How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

When you think of nacho cheese from Taco Bell, you probably picture a bright orange color that can really only be manufactured in a lab. That look will soon change, as the fast food chain plans to get rid of the artificial ingredients — in this case, yellow dye no. 6 — that cosmetically alter its food.

This kind of menu revamp has been adopted by many fast casual restaurants and big food brands this year. Kraft, Campbell Soup and many others have publicly announced promises to nix artificial ingredients and preservatives from most, if not all, of their edible offerings in the coming years, replacing them with natural alternatives.

The change comes at a time when consumer demand for healthier and more natural ingredients has surged: A 2014 report from the marketing research firm Nielsen showed that more than 60 percent of Americans found the lack artificial colors and flavors an important factor when making food purchases. While there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that artificial flavors are harmful, removal is what the people want — and their desires are being heard. Below, find 11 companies that are making changes to their foods now or in the near future.

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

The Mexican restaurant pioneered transparency about ingredients for chain restaurants and big food brands. By April 2015, Chipotle successfully removed all GMOs from its foods, the first chain to do so. The company is currently working to improve its tortillas, with hopes of serving them without the dough conditioners they currently contain.

In June, the chain announced that it will be producing tortillas with just four ingredients: whole wheat flour, water, oil and salt. The tortillas are still in the testing stage, but Chipotle is optimistic.

Artificial food dyes are unfortunately in quite a lot of processed foods. I’ve already shared all the reasons I hate them, but today I want to share the names of the FDA-approved dyes so you can look for (and hopefully avoid) them in food products.

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

Note: This is the “currently approved” list because, unsettling enough, the approval status does change.

The following FD&C color additives are either no longer authorized or restricted for use – that’s right the FDA once thought these seven food dyes were “safe” but have since changed their minds: Green 1, Green 2, Red 1, Red 2, Red 3 (still used in food, but no longer in cosmetics or external drugs), Red 4, and Violet 1. In fact, if you look at food, drugs and cosmetics in total there are 91 different dyes that were once approved and are now no longer authorized or restricted for use.

In the UK artificial dyes are allowed for use, but require a warning label stating, “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” So, as a result, food companies have mostly switched to natural dyes in order to avoid slapping a warning label on their packages.

Even though these dyes are still widely used in the US, I did find this statement on the FDA website, “Exposure to food and food components, including AFC [artificial food colors] and preservatives, may be associated with behavioral changes, not necessarily related to hyperactivity, in certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, and possibly in susceptible children from the general population.”

I’d also like to share a link to a really interesting science experiment conducted by a kid who tested the effects of yellow dye in mice. The results are rather astounding…click to see for yourself!

Artificial Dyes Found in Surprising Places

What was once reserved for colorful, celebratory cake frosting is now lurking on almost every shelf in the grocery store. In fact, consumption of food dyes has increased 5-fold since 1955 (up from 3 million to 15 million pounds per year) – 90% of which is from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40. This is one of the many reasons why the argument that we grew up eating this stuff and turned out “just fine” doesn’t hold up – processed food has changed (and continues to change) since we were kids.

So nowadays unless you shop somewhere like Whole Foods or Earth Fare (supermarkets that don’t allow products with artificial dyes), get ready to do some label reading in order to avoid the above list on your next shopping trip.

Below are some examples where we found artificial food dyes. They are not just found in neon colored beverages and brightly colored candies – all of the following (even including brown cereal, whole-wheat pizza crust, and white icing!) are examples of packaged products that contain artificial dyes:

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

Have you found artificial dyes lurking in surprising places? Please let us know in the comments below.

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How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors


Photo by: Juanmonino

Sure, artificial food colorings make foods look brighter and more appealing, but at what cost? Consumer watchdog CSPI says food dyes can cause everything from hyperactivity and allergic reactions to cancer, and is calling for the government to ban three of the most common dyes. Here’s our take on the rainbow-colored additives.

Bright candy and breakfast cereals are obvious culprits, but check the ingredient lists on your favorite candy and baked goods. Chances are, you’ll find artificial colorings like “Yellow 5” and “Blue 1.” Companies also put these dyes in soda and other beverages, gelatin desserts, even pet food and some meat products (hot dogs, sausages, etc.)! And they don’t just use one. Finding two or more of these artificial dyes in a single product is not uncommon.

To start off, many food colorings just haven’t been tested enough to determine the long-term dangers. We’re not talking about ingesting small amounts, either. Consumption of food dyes has increased 500 percent in the past 50 years! As for the dyes that have been tested, studies have come back inconclusive — but some have shown links to certain types of cancers.

Other studies — more than 30 years’ worth of research, according to The Center for Science in the Public Interest — link food colorings to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children. The Center wants the FDA to ban certain dyes that they say cause these issues. Their petition includes two of the most common, Yellow 5 and Red 40, as well as Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3 and Yellow 6.

Internationally, the U.S. is behind other countries on its artificial dye policies. The U.K.’s Food Standards Agency has imposed a voluntary ban on several of these dyes because of their potential harm. And although they turned down a more widespread ban, the European Parliament agreed to place warning labels on all European-produced foods containing one of six artificial colorings. One U.S. state has considered similar bans, but so far all measures have been rejected.

Here are more “highlights” of some research findings on the main colors being used in the food industry today. (Count how many times you see these listed on labels of food you pick up in the supermarket. You might be surprised.)

  • Blue 2: linked to brain tumors in mice
  • Green 3: linked to bladder cancer back in 1981
  • Yellow 3: known to cause some mild allergic reactions – especially in people who are sensitive to aspirin
  • Yellow 6: associated with cancer of the adrenal glands and kidneys as well as possible allergic reactions
  • Red 3: was considered for banning in 1983 because of a possible link to thyroid tumors

Bottom Line: A small number of studies might not create fact, but why risk it? Artificial colors are found mostly in processed junk foods, which are high in calories and low in nutrients. Avoiding food dyes is just one of the benefits of choosing high-nutrient, whole foods instead.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »

The case for weeding out the artificial additives lurking in your food

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

One of the world’s largest food and candy makers just announced that the artificial colors, flavors and preservatives it has pumped into its candies are being dumped and replaced by natual ingredients in the United Kingdom.

The move is not a surprising one. After all, in 2005, on the heels of a well-published study called the Southampton Study, a lot of food manufacturers in the UK, including our very own American food manufacturers who sell products over there, began to remove artificial colors and preservatives from the products they sell [sidebar] (especially the products sold to children).

And the reason they did it? Well, as news outlets ran stories about the potential harm that things like artificial ingredients could cause and their links to hyperactivity, companies opted to remove these ingredients from their products in the UK “in response to consumer demand.”

Not because of legislation, not because of some regulatory climate, but because consumers insisted on it.

Pretty powerful stuff. But after all, consumers were well-informed with powerful independent studies showing that artificial blues and reds are linked to hyperactivity in children and that these colors may be derived from cancer causing agents. That’s not something you can unlearn. Most people would want to opt out and insist that the product be formulated using the natural alternative once they learned that.

And in the UK, that’s exactly what happened. Nestle actually highlighted a study that showed that 74 percent of consumers looked for products that do not contain additional additives. Savvy shoppers, as these ingredients are often derived from coal tar products and petrochemicals.

So what’s an eater to do in the United States if we want to avoid these additives? Well, a sure fire way to eat to beat additional additives is to purchase organic products, which by law are not allowed to contain things like artificial dyes and preservatives. Another option is just to dial back on the colored foods and candies (opt for chocolate!).

The bottom line is that there are baby steps that all of us can take, and they add up, and then we become the “consumer demand” and the bottom line that these companies respond to.

So remember, while none of us can do everything, all of us can do something. So let the food companies know how you feel by how you shop. Because together, we are a nation of over 300 million eaters, and what we choose to put in our shopping carts and on the ends of our forks are pretty powerful tools to help create the changes we want to see in the health of our families and food system.

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Harmful Effects of Artificial Food Colors [How To Make Natural Colors at Home]

Artificial food colors make food look more appealing. Brightly colored foods attract the attention of consumers, especially children. You might not be aware of the risks and dangers of artificial food coloring on your health.

food color dyes: source wikimedia commons

Do you know color additives are synthesized from petroleum byproducts? Artificial food dyes are also sourced from raw materials obtained from coal tar. Since they are cheaper and more stable under intense heat and light conditions, artificial colors have become widely popular in the food industry.

They may be used to standardize the color in products that may lose color during the production process. Food dyes make artificially flavored foods look more appealing. Artificial colors are often added to certain food products to intensify their natural color.

You might find Red #40 in foods that do not contain real fruit (cherries or strawberries) but use artificial fruit flavors.

Most common “colored” eatables with synthetic colors include:

aerated drinks
fruit juices
color chocolate
colored foods
tomato ketchup
potato chips
carbonated sodas
sports drinks
energy drinks
baked goodies
ice creams
orange & lemon peels
hot dog
frostings & cake icing
sweetened yogurt

Research is underway to investigate the connection between artificial food colors and children behavioral problems. It is reported that children who are fed artificial food flavored eatables are at the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Other behavioral problems included aggression, sleeplessness, irritability, and restlessness. These behavioral changes are more common in children who ingest higher doses of artificial food colors. Younger kids are more reactive to food dyes than older children.

You might be surprised to find that the most widely used artificial food coloring culprits include colors that contain harmful compounds that are linked to cancer. Watch out for Red 40, Yellow 5, and/or Yellow 6 on food labels before buying a product.

Artificial food coloring risks include irritability, allergies, learning and sleeping problems, depression, memory loss, and aggressiveness.

Unfortunately, color additives are also added to cosmetics, drugs, and foods & drinks.
Most cake decorations use artificial food dyes.

Regular use of products with color additives can have serious health concerns, from raising serum creatinine to increasing albumin concentration, reducing antioxidant enzymes in liver, causing oxidation of fatty acids and acute inflammation, skin irritation & allergy, and congestion of kidneys.

So I chose to color my tooti frooti naturally. Check this.

Q: I used to consistently experience itching all over my body after meals. Then I started carefully reading nutrition labels and cutting food additives such as artificial flavors and colors out of my diet, which seems to help. Does this mean I’m allergic or sensitive to food additives?

A: According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food additives are any ingredients or substances — such as preservatives, vitamins, minerals, artificial sweeteners, antioxidants, spices, flavors and colors — that are added to food. All food additives must be approved by the FDA. This means the FDA has found that these additives meet its standard of “reasonable certainty of no harm.”

It’s common to confuse allergic reactions and intolerances. A food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. A food allergy can be severe or life threatening and require immediate medical care. By contrast, symptoms of food intolerance are generally less serious and limited to digestive problems, such as nausea or cramping.

It is possible to develop an intolerance — sometimes called a sensitivity — to a food additive, but this appears uncommon. There also have been rare reports of true allergic reactions, but it’s more common to have an allergic reaction to foods — such as peanuts or seafood — than a food additive.

A few additives have more well-established associations with negative reactions. For example, sulfites are used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine, and can trigger asthma attacks. The dye FD&C Yellow No. 5 — also known as tartrazine — may rarely cause hives. The red food dye carmine and other additives have been linked to a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

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How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

There have been great advances in food preparation in the last century. These days, well over half of the foods that we can buy in a typical supermarket are pre packaged or prepared. They need either no or minimal preparation before being ready to eat. However, there is a dark side to this convenience. Most of the foods on our shelves also contain chemicals and additives that are known to harm either the human body or laboratory animals. If they harm animals, they can harm you too. Most of the ingredients that you should avoid fall into one of three areas: food additives, artificial sweeteners and artificial colors. More and more experts are agreeing that you are wise to try to avoid as many chemicals in your foods as possible. By shopping in mostly the produce, dairy and meat sections of your grocery store, you can avoid many of the harmful food additives listed below. However, all of us need to be on our guard, because some of these ingredients also are used in meats, dairy products and even produce. What does this have to do with Public health? The health of our country is determined by the things we consume. This ultimately adds massive costs to our healthcare system as more and more people experience disease from eating processed foods and additives.

While FDA generally recognizes most additives on this list as ‘safe,’ there are growing concerns about the safety of many common food additives, if consumed in large quantities.

  1. Sodium nitrate: Added to processed meats to stop bacterial growth. Linked to cancer in humans. (Worst Offender)
  2. Sulfites: Used to keep prepared foods fresh. Can cause breathing difficulties in those sensitive to the ingredient.
  3. Azodicarbonamide: Used in bagels and buns. Can cause asthma.
  4. Potassium bromate: Added to breads to increase volume. Linked to cancer in humans.
  5. Propyl gallate: Added to fat-containing products. Linked to cancer in humans
  6. BHA/BHT: A fat preservative, used in foods to extend shelf life. Linked to cancerous tumor growth.
  7. Propylene glycol: Better known as antifreeze. Thickens dairy products and salad dressing. Deemed ‘generally’ safe by FDA.
  8. Butane: Put in chicken nuggets to keep them tasting fresh. A known carcinogen.
  9. Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Flavor enhancer that can cause headaches. Linked in animal studies to nerve damage, heart problems and seizures.
  10. Disodium inosinate: In snack foods. Contains MSG.
  11. Disodium guanylate: Also used in snack foods, and contains MSG.
  12. Enriched flour: Used in many snack foods. A refined starch that is made from toxic ingredients.
  13. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH): Geneticially-engineered version of natural growth hormone in cows. Boosts milk production in cows. Contains high levels of IGF-1, which is thought cause various types of cancer.
  14. Refined vegetable oil: Includes soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. High in omega-6 fats, which are thought to cause heart disease and cancer.
  15. Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in salad dressing and carbonated beverages. A known carcinogen and may cause damage our DNA.
  16. Brominated vegetable oil: Keeps flavor oils in soft drinks suspended. Bromate is a poison and can cause organ damage and birth defects. Not required to be listed on food labels.
  17. Propyl gallate: Found in meats, popcorn, soup mixes and frozen dinners. Shown to cause cancer in rats. Banned in some countries. Deemed safe by FDA.
  18. Olestra: Fat-like substance that is unabsorbed by the body. Used in place of natural fats in some snack foods. Can cause digestive problems, and also not healthy for the heart.
  19. Carrageenan: Stabilizer and thickening agent used in many prepared foods. Can cause ulcers and cancer.
  20. Polysorbate 60: A thickener that is used in baked goods. Can cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  21. Camauba wax: Used in chewing gums and to glaze certain foods. Can cause cancer and tumors.
  22. Magnesium sulphate: Used in tofu, and can cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  23. Chlorine dioxide: Used in bleaching flour. Can cause tumors and hyperactivity in children.
  24. Paraben: Used to stop mold and yeast forming in foods. Can disrupt hormones in the body, and could be linked to breast cancer.
  25. Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose: Used as a thickener in salad dressings. Could cause cancer in high quantities.
  26. Aluminum: A preservative in some packaged foods that can cause cancer.

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by FDA, just as food additives are, but this does not apply to products ‘generally recognized as safe.

  1. Saccharin: Carcinogen found to cause bladder cancer in rats. (Worst Offender)
  2. Aspartame: An excitotoxin and thought to be a carcinogen. Can cause dizziness, headaches, blurred vision and stomach problems.
  3. High fructose corn syrup: Sweetener made from corn starch. Made from genetically-modified corn. Causes obesity, diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and insulin resistance.
  4. Acesulfame potassium: Used with other artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and ice cream. Linked to lung and breast tumors in rats.
  5. Sucralose: Splenda. Can cause swelling of liver and kidneys and a shrinkage of the thymus gland.
  6. Agave nectar: Sweetener derived from a cactus. Contains high levels of fructose, which causes insulin resistance, liver disease and inflammation of body tissues.
  7. Bleached starch: Can be used in many dairy products. Thought to be related to asthma and skin irritations.
  8. Tert butylhydroquinone: Used to preserve fish products. Could cause stomach tumors at high doses.

Food colorings are used to give foods a more attractive appearance, but some experts believe they cause serious health problems, including asthma and hyperactivity in children.

How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

It’s no secret that junk food manufacturers love using festive packaging and neon colors to appeal to kids and adults alike. The artificial color secret is simple: If it looks good, we think it tastes good, too. But on a recent trip to the ice cream store, I saw firsthand how incredibly effective the misleading appeal of artificial colors can be.

It was as if a behavioral experiment had fallen right into my lap. How to avoid artificial food flavors and colors

My 2 year-old going crazy over the bright colored toppings. Her hands were moving so

quickly from one topping to the next, hence the blurry image.

It all happened when my 2-year-old daughter and I were picking up an ice cream cake for my husband’s birthday. The minute we entered the ice cream shop my daughter set her sights on the toppings bar filled with brightly colored gumballs, sprinkles, and gummy bears. Nothing would stop her, it was like an addict begging for more junk food-except these are foods she’s never had before. My daughter was almost magnetically drawn to the bright colors. How to avoid artificial food flavors and colorsAll the scary toppings to choose from.

The unplanned experiment proves what marketers already know: both kids and adults eat with their eyes first.

Kids are the most vulnerable and innocent portion of the population because they don’t have any idea how these foods will impact them. While writing Label Lessons and Unjunk Your Junk Food, we did a huge amount of research on the artificial colors that make conventional gum balls, gummy bears, sprinkles, and shelled chocolate candies so appealing to kids. Many of the most dressed up junk foods also include additives listed in the Scary Seven. These dangerous ingredients like artificial colors and flavors are linked to allergies, sinus congestion, hyperactivity, and worsened symptoms of ADD and ADHD.

I’m not unrealistic-kids love ice cream. But I avoid artificially colored flavors and toppings because they make my kids go crazy. If we go out to get ice cream, I’ll often bring a little baggy of organic dark chocolate chips or sprinkles along. If I don’t bring my own, I ask my kids to choose cleaner toppings like chocolate or fruit.

Chocolate and vanilla ice creams are usually the safest flavors because they’re free of most chemical additives, especially compared to brightly colored, artificial color mainstays at most ice cream stores (my nemeses: bubble gum and mint chip flavored ice cream because they are loaded with nasty food coloring). How to avoid artificial food flavors and colorsMy 2 year-old with her hands on the bubble gum topping. She has never even tried a piece of

The majority of the time I will buy my own ice cream at the health foods store so I have more control over what my kids eat. For my kids I buy organic ice cream with no artificial colors, flavors, hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides and for myself I’ll opt for non-dairy coconut ice cream (it’s my favorite!). This way I can keep the Scary Seven out of my family’s ice cream experience.

Editor’s Note: If you want to eliminate unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives from your diet for good, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]