Last updated on March 30, 2017
While millions of people do their best to eat healthily, it seems impossible to go even one day without consuming something made with artificial colors.
An old tactic of the food industry, adding artificial colors (AFCs) to food and beverages makes them more visually appealing.
It’s a tactic that has worked for decades, allowing the food and beverage industry to capitalize on unknowing consumers. There was a time, back in the early 1900s under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, when there was next-to-nothing in the way off guidelines when it came to using artificial coloring in foods. As the years pressed on, however, there were incidences that began shortening the approved list.
Orange #1 was banned in 1950 when scores of children became ill after eating their Halloween candy. Red #2 was finally pulled from the approved list when, in the 1970s, scientists found that rats eating the artificial red dye were growing intestinal tumors. Due to its potential carcinogenic properties, Red #2 was finally banned.
The bright list of yellows, specifically #1, #2, #3, and #4 have also been removed from the approved list, namely for their behavioral affects on children. Yellow #5 is under investigation for similar related symptoms of hyperactivity, cancer and migraines. It is worth noting that Yellow #5 is already banned in Europe, but still approved for consumer food use in North America.
Nine artificial colors remain FDA approved for use in foods in North America.
According to a report in SAGE journals, although there has been a large reduction in the approved list of artificial food colorings, the quantity of artificial food colors approved for use by the FDA has increased five-fold since 1950. The FDA has augmented the use of artificial food coloring from 12 mg/capita/day to 68 mg/capita/day, as of 2012.
Scientific research shows that consuming 50 mg or more of artificial food colors in a day had a greater negative effect on consumers than on those who consumed less AFCs in one day. This held true especially in children, since children are large consumers of sodas and fruit beverages, two products that highly utilize AFCs.
According to Center for Science in the Public Interest, factory-made foods contain numerous chemical additives. They recommend avoiding the following:
Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin
Mycoprotein (Quorn-brand meat substitutes)
Partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat)
Common foods that contain food dyes include Popsicles, cough syrup, yogurt, Kool-aid, gum, vitamins, pickles, pudding, shampoo, sauces, soda, Jell-O, mac n’ cheese, meat, baking mixes, laundry soap, toothpaste, lip balm and fruit-enhanced cereal or bread products.
Food manufacturers understand consumers would rather eat a bright green dill pickle over a grayish one, even though gray is their natural hue when processed. They also know kids are more inclined to eat rainbow-colored bits and pieces rather than bland-looking brown flakes.
What are the FDA approved artificial food colors in North America?
Blue #1: Used in foods.
Blue #2: Used in foods.
Green #3: Used in foods.
Orange B: Used on the casings or surfaces of frankfurters and sausages.
Red #2: Although not approved for eating, the color additive is still used on “skins of oranges not intended or used for processing”.
Red #3: Used in foods.
Red #40: Used in foods.
Yellow #5: Used in foods.
Yellow #6: Used in foods.
The known health hazards of artificial coloring:
Allergic reactions — asthma, sinusitis, sensitivity to aspirin
Cancer — some food colorings are tumerogenic and carcinogenic
Skin reactions — hives, rashes
Endocrine disruption — the triggering of hyperthyroidism
ADHD — linked to the consumption of color additives including the color additives in fruit juices
Migraines — headaches and hypertension
Backing the ban
Although the number of approved food colorings has seen a reduction in numbers over the years, it’s non-profit watchdogs like CSPI — Center for Science in the Public Interest — that keep the FDA pressure on in hopes of finally banning the last nine approved colors. Until then, consumers and public watchdogs are stuck taking on the Grocers Manufacturing Association, an organization backed by the likes of General Mills, Coca-Cola and Nestle.
Despite the fact the FDA does not reject the notion that the remaining nine food colorings may carry adverse health effects on consumers, they and their representatives stand firm that more evidence is required before a full ban of these toxic food coloring additives will be implemented. When it comes to the large food corporations, they continue to question the validity of the scientific studies presented on the use of their food colorings.