Food Dyes and Easter Eggs - Worth the Risk?

Food ColoringI have fond memories of coloring our Easter eggs as a kid. My mom and I would use the food coloring in our cupboard once a year for this very special occasion. Otherwise, the food coloring just sat there, unused in the dark closet. Mom may have had a sixth-sense.

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In the past I've discussed ingredients and additives worth avoiding in food products. Among them, you'll find artificial colors, or in other forms, food coloring or food dyes. Beyond the fact that most are made synthetically from coal-tar derivatives and are suspected of being toxic or carcinogenic, claims about these chemical compounds should give anyone reason for avoidance. For instance, some of these colorful compounds are said to contain up to ten parts per million of lead and/or arsenic, and many have been linked to allergic reactions, fatigue, ADD/ADHD, headaches, asthma, and even skin rashes, and finally, some artificial colors can contribute to visual and learning disorders…even nerve damage.

Although these claims are enough reason to avoid artificial colors all together, here are some details about each color:

Color Where They're Found Health Risks
Blue #1 Baked goods, candy and Soft Drinks
  • Shown to damage the chromosomes in a cell's nucleus, contributing to uncontrolled cell mutation and division that is a precursor to cancer
  • Seriously ill patients who consumed this color were shown to have serious complications such as refractory hypotension, metabolic acidosis and death.
Blue #2 (E133)
Pet Food, Beverages and Candy
  • May cause brain tumors
  • Banned in Norway, Finland and France
Citrus Red #1 Sprayed on oranges to make them look ripe
  • This dye fractures the chromosomes in a cell's nucleus and can lead to cancer
  • The FDA has proposed a ban on Citrus Red #1
Citrus Red #2 Skins of some Florida Oranges
  • Can cause cancer if the peel is eaten
Green #3 Candy and Beverages
  • May cause bladder tumors
Red #3
Canned Cherry Pie Filling, Maraschino Cherries, Baked Goods and Ice Cream
  • Studies have linked this dye to nerve damage and to thyroid cancer
Red #40 (E124)
Soda, Candy, Gelatin Desserts, Pastry, Pet Food and Sausage
  • Possible Carcinogen
Yellow #5
Gelatin Desserts, Candy, Pet Food and Baked Goods
  • Behavioral disturbances in children, and can cause allergic reactions, primarily in aspirin sensitive individuals
Yellow #6
American Cheese, Macaroni and Cheese, Beverages, Sausage, Baked Goods, Candy and Gelatin
  • Linked to tumors in the adrenal glands and kidneys
  • May cause chromosomal damage
  • Banned in Norway and Sweden.

I'm always a proponent of eating whole foods, because whole foods are what they are. They don't contain any hidden "junk" that can be detrimental to your health. If you want color in your diet, go for organic veggies and fruit and skip the packaged foods.

Have you ever experience issues as a result of consumption of food dyes? Have your children shown exacerbated hyperactivity from consuming food with artificial colors?


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Sources: Chicago Tribune and Center for Science in the Public Interest

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