I am sure that many of you health-conscious, crunchy readers will find it odd that I am bothering to write a post about why food coloring is bad. But apparently, there are plenty of folks out there who haven't yet gotten the memo. Please pass this along to them. Thank you!
Last Friday when I picked up my son from kindergarten, he met me with red stained teeth and a red hand holding a plate with two neon red ladybug cupcakes from a classmate's birthday celebration.
I was naively shocked. Sugar is one thing, but red dye – really?
Surely every parent (at least the ones in our progressive part of Los Angeles) knows that food coloring is particularly HORRIBLE for kids. Or maybe not.
Here are two reasons why artificial food coloring is bad for your kids (and you too)…
#1 – Artificial food coloring is linked with hyperactivity, allergic reactions, and tumor growth.
Did you know that European lawmakers now require food with artificial colors to be labeled with a warning stating the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”? This was in response to a recent large study linking food dyes and other preservatives to hyperactivity in children. (source)
Because of these measures, many European manufacturers are opting for more natural dyes over the chemical dyes, but here in the U.S. manufacturers are still dumping toxic colorings into processed food.
According to this article, “Fanta in the U.K., for instance, gets its color from pumpkin and carrot extracts. The U.S. version? Red 40 and Yellow 6 (a dye that causes mild to severe hypersensitivity reactions in some people). And a strawberry sundae from McDonald’s is solely strawberries in Britain, but here, petroleum-based Red 40 — which is the most-used dye — gives the sundae its hue. Kraft’s macaroni and cheese was recently under fire for using yellow dyes 5 and 6 in the U.S. version while the English version uses no dye.”
As a mom to a typical, active 6 year old boy, the last thing I want is to risk adding anything that might tip the hyperactivity scale.
In 2010, The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published a detailed report of the link of artificial food dyes to hyperactivity, allergy, and cancer. According to the CSPI,the three most widely used dyes – Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 – contain cancer-causing agents. Another artificial color, Red 3, is still in commercial use despite the fact that the FDA has identified it as a carcinogen. (source)
While studies and evidence can always be refuted, doesn't it make simple sense to skip the unnecessary artificial colors to avoid these risks?
#2 – Artificial coloring is, well, unnatural.
The human mind is designed to be drawn to colors that indicate probable nutritional content of food. Red peppers, orange egg yolks (from pasture raised hens), yellow butter (from grassfed cows), green spinach, blueberries, etc all beckon to be eaten.
As the FDA points out, “Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat. Without color additives, colas wouldn't be brown, margarine wouldn't be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn't be green.” (source)
When food is artificially colored, the mind is tricked into thinking that otherwise unappealing items will be nourishing. Imagine what a party spread would look like if the Smurf cake, red punch, and doritos all wore their ‘natural' colors… A unappetizing, monochrome mess, no?
By feeding our children blue yogurt, neon green ‘vitamin' water, orange cheetos, and red ladybug cupcakes we are serving to confuse their instincts while inundating them with chemical bombs.
What some rainbow bright in your life? Go natural…
Natural dyes have been around for for thousands of years, and can add some extra festivity to food on special occasions without all the toxic confusion.
This article offers some great ways to create technicolor food using natural, non-toxic ingredients like these:
Red: Beets (juiced or powder) – learn how here
Orange: Carrots (juiced)
Yellow: Saffron or turmeric
Green: Spinach (juice or whole leaves) or liquid chorophyll
Blue: Red cabbage boiled plus baking soda – learn how here
Purple: Red cabbage boiled
When making natural food coloring, expect that you're not going to get the same freakishly saturated colors as you would from the artificial stuff.
For an extra dark color, you may want to start with a light, chocolate based cake or frosting.
If you're dying eggs for Easter, you'll need to soak the eggs much longer than with the store bought kits – see how here. But the payoff to your time and experimentation will be festively colorful food without a toxic overload.
Everyone should have the right to eat what they choose but… Do you think the FDA should mandate labeling food that contains artificial coloring and other known toxins?