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Toxic Food Dyes: How Food Coloring Poisons Our Body

15 million pounds of food dyes are added to the American food supply each year. They serve no purpose other than to make foods appear more aesthetically appealing to the consumer. Not only do they have no nutritional value, they are in fact toxic chemicals associated with allergic reactions, asthma, hives, hypersensitivity, hyperactivity, behavior and attention disorders, irritability, depression, difficulty sleeping, mitochondrial impairment, tumor growth and cancers.


The first artificial food color was red and created from coal tar in 1856. You’d think we’ve come a long way from coal tar, right? Well, synthetic food dyes today are made from petroleum. So if you’re consuming artificially colored foods or drinks, you are consuming a crude oil product, the same source used for gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt and tar.

Although hundreds of dyes have been developed over the years, all but a handful were found to be so toxic they are no longer used. Today, there are only nine dyes permitted for use in foods and drinks–Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Citrus Red 2, Orange B–and none of them are without significant cause for concern. Three of these dyes–Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6–make up 90% of the food dyes used in the US.


Consumption of artificial food dyes has increased by 500% in the last 50 years, with the biggest consumers of food dyes being children. In 1950, the FDA certified 12mg of food dyes per capita per day, and as of 2010 it is up to 62mg per capita per day. Just 30mg of food dye is the amount found to trigger behavioral problems in children. Researchers at Purdue University estimate children consume 100mg of artificial dyes per day, and potentially up to double that. These high levels of consumption have never been tested for safety in any studies.


In fact, the existing toxicological studies that *have* been done were carried out decades ago by the chemical companies themselves. Not only is there the obvious potential for bias, these tests only examined the safety of isolated individual dyes, and did not take into account the real-world combinations of dyes, or for that matter, the blending with other chemical additives found in processed foods and drinks. The synergistic chemical effects are certainly even more dangerous than an individual food dye tested in isolation.


Further, the intake of food dyes has increased substantially in that time, and the levels that were tested are no longer an appropriate approximation of the average modern day intakes. Independent studies, however, have found a long list of problems with food dyes.


A 2007 study published in the journal The Lancet found that food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate cause children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible.


A 1994 study from the North Shore Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York found that 73% of children with ADHD responded favorably to an elimination diet that included the removal of artificial colors.


A 2004 meta-analysis of trials by David W. Schab of Columbia University published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics found artificial food colors may lead to “neurobehavioral toxicity”.


A 1994 study from the Department of Pediatrics, University of Melbourne, Royal Children's Hospital in Victoria, Australia found that Yellow 5 is associated with behavioral changes, including irritability, restlessness, depression and difficulty sleeping.


A 1996 study at the School of Food Engineering, State University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil tested 11 dyes and found that “all food colours tested inhibited mitochondrial respiration”.


Multiple studies have found Yellow 5 to cause hives and asthma symptoms. The three dyes most consumed–Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6–are the dyes most likely to cause systemic allergic reactions. These same dyes also contain the cancer-causing contaminants Benzidine, 4-aminobiphenyl and 4-aminoazobenzene.


Red 3 has been found to increase the risk of thyroid tumors in rat studies. Because of this, the FDA issued a partial ban on Red 3 in 1990, but later lifted the ban. Red 40 may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice. Blue 2 has been linked to brain tumors. These reports have been published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and are based on the results of the studies conducted by the chemical industry itself.


In 2009, mounting research exposing the dangers of synthetic food dyes led the British government to pressure food manufacturers into using safer food coloring substances. Toxic artificial dyes have now been replaced in the UK with food-based colors derived from beets, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, berries, red cabbage, turmeric powder, saffron powder and paprika.


In 2010, the UK began requiring a warning label on any foods containing artificial food dyes, which reads "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."


In 2011, due to these government recommendations and consumer pressure, Walmart, Coca Cola and Mars companies removed artificial colors, sodium benzoate and aspartame from their UK products.


The US government and its FDA continue to allow all of these toxic poisons in America’s food supply, and so all of these same companies make two versions of their products; one for the UK with healthier ingredients, and one for the US with dangerous chemicals.


These chemicals and others are found in many of the top selling packaged and processed products in the US conventional mainstream food supply, many of which are specifically aimed at children.


It’s proven companies will make changes when governments act responsibly and consumers demand healthier choices. With every purchase we make, we cast a vote with our dollars for what we want in the marketplace. Make sure you vote for healthy, organic, whole, real foods that are free of any and all toxic chemicals. If no one buys these poisons, the companies will stop making them. It’s that simple.