Food dyes are something that we're all familiar with from our childhoods spent surrounded by skittles, gummy bears, and sugar cookies decorated with bizarrely colored frosting for every occasion. We don't really give the bright colors of our food much thought because they seem innocent and endlessly entertaining. But as more information about the potential risks of food coloring becomes available, we begin to see more reasons to forgo the alien green candy and perhaps just look at the rainbow instead of tasting it.
Synthetic food dyes have been used to color foods, cosmetics, and medications since their discovery in 1856. The presence of toxic metals like arsenic and mercury caused many to be banned in 1906, but other colors are still used today despite the harmful effects on health. To prevent developmental problems, it is crucial to assess the health and safety of these additives since dyed products are frequently marketed toward children. A few of these colors have been banned in Austria and Norway, and the EU mandates that manufacturers include warning labels.
One of the two dyes still in use today, FD&C Red No. 40 has been associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Due to their heightened sensitivity, some children's ADHD symptoms may get worse with consumption of Red No. 40.
Red dyes have been linked to allergies and migraines, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, but studies are still in the early stages of animal testing.
On the other hand, FD&C Red No. 3 (Erythrosine) has been classified as a carcinogen (a cancer-causing chemical).
FD&C Green No. 3 is less frequently used and has some restrictions on use in the cosmetics industry, as it can cause irritation to the eyes.
In trials, green dye caused significant increases in bladder and testes tumors in male rats. Other animal studies have indicated the development of brain tumors. While more studies are still needed to confirm findings, Green No. 3 is known to contain contaminants like Aniline, which is known to damage hemoglobin to the point where it can no longer carry oxygen.
While early research has found no evidence that Blue No. 1 is toxic, it has been linked to the development of kidney stones and has been tested for its impact on in vitro nerve cells in preliminary studies.
Due to studies showing a statistically significant rise in tumor development, particularly brain gliomas in male rats, Blue No. 2 is one of the most hazardous food dyes currently in use.
Another extremely harmful food coloring, Yellow No. 5, has been demonstrated in studies to permanently harm white blood cells in every concentration examined, which can result in cancer. In addition to being toxic on its own, it is frequently contaminated with additional cancer-causing chemicals. Yellow dyes are known to cause behavioral problems in children, so the EU mandates warning labels on products containing them.
Animals used in studies for Yellow No. 6 developed adrenal tumors as a result of the artificial food color. Additionally, it may exacerbate ADHD symptoms.
It is important to keep in mind that almost all safety studies on food dyes were commissioned, carried out, and analyzed by academic consultants and the chemical industry, not by independent and objective researchers.
Additionally, these safety studies were conducted separately for each dye rather than in combination with others, which is how they are consumed by the end customer. This oversight makes it impossible to determine whether any dye is actually safe for consumption.
Always read the label to ensure that the "natural" brand you choose doesn't actually contain artificial dyes while deceiving consumers with misleading marketing. Refer to the list below for all the possible names that artificial food dyes could be hiding behind.
What to watch for on labels:
FD&C Lakes (ex: Blue 1 Lake)
Red 3- Erythrosine
Red 10- Carmoisine
Red 18- Ponceau 4R
Green 3- Fast Green FCF
Yellow 5- Tartrazine
Yellow 6- Sunset Yellow FCF
Blue 1- Brilliant Blue FCF
Blue 2- Indigo Carmine