Artificial Food Dyes May Cause Cancer, ADHD

ADHD food dyes

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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The old adage “you eat with your eyes before you eat with your stomach” holds true for several cases. Brightly colored foods entice people, but foods that are artificially dyed can be very detrimental to one’s health according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) report entitled, Food Dyes, Rainbow of Risks. CSPI wants food dyes to be banned because they are a threat to public health.

now foodsWashington, D.C.—The old adage “you eat with your eyes before you eat with your stomach” holds true for several cases. Brightly colored foods entice people, but foods that are artificially dyed can be very detrimental to one’s health according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) report entitled, Food Dyes, Rainbow of Risks. CSPI wants food dyes to be banned because they are a threat to public health.

Food dyes were originally synthesized from coal tar, but now they are synthesized from petroleum. These dyes are used because they are cheaper and brighter than most natural food colorings.  Food dyes are not pure chemicals, they can contain up to 10% of impurities that are in chemicals from which dyes are made or developed in the manufacturing process. There are about 9 different artificial food dyes that companies use, Red 40 and Yellow 5 to name a few.

According to Michael Jacobsen, executive director at CSPI, some foods don’t need artificial coloring. “Some foods don’t even need added colorings. In other cases, natural ingredients (like tomatoes or orange juice) could provide the color or companies could use safe natural colorings (beta-carotene, purple carrot extracts, etc.)—but not carmine/cochineal, which cause occasional, severe allergic reactions,” Jacobsen said.

Each dye has its own set of problems and health risks but, most of them can be summed up in the fact that they can be toxic at certain levels. This report focuses on the toxic effects of food dyes including birth defects, organ damage, and cancer. One of the major findings according to this report is the cause-and-effect link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children. It was found that the food dyes promote hyperactivity in hyperactive children, as measured on behavioral rating scales. “The first thing Congress should do is ban dyes in all foods in schools because children are at greatest risk and schools should provide the healthiest foods,” Jacobsen said.

Another risk factor with these artificial food colorings is that they contain cancer-causing contaminants. Although U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have established legal limits of these cancer-causing substances in the dyes, certain factors are not taken into account. One of the issues is that the FDA testing tolerances were based on 1990 dye usage, making the numbers outdated since dye usage has increased by about 50% since then.  Another problem with FDA limits is that they did not consider the increased risk that the dyes have on children “who are more sensitive to carcinogens and consume more dyes per unit of body weight than adults.”

Now, FDA stipulates that artificial flavorings must be stated clearly on product labels, so if artificial flavorings must be clearly labeled food dyes should be labeled as well. “Consumers should not have to wait decades, if not forever, for companies to voluntarily remove questionable dyes from their products.”

To see the complete list of food dyes, visit http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf to see the full report.  

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2010 (published ahead of print on July 27, 2010)