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  • Writer's picturea whole health life


It's that time of the year when we are seeing tons of beautiful frosted cookies and holiday treats everywhere. Unfortunately, many of them contain artificial food dye. I am sharing this in case some of you are unaware of what that is made of -- I know it shocked me the first time I learned!

Food coloring is made in a lab with chemicals derived from petroleum, a crude oil product, which also happens to be used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and tar. Artificial food dyes are made from petroleum and approved for use by the FDA to enhance the color of processed foods. And as you know, food dye is ALL over the shelves of our stores and is ubiquitous in the"treats" we give our children.

My question is: Is it really a treat if it is derived from the same chemical that is used to fuel our cars?

In the US today, 15 million pounds of food dye is used in the market. Goodness gracious, that is a lot of crude oil product in our foods! Food dye is not only in candy, but it is often in pre-packaged foods, drinks, pre-packed lunches (lunchables), fruit rolls, chips, mouth wash, salad dressing, cough drops, and many yogurts. I could go on. And on. And on. And we know that Americans are eating 5 times as much food dye as we did in 1955.

So let's go through just a tiny spotlight of the various problems with food dye:


The three most widely used culprits-Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40-contain compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, that research has linked with cancer. Is this shocking that chemicals derived from petroleum are a carcinogen?

According to a study in Toxicology, here is the conclusion around food dyes:

"All of the nine currently US-approved dyes raise health concerns of varying degrees. Red 3 causes cancer in animals, and there is evidence that several other dyes also are carcinogenic. Three dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) have been found to be contaminated with benzidine or other carcinogens. At least four dyes (Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) cause hypersensitivity reactions. Numerous microbiological and rodent studies of Yellow 5 were positive for genotoxicity (damages the genetic information within a cell causing mutations, which may lead to cancer).

The inadequacy of much of the testing and the evidence for carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, and hypersensitivity, coupled with the fact that dyes do not improve the safety or nutritional quality of foods, indicates that all of the currently used dyes should be removed from the food supply and replaced, if at all, by safer colorings. In my personal opinion, I believe that there should be better and independent toxicity testing for food dyes. I wish that a chemical substance of this carcinogen level was not allowed to be put in so much food, but the reality is-- that it is. This means it is up to YOU as the consumer to decide if you want that in your and your chidren's bodies.


Research has associated food coloring with problems in children including allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability and aggressiveness. One study published in Science found that when children who scored high on a scale measuring hyperactivity consumed a food-dye blend they performed worse on tests that measured their ability to recall images than when they drank a placebo.

A 2007 British study found that children who consumed a mixture of common synthetic dyes displayed hyperactive behavior within an hour of consumption. (These children had not been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.) The results, published in The Lancet, prompted Britain's Food Standards Agency to encourage manufacturers to find alternatives to food dyes. In July 2010, the European Parliament's mandate that foods and beverages containing food dyes must be labeled as such went into effect for the entire European Union. Europe essentially warns it's people that there are risks to consuming food dye. America is not there yet.

So that is just a tiny highlight on some dangers of food dye -- I'm sure I could compile lots of studies and give you detailed evidence on the dangers of food dye. But isn't just the risk of cancer and behavior problems scary enough? It is for me. Not to mention the fact that we are putting petroleum into our foods. WHAT?


There are so many natural and yummy dye-free options out there! Many small and large companies are moving towards coloring/flavoring their products with vegetables... woohoo! Make sure to *read your labels*! This is so important. Food dye can hide in so many foods, and it isn't always as obvious as it is in a bag of skittles. Do I know that my kids eat food dye every now and then? Of course. Especially this time of year -- those little candy canes that Santa hands out or a cookie here or there.

But at home and when we have control of it, we believe food coloring definitely doesn't nourish, and even can cause major harm.

If you want to make colored frosting or have fun sprinkles for your family -- no problem! You can find natural food dyes at natural food stores like Whole Foods or PCC or even on amazon! That is a major upgrade to REAL food, not real fuel ;) for yours and your kids' bodies.

We also love the m&ms in the bulk section of our local natural store (PCC) that are colored with vegetables -- we use these for our hiking treats! We have these natural sprinkles on hand for when we need to whip up a birthday cake or a treat for a special occasions. Natural food dyes are made out of turmeric powder, beet powder, carrot powder, spirulina, tomatoes, etc. -- so while avoiding harm, you are also eating something that is nutritious!

What do you think? Will you trade fuel chemicals for real food in your home?

Happy baking friends! We made frosted cookies with natural food dye and natural food dyed sprinkes... and they were delicious. There is always a way for you to upgrade your treats or anything you eat to REAL food!

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