Food coloring, food dyes and health concerns

By Shawntell Muhammad | Last updated: Jun 17, 2013 - 1:33:41 PM

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Food coloring have been used for centuries to appeal to consumers, and also to make food decorative. However, before the 20th century, food coloring consisted of beets, turmeric, carrots, saffron, and certain flowers.

At the turn of the 20th century, corporations discovered that food and drinks would last longer with artificial food coloring or dye. Artificial food coloring does not add nutritional value to food or drink.

Artificial food coloring is derived from coal tar. This dye is added to salmon, candy, toothpaste, ice cream, yogurt, soda, chips, medication, vegetables, hot dog and sausage casings, pudding, pickles, cereal, mustard, salad dressing, fruit drinks, and numerous other products. Beetles are also used as food dye.

“Food dyes are added simply for their color to make foods fun. They serve no health purpose whatsoever,” says Michael Jacobson director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban 8 artificial food dyes. Mr. Jacobson is particularly concerned with Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6, which make up 90 percent of the food dyes on the market.

Their use has gone up fivefold in the past 50 years. “That’s a good indication of how much junk food we’re consuming,” he says. Mr. Jacobson says there is substantial evidence showing that food dyes trigger hyperactivity in children.

The United Kingdom  requires that food companies label products containing Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 with a warning that says: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Cancer and ADHD have been linked with food dye, triggering Europe to ban the use of food dye in that region, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, approves their use.

Tartrazine (also known as E number E102, C.I. 19140, or FD&C Yellow 5): causes hyperactivity, chromosomal damage, and has been linked to allergic reactions and migraine headaches.

Sunset Yellow (also known as Orange Yellow S, FD&C Yellow 6 or C.I. 15985): causes hyperactivity, cancer and is linked to stomach upsets and swelling of the skin.

Allura red (also known as Food Red 17, C.I. 16035, FD&C Red 40,  E129): causes hyperactivity, cancer and may bring on allergic reactions. 

Education is key to ensure the health of ourselves and families. A comprehensive report on the dangers of artificial food coloring (dye) was put together by the director of the Center For Science In The Public Interest. “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks”, can be read in its entirety at:

Purchasing organic products is one way of avoiding artificial food coloring and making your own is a great way of avoiding artificial coloring.

(Shawntell Muhammad is operator of Organic Nourishment, which consists of holistic grocery shopping tours and nutritional guidance. For more information, e-mail  [email protected].)