Seven Deadly Synthetic Food Dyes
Kraft Mac'n'Cheese-- it's what's for dinner
Ever wonder what makes Kraft Mac'n'cheese bright orange? If you're eating it in America or Canada, Mac'n'Cheese is made such an attractive "hyper" color by adding Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. However, if you are in Europe or Australia, Mac'n'Cheese is a bland neutral color. This is because the majority of synthetic food dyes used in processed foods are derived from Petroleum and coal. It really doesn't take a genius to figure out that those probably aren't intended to be eaten!
So Why Do We Add Color?
Because we learn to associate color with flavor when we are children. If I say, what flavor is purple, most children would reply "grape." Purple is grape-flavored. Food companies add dye to make their product more appealing and attractive to consumers.
And consumers buy into it.
One study tested children with Mac'n'cheese, one group with the "normal" orange and another with green food dye. The study found that the children who were given the green dye ate less and described the food to be not as good as the orange. This is because biologically, we are wired to recognize color and shape to decide and remember which foods are good to eat.
The Seven Deadly Dyes
The FDA has approved seven dyes for use in food products. These primary colors can be mixed together to create secondary colors, such as our lovely "grape purple." This means you are getting Red 40 and Blue 2 in your jolly rancher, doubling your intake of dye and your risks.
- Blue 1 "Brilliant blue" is derived from coal tar and is not digestable by the body, which can lead to green poop. Blue 1 has been linked to ADHD, allergies, and asthma. Several European countries have banned Blue 1.
- Blue 2 "Indigotine" is the same dye used to make blue jeans blue. Blue 2 is a synthetic dye based off the chemical make-up of the natural dye indigo, which is an ancient, plant-based dye. Blue 2 has been linked to ADHD and food allergies.
- Green 3 "Fast Green FCF" is banned in the EU and has been linked to testicular and bladder cancers and tumors in lab animals and causes irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Green 3 is not a common dye, but it is used frequently in candy.
- Red 40 "Allura red" was introduced as a replacement for "amaranth," which is on the FDA's banned list. Red 40 is derived from either coal tar or petroluem. Red 40 has been linked to cancers, ADHD, extreme allergies, asthma, and migraines. Several European countries have banned Red 40. Red 40 is used in pet food, sausage, frosting, chips, and soda pop.
- Red 3 "Erythrosine" has been partially banned by the FDA for known health risks, specifically thyroid cancer. It has also been linked to other cancers and is currently under review for a full ban. Red 3 has mostly been replaced with Red 40 but is still used in things like fruit roll ups and chewing gum.
- Yellow 5 "Tartazine" is derived from coal tar and is the number one allergy-causing dye. Allergies to Yellow 5 can range from mild indigestion to severe depression. It is estimated that 360,000 Americans have bad reactions to ingesting Yellow 5. Yellow 5 is a common dye and is in candy, cereal, and many other processed foods. It has been banned in several European countries.
- Yellow 6 "Sunset Yellow" is derived from petroluem. Yellow 6 has been linked to ADHD, food allergies (aspirin allergies), and cancer. Yellow 6 is banned in several European countries and is being phased out of the UK.
Approved Dyes in Foods
- FD&C Blue No. 1 – Brilliant Blue FCF, E133 (blue shade)
- FD&C Blue No. 2 – Indigotine, E132 (dark blue shade)
- FD&C Green No. 3 – Fast Green FCF, E143 (turquoise shade)
- FD&C Red No. 40 – Allura Red AC, E129 (red shade)
- FD&C Red No. 3 – Erythrosine, E127 (pink shade, commonly used in glacé cherries) 
- FD&C Yellow No. 5 – Tartrazine, E102 (yellow shade)
- FD&C Yellow No. 6 – Sunset Yellow FCF, E110 (orange shade)
Rainbow Frosting Makes the Party!
Adding color is festive and such small amounts can't possibly hurt your health. After all, the FDA approved it, so it must be safe!
In the 1950s, the government introduced Color Additives Amendment to the FD&C Act, which laid the responsibility of the food dye safety at the feet of food manufactors. Recently, however, consumer safety groups have been pressuring the FDA to do individual, independent tests for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, the FDA is overworked and underfunded. The FDA tends to shove things through their approval process and it can take years or even decades to revoke the decision. However, only 7 dyes are approved by the FDA currently. This is against the 10 dyes that have been delisted since 1938 because science found them to be unsafe and harmful when ingested. And before that there were 80 approved dyes in 1906. And now there is only 7 approved dyes. Out of 80.
More and more studies are finding that dyes are linked the cancers, noteable colon, brain, and testicular cancer. Other studies have linked dyes to ADHD in children. Not to mention dyes can cause severe allergic reactions, including migraines, digestive problems, and a blocked airways.
While dyes make food more appealing, occasionally tricking customers into thinking the product has greater nutrition or superior value, they do not really add anything healthy or helpful to foods.
The Grassroots (Literally and Figuratively) Solution
The good news is that we don't have to have boring Mac'n'Cheese. There are lots of natural, non-toxic dyes to enhance our food visually. Beetroot, annatto and paprika extract can be used in place of Red 40. Blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, paprika, grape skin extract, beet juice, purple sweet potato, corn, and red cabbage are other alternatives to synthetic food dyes from petrolem and coal tar.
Or, why have food dyes at all? Several companies, including Kraft, are starting to produce dye-less versions of their products. They still taste the same, but without the added toxins of synthetic food dyes. The more consumers buy of these dye-less products, the more the companies will make and the safer dinner will be.
As a consumer, let your money talk. Avoid products with food dyes as much as possible. Or, write companies to praise their dye-less versions and encourage them to provide more alternative products. Sign petitions and be informed about dyes and the FDA. Create a demand for safer food.
Until the FDA bans dyes (Red 3 will be next to go) or companies take consumer health seriously, avoid processed foods and excessive dyes as much as possible. You should avoid processed foods anyway, since most of it is junk food and not good for you.