That we eat with our eyes is a fact not lost on food manufacturers. Americans consume five times more food dye now than in 1955. Today, dyes make white bread look more like whole wheat, add eye-popping color to cereals and mimic fruits or vegetables in processed foods. They are sometimes even sprayed on oranges to brighten them up.
Commonly used synthetic dyes, such as Red 40, may pose a “rainbow of risks,” including cancer (at least three dyes indicate a risk in animal studies), hyperactivity in some children and allergic reactions, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. (In Europe, synthetic dyes have been largely phased out.) The FDA requires manufacturers to list synthetic color additives by name. Look for the numbers, like Blue 2, in the ingredient list.
But you can still have your color and eat it too: safe plant-based and mineral dyes can accomplish a similar effect. Ones you might see on food labels include chlorophyllin (green from algae) and paprika (red from peppers). Household foods, such as beets and red onions, are also safe.