Food manufacturers employ all kinds of clever tactics to get us to consume their products. They spend millions on marketing, print coupons, design attractive packaging, and employ scientists to create tasty flavors. And if scientists can make the food taste good, they can make it look good, too. One of the ways they do that is through the use of artificial colors.
Perhaps we, the consumer, are partially to blame. Without food dyes, many processed foods would be an unappealing brown or grey or otherwise look nothing like the flavors printed on the package. To remedy this, food manufacturers have added dyes to countless products, including:
...and many more.
And these dyes aren't limited to foods, either. You can also find them in vitamins, toothpaste, lip balm, laundry detergent, soap, cough syrup, and a slew of other products.
Know the risks
The prevalence of food dyes wouldn't be such a big deal, except for the fact that they can pose health risks. Food dyes were originally produced from natural ingredients, but when the dyes were found to contain dangerous toxins like arsenic, copper, and mercury, scientists began developing synthetic alternatives derived from coal tar. When questions about the safety of those alternatives arose, the government took action.
In 1906, the Pure Food and Drugs Act (or the “Wiley Act”) was passed to study the health effects of the 80 different dyes then used in various products. By 1938, a mere 15 of those colors were deemed healthy enough to remain legal. Today, artificial colors are derived from petroleum, and only seven are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Despite their legality, there remain health concerns associated with the approved dyes. Despite being banned in many European countries, for example, Yellow #5 is still legal in the United States, where scientists are currently testing it to determine whether or not it contributes to anxiety, hyperactivity, migraines, or even cancer. The color, along with Red 40 and Yellow 6, also contains a chemical called benzene, which is a known carcinogen. There are numerous studies which show a link between food dyes and ADHD in children, and some dyes can also contribute to brain tumors, chromosomal damage, breast cancer, bladder tumors, allergies, asthma, decreased male sex drive, and other unfavorable side effects.
Say bye to the dyes
While there's no law yet banning these questionable substances, there's also no law saying you can't ban them from your diet. While many food companies are taking it upon themselves to remove artificial flavors and replacing them with healthy, natural alternatives, reading food packaging is still key.
Here are some tips:
- Buy fresh, local, unpackaged foods whenever possible.
- If you do shop store shelves, look for items that say they contain “no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives” on the package. However, if a product says its “all natural,” be skeptical. Take a look at its ingredients instead. (See next tip.)
- Instead of looking at a product's “Nutrition Facts” label, look at the “Ingredients” section. If you see any of the following words/ingredients, put the product back on the shelf: Blue #1, Blue #2, Red #3, Red #40, Yellow #5 (or Tartrazine), Yellow #6, and Green #3.
- Look beyond the ingredients label. If any allergy information is printed there, do not buy the product.
At dietDirect we understand the growing importance consumers place on natural and organic foods that contain no artificial coloring or flavoring and have a growing selection of all-natural and organic options to choose from.