Worried about food dyes? Eat local food!

Certain dyes and preservatives used in foods have long been known to have carcinogenic effects, as tested on laboratory animals. One dye or preservative at a time. But now recent studies are further linking these same chemicals that pervade our foods with the increases in hyperactivity in kids. And other studies are finally (FINALLY!!!!) going further and testing the chemicals together. Because rarely do we consume Red #40 all alone; it’s typically consumed with a whole host of other chemicals such as tartrazine (FD&C* Yellow 5), potassium nitrate (handy to have around if you also want to make fertilizer or fireworks), or monosodium glutamate, and this chemical soup we dine on may be causing us significant harm. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that cereals such as Froot Loops and Lucky Charms, or snacks such as Cheetos and RingDings are not good for us or our kids. But these newest studies are gathering up nearly ALL processed foods and lumping them into the same category. Strawberry yogurt? Barbecue sauce? Chicken fingers? Even many items you would think of as healthy, such as granola bars, turkey sandwich meat, oranges, salmon, and pickles are potential culprits.

Why add dyes to food? Aesthetics, primarily. Because so much of this food was cooked up in a lab and doused with preservatives to make it last for months on the shelves, if food dye was not added, everything would probably be a grayish color. Who would buy gray yogurt? Gray barbecue sauce? Gray jelly? It would be a great deterrent, but food companies are looking to maximize profits, not deter customers from buying food, no matter how unhealthy that processed food is! But aren’t there natural dyes? Of course, but the lab-synthesized stuff tends to be cheaper, and the bottom line is what it’s all about for these food companies. There are currently nine synthetic food colorings approved for use, and two of those have specific use (one – Orange B -can only be used in hot dog and sausage casings and the other – Citrus Red 2 – is only for orange peels). The other seven are all slight variations of the primary colors, so when mixed together, can create the whole rainbow, as Froot Loops so kindly displays for us. A further ten synthetic dyes were original approved, but have since been delisted due to strong links to sicknesses from consumption.

Citrus Red 2 is a known carcinogen. But don’t worry, it’s only supposed to be on the peels of your oranges. So don’t consume the peels….think again if you’re adding some orange zest to a recipe. Go for the organic oranges, since organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic food dyes, even in the peels. Of the other seven approved food dyes, three are considered highly suspect these days: FD&C Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue E133), FD&C Red No. 40 (Allura Red AC E129), and FD&C Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine E 102). The list of problems these dyes have been implicated in causing include hyperactivity, asthma, migraines, thyroid problems, skin rashes, behavioral problems, chromosomal damages, and other allergenic reactions. It is the first issue I listed that has recently been making news. Hyperactivity. The rise in ADHD diagnosis in children is a fact, and although I personally think (with no scientific studies supporting me) that it is partly due to the fact that we are simply just diagnosing our children more today than even ten years ago, and certainly more than 20 years ago, when ADHD was virtually unheard of. However, I am also inclined to believe that our additive-laden diet is wreaking havoc on the body systems of some of our most susceptible members of the population – the children.

Nearly all of the currently approved dyes are known carcinogens – but the argument is that we consumers are not ingesting enough of them to have any significant effect (and that effect is, of course, developing tumors). We can only hope. A recent study published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest outlined all of the risk factors from each of these approved dyes. This is not a new idea – Dr. Ben Feingold first proposed a diet eliminating certain additives as a way to treat hyperactivity and ADHD, among other issues, in the early 70’s (which was very late in Dr. Feingold’s life – he passed away in 1982). Since his passing, the Feingold Association of the U.S. has carried on his work, and on their website, they have compiled a list of studies supporting diet therapy.  Many of these studies link consumption of dyes – notably Red 40 and Yellow 5 – with increased hyperactivity and attention deficit problems. There seems to be a resounding note of caution coming from all of the studies, particularly about Red No. 40, which one study was concerned that if the message came out for parents to eliminate all Red 40 from their children’s diets, there would be serious nutritional deficiencies. That is how pervasive Red 40 is in our food supply. But not our local food supply. Eat local. Eat fresh food. Eat real food, not food products reorganized and pumped full of preservatives and colorings and labeled with promises and catch-phrases. I do not need a single double-blind peer-reviewed study to tell me that I feel better when I eat that way. You will too!

*FD&C means that the dye has been approved, or at least considered “GRAS” (Generally Recognized as Safe) for use in Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics.

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