When my kids go grocery shopping with me they know to look at the ingredients before asking if they can have the item. You can tell because they will say, “Oh man, this has artificial colors or flavors.” As my 9-year-old recently noticed, it’s hard to find items that don’t have artificial colors or flavors. This article will tackle artificial colors, but you can check our blog for articles on artificial flavors in the future.
Origins of Artificial Colors
Artificial colors have been around for centuries (whether from natural or synthetic sources). The primary reason they exist in food is to enhance appearance. And in a society where looks rule, it makes sense that what we consume should look good. After all, we say “we are what we eat”, so shouldn’t we eat attractive food?
The FDA regulates the colors used in our foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The majority of artificial colors come from petroleum or coal tar. http://www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/RegulatoryProcessHistoricalPerspectives/
There is a reason my son has a hard time finding a food without artificial colors. The amount of artificial colors used in foods has increased over 500% in the past 50 years.
Where to Find Artificial Colors
Artificial Colors are found throughout most grocery stores including these areas:
- Breads & Cereals
- Baking supplies
- Frozen treats
- Boxed foods
- Soft drinks
- Salad Dressing
- Toothpaste & Mouthwash
Most grocery stores now have a section devoted to natural or organic foods. This is where you can find products without artificial colors. Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes have vowed to not carry products that contain artificial colors.
FDA Approved Artificial Colors and Potential Harm
According to a study done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest the following artificial colors are concerning due to various factors.
- FD&C Blue No. 1- The dye can cause hypersensitivity reactions.
- FD&C Blue No. 2- Can cause tumors in the brain and bladder.
- FD&C Green No. 3- Can cause tumors in the bladder and other areas.
- Orange B- No long used due to health concerns. Although it is not banned by the FDA.
- Citrus Red No. 2- Can cause bladder and other tumors.
- FD&C Red No. 3- Can cause possible thyroid.
- FD&C Red No. 40- Can accelerate tumors in immune system. Can cause hyperactivity in children.
- FD&C Yellow No. 5 –Can cause genotoxity, change in cells , which can cause cancer. May cause hyperactivity in children.
- FD&C Yellow No. 6- Can cause adrenal and testicular tumors.
Red #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 make up 90% of the dyes used in foods.
There have been several studies to show that children become hyper after eating foods with artificial colors. In Europe, there are regulations to inform consumers of the health risks. In fact, companies like Kraft and General Mills produce food to sell in Europe using no artificial colors. These same products in the United States contain artificial colors.
The FDA states that the approved artificial colors are safe for consumption. Although, there are some studies that show a link to cancers in larger quantities.
There is one more artificial color to talk about- Artificial Caramel Color. This is the type of caramel color that is made with ammonia. Most soda pop drinks will contain artificial caramel color to give it that famous brown hue.
While not a FDA approved artificial color, caramel color also has risks. You can find caramel color added to a number of products including breads and most sodas. The risk of ammonia-based caramel color is that they are a carcinogen. The FDA allows this caramel color to be added because it is deemed safe under a certain threshold. The problem comes when this threshold is easily exceeded. After all, how many times do people consume more than one soda in a day? Consumer Reports has an article that details the risks of this artificial color.
What Can You Do
- Be thorough when you read labels to look for artificial colors.
- Shop for items in the Natural or Organic section of the store.
- Make your own homemade candies, cereals, baked goods and meals.
- Shop at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
- Sign petitions to stop the use of artificial colors in products. In 2015, over 350,000 people signed a petition for Kraft to stop using artificial colors in Mac & Cheese and Kraft has since announced it will stop using artificial colors in Mac & Cheese.
- Limit the number of artificial colors your families consume by eating more fruits and vegetable – nature’s natural colors.
My kids know I am not a fan of artificial colors, but that doesn’t mean we never consume them. We eat Doritos, M&Ms, and other junk foods, but these are occasional treats. Overall, we try to limit the bad stuff we eat to less than 10% of our diets because we noticed our bodies feel better on a more natural diet.
Eating healthier will be a little easier as companies start transitioning over to less artificial colors in products. Until then, good luck walking through the rainbow of products at your local supermarket.