Why Food Coloring is Bad For You (and What to Use Instead)

Many of our health-conscious, natural-minded readers already know that food coloring is bad, and may be wondering why I am bothering to write about it.   Most people are already avoiding such products…right? Well apparently, there are many folks who haven’t gotten the message yet.   Please pass this message on to them. Thank you!

As a parent of a preschool aged little girWhy Food Coloring is Bad For Youl, I often get confronted with the challenge of what my daughter gets “treated to”. Well-meaning people will offer her goodies like fun-colored cookies, cupcakes, suckers, or fruit-snacks. They have also offered her Minute Maid Lemonade, “Light and Fit” Yogurt, and Kraft Mac & Cheese. All of these contain artificial food dyes, made from the same petroleum that fuels our vehicles (source). Food coloring is turning up in an insane amount of packaged foods, above and beyond the brightly-colored candy.

More times than I care to remember, I have had to be the “bad guy” and tell them “no thank you”. I’ve taken great care to make sure my daughter does not eat those foods, and have explained to her why to avoid them. But I’m not with her 100% of the time, and the best thing I can do for my child is to educate her on why she shouldn’t eat those things. Amazingly, she already makes the connection that “eating too much sugar makes my tummy upset”. She will even ask me how much sugar is in something before eating it. But what’s worse than the added sugar? The artificial food coloring!

What is Food Coloring?

Artificial food coloring is made from petroleum, the same petroleum that fuels our vehicles. Unfortunately, the 15 million pounds of food dye used in the U.S. per year is in much more than just baked goods these days.

According to the FDA, “Without color additives, colas wouldn’t be brown, margarine wouldn’t be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn’t be green. Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat.” (source)

Artificial food coloring is used to offset color lost when food is exposed to light, air, extreme temperatures, moisture, or storage conditions. It’s not just brightly-tinted Fruity Pebbles and Skittles that get the Crayola treatment. About two billion fresh Florida oranges are dipped in synthetic dyes to brighten them and provide uniform color. Processed meats like hot dogs and sausages often get a squirt of fake color to make them look more appetizing.

Why My Family Avoids Food Coloring

Plain and simple – food coloring isn’t good for you. I am going take it a step further to argue that food coloring is bad for your kids (and you)…read on!

Food Coloring is Linked to Hyperactivity, Allergic Reactions, and Tumor Growth

Did you know that European lawmakers require a warning label on foods that contain artificial dyes, stating “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”? This was the response to a recent study linking food coloring and other preservatives to hyperactivity (source).

For this reason, many overseas manufacturers are choosing natural dyes made from foods like, beets, carrots and turmeric.

Dangers of artificial food dyesBut here in America, we aren’t so lucky.  “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” (source).

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a report in 2010, linking artificial food coloring to:

  • hyperactivity
  • allergy
  • cancer
  • hypersensitivity
  • asthma
  • ADHD

According to the CSPI, the three most widely used dyes – Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 – contain cancer-causing agents. Red 3, another artificial food dye, is still in commercial use despite the fact that the FDA has identified it as a carcinogen.

In every case, evidence can be refuted. But doesn’t it make sense to skip the unnecessary artificial colors to avoid these risks? For my family, we chose natural, fresh foods that don’t need to be colored or dyed to have vibrant colors.

Artificial Food Coloring is Unnatural

We are naturally drawn to colors that indicate probable nutritional content of food. Red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow butter (from grass-fed cows), green spinach, blueberries, etc. are attractive to us, and for good reason.

Artificial food coloring tricks our minds into thinking the food will be tasty and nourishing. Imagine what a party spread would look like if Doritos, punch, and cupcakes were all their “natural” color? It would look unappetizing, and we therefore wouldn’t be as inclined to choose them.

Another example of this same principle: farm-raised salmon is injected with synthetically-derived substances to give it that “pink” color which is found in wild-caught fish. Otherwise, it would be an unappetizing, grayish hue. A quick Google search would show you the countless benefits of choosing wild-caught fish over farm-raised fish.

By feeding our children blue yogurt, purple ‘vitamin’ water, yellow mac & cheese, and red velvet cupcakes, we are serving to confuse their instincts while drowning their growing bodies with chemical bombs.

What to Use Instead of Artificial Food Coloring

If all this pigment business has got you feeling blue, take solace in this: There are natural versions. Brands like India Tree and Nature’s Flavors use plant, fruit, and vegetable extracts to color your frosting, Shamrock shakes, or Easter eggs.

And if you’re feeling like a go-getter, you can even make your own colors with real foods like turmeric, beets, red cabbage, carrots, and spinach.

Do you make your own food color? Do you make a conscious effort to avoid artificially colored foods? Let us know in the comment section below.