They are, of course, food dyes, also known as artificial colors. And they are found in nearly every food group in the American diet, including fruits (the peels of Florida oranges), breads (most cake and brownie mixes), and of course, its almost impossible to find candy or junk food that doesnt have at least one artificial color.
These dyes are such a common part of our diet that most mothers dont think twice about feeding their children brightly colored cereal or fruit snacks. College students dont scan the labels to know whether or not their favorite brand of spaghetti sauce has food dye in it or notthey just grab the cheapest jar off the shelf. The average shopper isnt aware of how many common foods have artificial colors in them, and even if they knew, they probably wouldnt care.
But should we care?
What Are Artificial Colors?
Artificial colors are what are known as additives, substances added to food to preserve or improve it in some way. In the case of artificial colors, theyre added to improve the appearance of food that might otherwise look bland or unappetizing. Kids especially are drawn to brightly colored foods like Fruit Loops, Fruit Roll-Ups, and sherbet, so in that way the colors are effective.
The most common colors are Red #40, Blue #1 and #2, and Yellow #6. Theyre found in candies, breads, chips, beverages, etc.
Besides making our food look more edible (albeit fake), what else are these colors doing?
If the label on the bag of fruit loops at the store said Warning: May Cause Cancer, they probably wouldnt sell quite as well as the manufacturers would like. But thats what it should say. Or, in a slightly more subtle and acceptable way, may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children, which is exactly what the United Kingdom requires on foods that contain food dyes.
Artificial colors contain known carcinogens, and have been linked to various kinds of cancer and tumors. Experiments done with lab animals confirm that some colors are more linked to cancer than others, and some are linked to organ damage, birth defects, and allergic reactions (up to and including anaphylactic shock).
Here is a short list of some of the most commonly-known connections.
- Red #3 is linked to thyroid cancer
- Blue #2 has been connected with a propensity for brain tumors
- Yellow #6 is connected to adrenal tumors
- Red #2 is thought to be related to tumors in the bladder
- Red #40 is known for producing allergen-like symptoms
Most of these (and other) colors have been proven to cause hyperactivity, especially among children. Many also cause stomach cramps or bloating, ADHD, mood swings, and other symptoms associated with allergies. Toothpastes that have artificial colors can damage your teeth.
The fact that the UK and many other European nations have banned artificial colors completely from their food market is indicative of the kinds of problems they cause for the human body. America, unfortunately, has made no move to ban food dyes. The awareness among American consumers, however, is growing. More and more people are realizing that fake food does not belong in our bodies, and are turning to natural or organic alternatives.
Natural And Organic Alternatives
Many of the foods that obviously have artificial colors as an ingredient are also the foods that arent good for our bodies anyway: candy, Jell-O, chips, soda, etc. should be avoided. And if you think about what they might look like without the bright colors, they become less appetizing. Macaroni and cheese without the signature bright orange just wouldnt be quite the same. Besides, who would want to eat something that is also an ingredient in paint or mascara?
Otherwise, its a simple matter of reading labels. Just like with the 8 common allergens (such as eggs, milk, soy, and gluten), FDA requires that labels indicate whether or not a product contains artificial colors and flavors, and which ones. This is extremely helpful for those who want to avoid the negative side effects of these additives, particularly those who might be allergic to the more common colors.
More companies are trying to produce products without artificial additives, including preservatives and flavors. They are using natural colors from fruits, vegetables, and other sources. Natural bright colors, after all, are indicative of various healthy vitamins and minerals; the bright colors on the candy aisle are the exact opposite. Nature knew what it was doing - the man-made versions are only copies that dont meet the standard.
So if you want to avoid hyperactivity, live a healthier lifestyle, decrease your chances of cancer, and avoid trips to your local dentist in Brantford, New York City, or your hometown in southeastern Idaho, take a tip from the UK and eliminate the artificial colors. Your body will thank you.
Connor Adkins enjoys helping people stay fit and healthy. He loves to learn tips about health from companies like Paramount Dentistry, and then apply what he learns to his personal life and in his blogging. He also enjoys spending time with his wife and three children.