Sunday, April 1, 2012

All the colors of the rainbow

I like things to be colorful (even though I always end up buying a white shirt on the rare occasion I go shopping for new clothes...seriously, I can't stop buying them). It makes our homes look bright, flowers to be beautiful, and keeps things from looking blah. Isn't there a saying, "we eat with our eyes first," about having a colorful plate of food? A glance down the rows of produce and it is literally a rainbow of colors. But so is a bowl full of Fruit Loops. Take note: NOT all colorful foods are created equally!

(Can you see the world's shortest rainbow? We spotted this the other morning in front of our house.)

FDA approved food dyes: Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3,
Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6. 

Artificial food dye/coloring has seen a huge jump in use in the United States. Hardly surprising since our culture places so much value on the appearance of things. You can look at a bag of Skittles and obviously determine there is some food coloring involved. Did you know there is also food coloring in varieties of pickles, marshmallows, crackers/bread, oatmeals, canned beans, and many other unexpected foods? My first thought when I see food coloring being used in something as basic as beans is, "what did this look like before to require the use of dye???" I find it a bit sketchy...

What does it matter about food coloring and dyes? Dyes are derived from petroleum (yum!) and some colors contain cancer causing contaminates. Don't worry though, the FDA has set legal limits to the amounts that can be in the dye. Whew, that's a relief.... The bigger and more well known health concern with dyes has been the link to hyperactivity. I read an article once talking about the negative effects of dye and it said if you were wondering if your child was sensitive to dye, put 3 drops of red food coloring (like you use for baking) under your child's tongue and see if they experience any behavioral changes. I was never bored enough to try such an experiment but if anyone out there feels so inclined to do so, please do share how it goes :-) If you do have a child that is sensitive to food dyes, this website has more info, a place to file a report of their sensitivity, and to petition the government to ban food dyes.

Other than hyperactivity, cancer in animal studies (in a few of the dyes such as Yellow No. 5), and allergies to, there is not much else that poses huge, harmful affects from eating foods with dye. For me, I like to avoid foods that contain dyes if at all possible because they have become SO common in foods today and it is just one other chemical I would like to keep out of our family's systems. I have to come clean though and admit I can put down a bag of peanut butter M&Ms (or almond...or pretzel...or pretty much any variety M&Ms come in), which is why I only buy them occasionally :-). It is pretty easy to find food products that use natural coloring from things such as carrots and beets. The one thing I have to hunt for is vitamins! Almost every brand of chewable vitamins contains dye. I have found a brand of Disney vitamins (in princess shapes no less) and a Kroger brand that did not contain dye.

There really is no purpose or benefit to food dyes. It is used to make foods look more appealing or as a cover up. For instance, have you ever looked at the strawberry flavored instant oatmeal? Those bits of red "strawberries" are actually dried apple bits colored red (doesn't that Quaker guy know lying is wrong!?). Another reason I prefer dye-free is just to follow the concept of eating real food, the way God created it. You can't get much more bright and colorful than a juicy red watermelon, bright green kiwi, white and orange pumpkins, colorful peppers, or that yellow funny looking fruit with the spikes on idea what that is but one day I am going to try it.

So there are my thoughts on food coloring. Stay tuned for the next post on my recipes for colored icing that don't use any food coloring. You can not have little girls and not give them pretty pink birthday cakes now can you?

For more information and an in-depth study on the health effects of food dye, see Food dyes: A rainbow of risks.

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