Americans are consuming 5 times more food dyes than in 1955, and it is causing some serious health issues, particularly for kids. Children are more likely to pick bright-colored processed foods, and the food industry uses if not abuses this knowledge. Artificial food dyes is commonly found in cereals, candy and ice-cream, Jell-O and pudding, baked goods and even sausages and cheese products. As the result, high food coloring consumption have been linked to partially exacerbating ADHD and other behavior issues, allergies and asthma, as well as contributing to tumors and DNA damage.
Recently the website Special Education Degree created an infographic outlining horrible impact of specific food dyes on our health and the health of our children, using information from various studies to show the harm it can cause to a child’s body once consumed, especially in the mass quantities they eat these days.
Studies Showed Great Health Concerns from Food Dyes
As early as 1970s, studies have shown that food dyes can indeed be linked to behavior issues in children. The Delaware Medical Journal showed in 1977 that putting hyperactive children on a diet free of food dyes improved their behavior in 30-50% of cases. The American National Institute of Health (NIH) also concluded in 1982 that removing artificial dyes from the diet helped some children with ADHD.
Southampton University in the UK investigated the link between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children. They concluded that colorings significantly increased ADHD-like symptoms, impulsive behavior and loss of concentration in children (they have studied two groups: ages 3 and 8). They recommended six food dyes to be completely removed from the market: Tartrazine (E102), Ponceau 4R (E124), Sunset Yellow (E110), Camoisine (E122), Quinoline Yellow (E104) and Allura Red (E129).
A study from Purdue University concluded that one serving of food containing dyes a day may harm kids’ behavior. Sample levels include 17.6 mg of dyes in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (although Kraft will switch to natural dyes in 2016) , 33.3 mg in Skittles candies, and 52.3 mg in Kool-Aid Burst Cherry. Children in the U.S. may be consuming as much as 100 mg or more of dyes daily.
Most Health-Damaging Food Dyes
Chromosomal damage has been linked to Blue #1, Red #3, and Yellow #5 and #6. Brain tumors to Blue #2. Bladder tumors to Citrus Red #2 (found in skins of Florida oranges), and Green #3.
The most widely used coloring dye is Red #40, and it has been connected to chromosomal damage, hyperactivity, and lymphomas.
Yellow #5 and #6 have also been linked to asthma, hyperactivity, allergies and thyroid tumors. And Yellow #5 has also been associated with lymphomas, aggression and violent behavior, insomnia, and neurochemical effects.
Most of these have been banned in at least one country.
“The dose alone makes the poison” – Paracelsus
The debate about health effect of food dyes have been discussed for the last 35 years. One of the reason the issue remains controversial for so long is that all studies that have been done had big flaws: the population sample was deemed to be too small and interaction between different food dyes consumed together for a longer periods of time remains not fully studied as explained in the 2012 article by Neurotherapeutics. The research concluded that while artificial food dyes may not be the one cause of ADHD, they do affect all children (in some cases significantly), with ADHD and without. The paper also showed there is enough proof to say that food dyes are able to affect the brain and cause general health issues.
In the end, even if small amounts of some food dyes have been labeled “safe,” taking into the account that daily consumption of them quadrupled in the last 50 years (and grew almost five times in the last 75 years), and no detailed studies have been done on the cumulative and synergistic effects of the food dyes, we are only now starting to grasp on the health issues they may be causing.
Food Dye Alternative: Natural and Safe
Organic and health-conscious companies use vegetables, berries and spices to add a splash of color to their products. Most widely used are: beets, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, berries, red cabbage, turmeric, saffron, and paprika.
If you need food coloring to cook with at home, India Tree from Seattle, Washington is one company that makes natural vegetable colorants. They are not certified organic, but many products are certified non-GMO and Fair Trade Certified. Available for purchase on Amazon as well as Whole Foods, they make Decorating Sugar Sets, Color Dyes, and Sprinkles.
Note: because the colors are derived from natural ingredients, most colors come out in pastel shades, not as bright as their chemical counterparts.
Some people have had better luck with making their own food dyes at home:
Sign a Petition to Stop Using Artificial Dyes in M&Ms
The Center for Science in the Public Interest and Renee Shutters have created a petition to request for M&Ms candy to be made without artificial colorings. Shutters is a mom of son Trenton who had hyperactivity issues, trouble in school, and experiences nightmares, until removing artificial dyes from his diet. The petition currently needs less than 5,000 signatures.
“These dyes don’t have to be used, they have no benefits, and they pose a risk for some kids. It’s a no-brainer: get them out of our food!” commented one of the petition signers Lisa L.