Why Are We Talking About Food Dyes?

There’s a dark side to the rainbow.
We’ve wondered about food coloring for years.
There was the Great M&M Scare of the 1970’s when rumors of a cancer link fueled a public fear of red candy shells. We toughed it out for almost a decade with a lackluster mix of green, orange, yellow, and brown.

Then we started hearing about studies linking yellow food dye to testicular cancer. And kidney tumors linked to blue coloring. Food dyes have been associated with chromosomal damage, adrenal, thyroid, and brain tumors, and a whole host of health, behavior, and learning issues in children like hyperactivity, anaphylaxis, and impulse control.

After decades of wondering, while the inclusion of synthetic dyes steadily rose in an increasing number of processed foods (doubling just since 1990), last week the FDA decided to take a look at the issue. The advisory panel tasked with its review found the evidence to be ‘inconclusive,’ recommending that the agency continue its hands-off approach.

Bear in mind that countries throughout Europe have banned most artificial dyes based on the same evidence. Food manufacturers, including American giants like Kraft, Kellogg’s, and McDonald’s have reformulated their products with natural alternatives for the European market, while they continue to sell foods with the questionable ingredients to the U.S. market. Imagine, there are actual strawberries coloring a U.K. McDonald’s strawberry sundae and orange soda gets its color from  pumpkin and carrot extract, instead of the FD&C Red Dye #40  and Yellow #6  that we get.

It’s not just day-glo Popsicles and rainbow Skittles.
It’s estimated that a young child with a taste for fast- and processed foods could be eating as much as a pound of food dye every year. But well beyond the usual suspects you’ll find food dyes in a staggering array of foods like canned fruit, fresh oranges, chocolate milk, salad dressing, ginger ale, cookies and bread, chips and crackers, even matzoh balls. Oy veh.

Food dyes contribute nothing to the nutritional value or safety of food, existing only as a marketing tool, mostly to make highly-processed foods more appealing to children. Even if the evidence has been termed ‘inconclusive,’ we’re still looking at potential health consequences. Why risk it?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest was instrumental in reopening the FDA debate over food dyes. Read their full report: Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.

 

 

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