I try to keep it light and positive here at HEAL, but occasionally I feel the need to rant. Today’s one of those days, so get ready! ;)
It’s been more than a decade since I learned about the health dangers of food dyes and colouring in nutrition school. When I say food dyes, I mean ingredients like Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 40, Citrus Red 2, Orange B, and more. While I knew these should be avoided, I wasn’t buying foods with dyes in them, didn’t yet have kids, and hadn’t had many child clients at HEAL. Fast forward to now with an almost 2 year old and a 4.5 year old, plus an experience with a child client that was SO interesting, it’s something I want to bring up on HEAL in the hopes we can make some small, but meaningful change for our kids (because let's face it, kids food is one of the most common places you'll find these ingredients.)
First of all, I find it very powerful to know that given what I’m going to share below, Europe and Australia have already banned these ingredients completely from food. Let me repeat that: they are already banned! Food manufacturers have had to come up with less toxic ways to make our food bright colours. Canada and the US, however, have laxer food and product regulations. More shockingly, artificial food dye consumption has increased by 500% in the last 50 years. Here are some of the health issues associated with food dyes and colouring:
I think the most well-known issue with food dyes and colouring is behavioural issues. One meta-analysis of 15 trials came to the conclusion that food colouring exacerbates behavioural issues including ADHD. In fact, in this study, 73% of kids with ADHD actually showed a decrease in hyperactivity symptoms when artificial dyes and preservatives were removed. (Artificial preservatives will be for another article.)
Now, you might be thinking, but this doesn’t affect me as my child doesn’t have ADHD. Well, in this study, they looked at sodium benzoate (a preservative) and artifical colours (including red dye) for both 3 year olds and 8-9 year olds and concluded that dyes caused hypersensitivity (in kids with no other diagnosed conditions).
Specific to tartazine (yellow dye), behavioural changes in irritability, restlessness, and sleep disturbance were associated with its ingestion.
I believe that every parent wants the best for their child, and frequent exposure to these ingredients can make it challenging for your child to thrive.
Food dyes were originally made from coal tar and now are made from petroleum. Whatttt? Directly from this study: “Red 3 causes cancer in animals, and there is evidence that several other dyes also are carcinogenic. Three dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) have been found to be contaminated with benzidine or other carcinogens. At least four dyes (Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) cause hypersensitivity reactions. Toxicity tests on two dyes (Citrus Red 2 and Orange B) also suggest safety concerns.”
I often hear the comment from people, that everything causes cancer so we should just relax about it, and while this can feel true at times, I believe that we want to control what is in our control. It doesn’t mean overly stressing about it, but still making conscious decisions.
Building off the behavioural issues mentioned above, tartazine was studied in mice and rats to evaluate the toxic effect of tartrazine on the learning and memory functions in mice and rats and showed adverse effects in learning and memory functions in the animals.
Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are considered to be the most allergenic dyes; tartazine sensitivity is thought to manifest the most as asthma and hives. Over 50% of people with chronic hives showed allergic reactions to food dyes.
This is a long list, so get ready! Keep in mind, it’s not actually unique to just food. These dyes are found in personal care products (ever wonder how your lotion is pink?), and many supplements or vitamins. Even Colgate lists 14 different food dyes in their list of ingredients (not every toothpaste has 14, but if the toothpaste has bright colours in it, it’s worth checking).
The below list does not mean every one of these items on the market has food dyes, but it does suggest you should keep an eye out for it:
Before you think you have to give up all fun, colourful foods, let me clarify that there are now many brands that are providing great alternatives.
There’s a brand I’ve purchased at Whole Foods called Lulubelle that makes dye-free sprinkles. A quick Google search for “dye-free sprinkles” will show tons of great options now on the market.
You can also keep it simple and use strawberries, raspberries and beets to make things pink (Sophie loves when we do this), turmeric makes things yellow, and this blog post has even more suggestions for homemade food.
For personal care products, buying them at health food stores and questioning the ingredients when the product is a non-natural colour is helpful. We love ActiveBaby soap for the girls for its clean ingredients.
In conclusion, there’s so much more to say about this topic, but I’ll leave it here for today. I hope you feel empowered by this information.