Food coloring is everywhere, from colorful candies and snack foods to healthy yogurt, cheese, and juice. But how safe is it? Should parents worry about the safety of food coloring?

It’s important to understand that the Food and Drug Administration approves all food colorings in the US, which is responsible for monitoring the safety of the food and drug supply. Nevertheless, many parents may have heard about unsafe food dyes, even approved ones.

In the early days of the processed food industry, food dyes were made from natural ingredients. Unfortunately, natural doesn’t always mean safe, and some of these dyes were found to be toxic. This spurred manufacturers to start making synthetic dyes. By the early 1900s, scientists had come up with around 80 synthetic dyes for foods. By 1938, researchers discovered most of these dyes were not any safer than the toxic ones they replaced. The number dwindled to 15. Today, only seven dyes are considered safe by the FDA, despite constant controversy.

Many parents report behavioral issues in their children that they link directly to the consumption of artificial dyes in foods. Currently, Yellow #5, also known as tartrazine, is under debate. It is illegal in Europe because of its potential to cause allergies, hyperactivity, and cancer. Studies on Yellow #5 and #6 have shown the possibility of allergic reaction and hyperactivity. Although these dyes do contain small amounts of the known carcinogens benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl (or chemicals that the body converts into them), there isn’t enough evidence to prove that either causes cancer, according to the FDA.

According to the FDA, most of these reactions are more like an allergy that only affects certain children. Banning these dyes would be like banning peanuts for everyone because some children have an allergy to them.

Still, not all parents are convinced. Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to avoid artificial colors if you choose to keep them out of your child’s diet. Most companies label their products if they contain artificial colors. There are also a growing number of companies that offer all natural alternatives.

Takeaways

  • The FDA considers artificial food dyes safe.
  • Though it is legal in the US, Yellow #5 is illegal in Europe because it is linked to allergies, hyperactivity and cancer.
  • Yellow #5 and #6 have known carcinogens but studies do not show that they cause cancer.
  • All natural food options are available if you prefer to have food without dyes.

References

  1. Forbes. Living in Color: The Potential Dangers of Artificial Dyes
  2. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks
  3. BBC News. Parents Warned of Additives Link
  4. The Feingold Association of the United States. Diet & ADHD
  5. The Lancet. Food Additives and Hyperactive behavior in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old Children in the Community: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial
  6. Toxicological Sciences. Synergistic Interactions between Commonly Used Food Additives in a Developmental Neurotoxicity Test

Comments

  1. I agree with Carolina. If a food coloring actually stains things, objects, it cant be good for our children. I have read many articles that link food coloring to ADHD. Certain children who ingest red and blue food colorings have behavioral problems and hyperactivity. I also have read that the United States is the only place that allows certain foods and their dyes. That makes me wonder. I really try not to jump on this and get all crazy about it but it does have some validity. i just want my own child to be safe and not suffer from anything that can be prevented.

    Reply
  2. I am glad to find natural dyes. I do not know if common food dyes affect our bodies in any way but to me it can’t be good. My aunt brought my sons some colored cupcakes from the grocery store and one of them didn’t eat it all the way. When I went to clean the frosting off the place mat I could not get the stain from the frosting to come off. I tried it all. So it made me think if the dye from the frosting is doing this to the mat I can only imagine what it does to our bodies. I know it does not prove anything but of course it makes you wonder. Gladly if you search online you can find natural dyes. Everything is better natural.

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