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The Hidden Health Risks of Food Dyes

By Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D., "Live or Let Dye," November/December 2010

How bad is Red 40 and more synthetic dyes?


READER'S COMMENT:
"Dyes have been used since antiquity, and cannot be seen as responsible for the increase in food consumption. However, what's changed about dyes over time is how much has been used, and the constituents of the dyes. Since the roman times,...

Preliminary evidence suggests that many children have a slight sensitivity to food dyes—and a smaller percentage are very sensitive. “We see reactions in sensitive individuals that include core ADHD symptoms, like difficulty sitting in a chair and interrupting conversations,” says David Schab, M.D., M.P.H., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of a 2004 meta-analysis that found food dyes promote hyperactive behavior in already hyperactive children. Even so, says Schab, this isn’t the most compelling reason to give up food dyes. “Foods with dyes are often riddled with other nutritional problems, like excess calories and fat,” says Schab, who points out that childhood obesity is a far greater public health concern.

Bottom Line: If you’re concerned, ditch the potentially dangerous synthetic dyes. Look for foods bearing the green-and-white USDA certified organic label, but be aware that foods labeled “made with organic ingredients” may still contain synthetic dyes. You can also check product ingredient lists for beet, carotenes, annatto, capsanthin (a paprika extract)—as all are natural colorants. Counterintuitively, the terms “artificial color,” “artificial color added” or “color added” also indicate that nature-derived pigments were used since synthetic dyes must be listed by their names.



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