dyes in food

This is a summary of an article called Color Us Worries: Why Synthetic Food Dyes Should Be Banned, written by Michael F Jacobson and Sarah Kobylewski, published in the September 2010 edition of Nutrition Action.

Many of the foods we eat are colored with synthetic dyes.  I knew things like M&Ms or many ice creams, for example, were colored, since they’re sweets.  But I didn’t know items such as crackers, pickles, granola bars, and margarine included dyes.

These dyes are petroleum-based and are attractive to manufacturers because they are cheaper than their naturally occurring counterparts. Unfortunately, while they are FDA-approved, there are some safety concerns about these dyes.

Red 3, for example, has been banned by the FDA from cosmetics and topically applied drugs — but it is still legal in foods, drinks, and drugs that are ingested.  “In 1984, the then-acting FDA commissioner said that Red 3 was ‘of greatest public health concern’ and ‘has clearly been shown to induce cancer.'”  But now, in 2010, it is still legal (and very widely used).

Red 40, Yellow 6, and Yellow 5 all cause hives or other allergic-like reactions.  Yellow 5 also causes DNA damage.

There is research to show that several of these dyes that are still in use cause behavior problems in children, both those with and without ADHD.  [As a side note, I have read that sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity.  This information about the dye together with that make sense to me.]

Each batch of dyes needs to be certified by the FDA, ensuring that it doesn’t contain unsafe levels of cancer-causing impurities.  However, “15 years ago, FDA and Canadian government scientists discovered that most of the carcinogen benzidine that can contaminate Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 is bound to molecules in the dyes.  So routine FDA tests, which only look for ‘free’ benzidine, fail to detect it. And the dyes are sometimes contaminated with 100 to 1,000 times more bound than free benzidine.”

So the gist is: avoid synthetic dyes in your food whenever possible.  Surprised?

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