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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:
"The last statement in the article is misleading. Artificial color does not implicitly mean it was derived from nature or that it is natural. If it did, it'd be called natural colors! Bear in mind that at least one naturally derived color...

Americans are now eating five times as much food dye as we did in 1955. That statistic isn’t as surprising when you consider that since then food dyes have made more and more of our foods colorful—from breakfast cereals to ice creams. While natural colorants made from foods like beets are available, many manufacturers opt for synthetic dyes—which may have dangerous health consequences, particularly for children, according to a recent report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This is why the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based consumer-watchdog group has asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban them. Such man-made food dyes appear in ingredient lists as a name of a color with a number following it: Blue 1 and 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Red 3 and 40, Yellow 5 and 6.

The three most widely used culprits—Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40—contain compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, that research has linked with cancer.

Research has also associated food dyes with problems in children including allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability and aggressiveness. A U.S. study published in Science found that when children who scored high on a scale measuring hyperactivity consumed a food-dye blend they performed worse on tests that measured their ability to recall images than when they drank a placebo. A 2007 British study found that children who consumed a mixture of common synthetic dyes displayed hyperactive behavior within an hour of consumption. (These children had not been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.) The results, published in The Lancet, prompted Britain’s Food Standards Agency to encourage manufacturers to find alternatives to food dyes. In July 2010, the European Parliament’s mandate that foods and beverages containing food dyes must be labeled as such went into effect for the entire European Union.



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