Living Dye Free
By: Bella Sakai
Most of us love bright and colorful things, especially when it comes to food. Unfortunately, artificial food coloring (AFC) changes more than just the color of the food. AFC has been positively correlated to hyperactivity in children. The most common symptoms of food dye intolerance in children are the same symptoms recognized in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Because of this, prescription medications (that also commonly contain artificial dyes) are being prescribed to children with food dye intolerance to treat symptoms that could be fixed through simple diet changes. The ADHD epidemic in the United States has led to the surprising statistic proving 7.5% of children aged 6 – 17 years are taking prescription medication for emotional or behavioral difficulties. This is equivalent to approximately 4,510,000 children. Not only has AFC been linked to behavioral changes in children but it can also affect adults causing fatigue and restlessness. Scientific studies involving animals have linked these food dyes to organ damage, cancer, and birth defects.
You may be wondering what exactly are in these dyes that make up the products on the market. Artificial food dyes are a set of chemicals used to enhance the appearance of processed foods. AFC was originally manufactured from coal tar however, this did not sit well with consumers so most synthetic food dyes today come from petroleum or crude oil (which is also used to make motor gasoline and fuel oils for heating and electricity). Because of the harmful effects that come from AFC, many countries (such as Austria, Finland and Norway) have banned the use of them all together. In the U.K., the color in a McDonalds strawberry comes from real fruit and in the United States, food coloring is incorporated to enhance the bright colors. So, why do we use these dyes in our food if they have no nutritional value? According to the Food and Drug Administration, color additives are used for many reasons including, to offset color loss due to exposure to light, temperature and storage conditions, to enhance colors that occur naturally, and to provide color to colorless foods and make them more “fun”. Another main reason is because the cost of natural food coloring such as turmeric, beets, matcha, and blueberries are far more expensive than dye.
In the United States, 90% of food dyes that are used and consumed are Red 40 and Yellow 5. Red 40 is commonly used in candy, baked goods, soft drinks and many other products. The main health concerns that are related to Red 40 are hyperactivity, lymphomas, and chromosomal damage. Yellow 5 is another commonly used dye in the U.S. Products that may contain Yellow 5 are processed cheeses, pasta, banana peppers and pickles. The reported concerns surrounding this dye are aggression, violent behavior, insomnia, and other behavioral affects. Yellow 6 has shown similar results also including eczema. Red 3 is a dye mostly found in sausage and meat products. The FDA tried to ban Red 3 due to the neurochemical, chromosomal, and thyroid concerns, however their attempt failed.
While the effects of AFC may be startling, it’s never too late to implement small changes into your daily routine. The first way to live a more dye-free lifestyle is to recognize the common places where artificial food dyes can be found. Food is a familiar place to look for AFC however, AFC is also an ingredient commonly found in household items, medications, pet food, and cosmetic products.
Below you will find a list of commonly used products that contain AFC:
Jams and jellies
Powdered drink mix
Shampoo & conditioner
Another easy way to reduce contact with AFC is to read labels and ingredients before purchasing new items for your home. Cooking with natural food dye is an option for maintaining a colorful dish without the harmful effects of AFC. It’s important to remember that naturally colored food may not be as bright or concentrated in color as processed foods and if food is naturally colored, the taste may be different than what you are used to. Making your own homemade food coloring may integrate beets, carrot juice, turmeric, liquid chlorophyll, purple sweet potatoes, cocoa powder and other natural ingredients. Researching companies and grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme, and local farmers’ markets that provide a variety of organic products will make shopping for dye and additive free products more accessible.
Lastly, if you’re worried about whether the dye is affecting you or your child, implementing the Feingold diet may be an insightful regimen. This diet was developed by Dr. Ben F. Feingold who did extensive research on the link between food additives and behavior. The Feingold diet temporarily eliminates foods containing certain food additives (in this case, food coloring) and reintroducing the product if no positive results occur. Starting with a specific dye in mind may make this transition easier. For example, eliminating Red 40 contact and consumption for two-weeks rather than removing food dye from your diet altogether. This will also help you recognize the specific effects of each dye.
Going cold turkey could be challenging when so much of our products contain AFC, and we all know sometimes it’s just too hard to resist the bright pink doughnut with rainbow sprinkles. Living dye free can help you discover any intolerance or allergy that you may not have known you had and implementing small changes to our diet can uncover pathways to optimal overall health.
Arnold, L. E., Lofthouse, N., & Hurt, E. (2012). Artificial food colors and attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms: conclusions to dye for. Neurotherapeutics: the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, 9(3), 599-609.
Eating with your eyes: The Chemistry of Food
What is the Feingold program? The Feingold Association of the United States
Food Doesn’t’ Have to Wear Make Up
Potera C. (2010). The artificial food dye blues. Environmental health perspectives, 118(10).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2010). Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives and Colors. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm094211.htm#qa
*BELLA SAKAI IS A CARDINAL STRITCH STUDENT INTERN HELPING AT MKE MINDBODY WELLNESS. BELLA IS PURSUING A DEGREE IN COMMUNICATIONS AND PSYCHOLOGY. BELLA IS INTERESTED IN DEVELOPING A CAREER IN MENTAL WELLNESS USING INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE.