Everyday we have to make food decisions for ourselves and for our families. Products marketed to children (typically convenience foods) are always highly processed and full of sugar and artificial ingredients. This morning, I was scheduled for my routine Glucose Tolerance Test to screen for gestational diabetes as I’m almost 27 weeks pregnant as I write this. I had educated myself ahead of time and knew the “orange drink” would contain artificial colours a.k.a food dyes. I didn’t want to consume it as I avoid food dyes and typically experience a reaction to them. I knew a lemon-lime version existed which is almost colourless and so, should be free of the dyes. It turned out the lab only had orange.
As I was handed the beverage, I read the ingredients. Sure enough, it contained Red #40 and Yellow #6 to make it appear orange. I quickly became frustrated that a product given to expectant moms would contain food dyes. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published a report in 2010 entitled Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks. This report concludes that 9 artificial food dyes used in the US (and can be found in Canadian products) are carcinogenic, cause hyperactivity in children, cause hypersensitivity reactions and/or are inadequately tested for safety.
Where do these dyes comes from and why are they in our foods?
Artificial food dyes come from petroleum which is derived from crude oil. This is the product we refine to make gasoline. These dyes are used to give colour to foods and food products that would otherwise have no colour or a dull appearance. Making juices red, yellow, orange and so on. Making candies bright and colourful. Even colouring the skin of oranges (yes, the fruit!) so they are more appealing. The worst part is, this can be done using natural products. We don’t have to use the toxic ones. For example, in the UK Fanta is coloured orange with pumpkin and carrot extract while in the US, it’s coloured with Red #40 and Yellow #6; two of the most common food dyes. In Britain, a McDonald’s strawberry sundae is coloured with Strawberries. In the US, they use Red #40. As of 2010, in Europe. most foods that contain artificial dyes need to carry a warning label that states the dyes could cause hyperactivity in children (cited here) You would think twice when picking up that pack of licorice if it came with a warning label, right? So why are we not thinking critically when making these choices now?
The most common dyes seen on food packages are Red #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6. You might also see them as FD&C Red No.40, FD&C Yellow No.6, FD&C Yellow No.5. Yellow #5 can also be named tartrazine (helps make Doritos bright orange and Mountain Dew bright green). These three dyes contain benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, presumably safe, levels in dyes (CSPI, A Rainbow of Risks)
Red #40 is probably the most common, colouring everything from cereals, candies, juices, vitamins, yogurts, condiments, prenatal screening drinks and more. Because it’s in so much, our children are consistently consuming low doses of this chemical which in small amounts might seem okay but when it’s cumulative, we should be concerned. Personally, I am concerned when any amount is involved.
Always read the ingredient labels and look for these artificial colours when making food choices for you and your family. It’s important to be educated. You can always cook for yourself. This is a major way to keep food dyes out of your diet and a great way to get children involved in the kitchen. Also remember, you vote with your dollar. Every dollar spent on food items with dyes means more will be produced and put back onto the shelves.
Below are several brands that do not use food dyes (or artificial flavours) but are making some alternatives to the food dye laden products.