 2 is banned from use in Norway.


Finally, caramel color, which is commonly found in sodas, may contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical, 4-methylimidazole. Individually and in small quantities, the FDA has approved these ingredients for use in our food. However, due to the large amount of health concerns, it would seem beneficial to continue studying these ingredients, especially because they are found in so many food products marketed directly to children. Some of these popular children’s snacks contain these harmful artificial dyes, including Doritos, Cheetos, Fruits snacks, Fruit Loops, Toaster Strudels, and freezer pops, just to name a few. If we can reduce the harm from consuming these chemicals in smaller quantities or eliminating them all together, it is a good place to start in improving one’s overall health.


Artificial food dyes merely scratches the surface of the harmful ingredients allowed in our food. It is important to have a healthy skepticism of everything we put in to our bodies. We cannot simply trust that any organization is looking out for our best interest and our health. We, as individuals, need to do our due diligence to protect our own health. The first thing you can do to mitigate health risks is to familiarize yourself with food labels and ingredients; understand what you are consuming and what risks to your health these ingredients can cause. In small amounts, certain ingredients may be safe, but when we are consuming these ingredients multiple times a day, in multiple products, over multiple days, we can’t be sure there won’t be negative effects to our health. Don’t just take my word for it though, take this as a starting point to research each of these ingredients and make an informed decision that suits you.


Sources:

“Colors to Die for: The Dangerous Impact of Food Coloring: Special Education Degrees.” Special Education Degrees | Your Guide To A Career In Special Education, 23 July 2021, https://www.special-education-degree.net/food-dyes/.

“Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.” Center for Science in the Public Interest, 15 Nov. 2016, https://cspinet.org/resource/food-dyes-rainbow-risks.



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