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Healthy Recipe Doctor

with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Elaine Magee's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What’s Up With Food Dyes?

When you pony up to a bowl of Fruit Loops or Cheetos, you must know at some level that you are going to be consuming some food dyes along with those calories. Obviously, we are better off with a bowl of blueberries, broccoli or carrots — all naturally colored courtesy of Mother Nature. There is a way to add some color (and important nutrients) to our food without resorting to Blue #1 or Green #3. It’s called: Eat more whole foods.”

What are the risks of food dyes added to processed food? In late June, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a press release saying “food dyes pose a rainbow of risks: cancer, hyperactivity, allergic reactions” and called for a ban on artificial food dyes. Here’s a link to a table from CSPI that summarizes the studies on food dyes.

CSPI admits the limitations of many of the studies in the table (too brief, too few mice, didn’t include in utero exposure, etc.),  but I for one think it’s worth discussing any new safety information, particularly any new data on dye intake of children, which clearly has been increasing over recent decades along with the increase in processed food consumption.

Let us not lose sight, though, of some common sense steps to limit consumption of dyes in general… Eat more whole foods and less processed food. Most of the food dyes reside in a few food categories:

  • colored breakfast cereals
  • candy
  • fruit drinks
  • colored “snacks foods”

Eat a lot less of these processed foods and you will get a lot less of the dyes in question.

Keep in mind too that natural colorings (i.e. beta-carotene, grape skin extract, paprika, turmeric) can be used in many of these products, but even the more natural color additives can cause trouble for some. Carmine and cochineal (colorings from a bright red insect) can cause rare but severe anaphylactic reactions and Annatto (red coloring that comes from achiote trees) can cause allergic reactions for those sensitive.

If I had to pick which food dye I consume on a regular basis, it would be whatever is used to color my can of Diet Pepsi (or Coke) that I drink maybe 4 times a week. In the case of Diet Pepsi, this is “caramel color.”

What about you? What are the foods you eat on a regular basis that contain food dyes?

Are you worried about food dyes? Trying to cut down on the amount of processed food you consume? Share your comments on the Food and Cooking Community.

Posted by: Elaine Magee, RD at 8:19 am

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