I mentioned recently that Rebecca has launched a new blog sharing her family's plight to eliminate food coloring: Die, Food Dye! Today she is here to share ten things all of us should know about food dye:
My discovery of our child's sensitivity to synthetic food coloring this summer inspired me to start blogging about our challenges. I've learned so much more in the last four months than in my daughter's whole life, it seems. Makes me wish I had a do-over at times, but the knowledge we've gained through difficult times makes me grateful for the ride. This rough path led me to the realization that I too have a sensitivity to food dyes.
After 40 years of awareness campaigns, you'd think that food coloring sensitivity wouldn't be such a mystery. But sometimes, I think, science is stranger than fiction, and it can be overwhelming to the average consumer. For instance, I've learned that not all dyes affect people the same way, and that different combinations of dyes can have varying affects. Even though the effects of synthetic coloring aren't universal, I've learned enough through my research to solidify my belief that artificial dyes are unhealthy for all humans.
Just for starters, some food for thought -
1) Food coloring is made from petroleum, contaminants, and propylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze). A little perspective ... Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) is made from crude oil runoff and contains a known carcinogen called benzene. Benzene has been banned from our gasoline in the US. And the same Blue 2 dye that colors our jeans also colors our foods. Now times are tough, but I doubt any of us would eat gasoline or jeans willingly.
2) Artificial food coloring has been linked to bed-wetting, eczema, mood swings, hyperactivity, sleep disturbances, increased risky behavior, ear infections, headaches, hypersensitivity, obesity, asthma, diabetes, cancer, ADD/ADHD, chromosomal damage, hives, and possibly hypoglycemia. Some scientists believe it could play a role in Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease.
3) If a food label includes "artificial color,” “artificial color added” or “color added” this means that natural pigments were used. Synthetic dyes must be listed on a product, by name (for example Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Green 3).
4) There are some times when we consume petroleum dyes without ever knowing it:
In stores: Oranges are sprayed with Citrus Red dye to appear more nutritious, and no label is required. Salmon are given red-colored feed to make their flesh appear brighter (and therefore fresher). Supermarket beef is injected with red dye to hide its otherwise gray hue.
At parties: You knew food coloring was in soda, cake, juices, and candy - but did you know that it's also in those goody bag temporary tattoos, face paints, finger paints, and play dough?
In school cafeterias: Kids consume petroleum food dyes in jelly, yogurt, condiments, meats, juices, fruit cocktail, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, chips, pickles, sugar-free and regular pudding, cake, popsicles, ice cream, and flavored milk.
At restaurants: Kids' menu items contain plenty of dyes: Lemonade, sugar-free lemonade, caramel dip, chips, pickles, rice, sauces, condiments, cookies, frozen yogurt, ice cream, "fruit" punch, and juice. Be wary of water taps that do double duty with highly dyed soda. We always bring dye-free, sugar-free drink mix packets.
5) Synthetic dyes are not vegan due to continual animal testing. I found this out after getting the one and only spray tan of my life. If you have a special occasion coming up and want a more natural glow, do an online search for "organic spray tans."
6) Petroleum dyes are in white liquids and foods, such as coffee creamer and marshmallows.
7) Medicines such as pain killers, fever reducers, and allergy treatments (Benadryl) may contain synthetic dyes. Ask for dye-free versions of prescriptions from your doctor or pharmacist. You can check to see if your medications have dyes here. Check your vitamin labels for dyes, too.
8) Products with the label "made with organic ingredients" may still contain synthetic dyes. Buying 100% certified organic products is an easy way to avoid food coloring.
9) "Caramel coloring" isn't natural. It's sugar that has been highly processed with ammonia and sulfites. It has been shown to produce two carcinogenic chemicals in the body (related to lung, liver, and thyroid cancer, and leukemia). It's used in soda, tea, beer, liquor, baked goods, sauces and dips, dressings, gravies, and candy. I found it in NUMEROUS "healthy" products at two well-known "natural" grocery chains.
10) The largest American food manufacturers are already selling dye-free versions of their popular products in other countries. Yes, they do have the means to change their production methods ... it's just cheaper to use chemicals. And our government hasn't been as proactive in encouraging a switch.
Food dye sensitivity won't show up on traditional allergy tests. However, testing your family's tolerance to food coloring is free and easier than ever. Try an elimination diet for one or two weeks: Make a "food mood" log including foods and drinks consumed, plus notes on behavior. Compare your notes with your child's school behavior chart before and during that period (especially if your child eats school lunch or is given food rewards by a teacher). Look for patterns, such as great Mondays followed by steadily worse days.
If food dye sensitivity is confirmed, diet adjustments can be made relatively painlessly. Lots of food manufacturers offer dye-free alternatives now. You can buy natural food coloring online and at your local health food store. And for those of you who love to experiment in the kitchen, it's not hard to find instructions online for homemade dyes using berries, veggies, and spices. No matter if you have a food coloring sensitivity or not, remember to "vote with your dollars" ... the only way we can make healthy food offerings the new "norm" is to shop with our values.
For more ideas on adjusting to life without food coloring, visit my blog at www.DieFoodDye.com. Follow @DieFoodDye on Twitter, and interact with other dye-sensitive folks on the DFD Facebook fan page.