Over the weekend I was at a birthday party for one of my daughter’s friends. It was a rainbow themed and the decorations were so cute. When the brightly colored cupcakes were brought out the kids were all screaming what color cupcake they wanted. “I WANT RED…I WANT BLUE…GREEN PLEASE…I WANT THE BLACK ONE!” All the kids were cheering excitedly, meanwhile, I was trying to figure out if just the icing was colored or if the cake itself was dyed. The cupcakes in question were vanilla with vanilla icing. There is absolutely no reason to have had any color on or in them. It’s solely for visual purposes. Thankfully the cake itself wasn’t colored so I cut the top of the cupcake offi and let my daughter eat the plain cupcake. As per usual I received many glares from parents, It’s something I’m used to and it doesn’t phase me in the least.
I treat food coloring as poison, because quite frankly, it is! Artificial food dyes are responsible for the bright colors of candy, sports drinks, baked goods, cereals, pickles, salad dressings, syrups, the list goes on and on! It’s shockingly even in some medications.
The following food dyes are approved for use by both the EFSA and the FDA:
The most popular food dyes are Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. These three make up 90% of all the food dye used in the US.
Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are also notoriously dangerous food dyes that are commonly used in foods. For example, the CSPI noted that 6 of 11 tests on Yellow 5 resulted in mutations, which is a sign Yellow 5 may be carcinogenic.
Artificial dyes are also thought to worsen behavioral problems and hyperactivity in children. Children who consumed food with dyes had a decreased ability to concentrate and may show more impulsive behavior.
The link between hyperactive behavior and artificial food dyes was so strong it led the European Union to require warnings on products containing those dyes. The warning must read: ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.’
If you still need another reason to steer clear of artificial dyes, consider this: Food dyes are added to processed foods to conceal their off-putting appearance. Most processed food looks downright unappetizing until manufacturers put in food coloring, chemical emulsifiers, textures, and other unnatural additives to make it more visually appealing.
When foods are ultra-processed, valuable nutrients, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals are completely lost. They also lose their flavor and natural colors when processed. We associate bright, deeply-hued colors with healthy foods such as fruits and veggies. So manufacturers add dyes to many foods to mimic the appearance of healthy foods, even though the processed food is anything but healthy! There is even food coloring added to some vegetables to make them look fresher and more ripened.
I know all of this is dreary BUT there is great news. You can still color your cupcakes or your icing if you so choose in a healthy way. Artificial colors get their hues from coal, chemicals and even bugs. You can get healthy colors from fruits, veggies and spices so you can still enjoy the rainbow without the clouds!