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Five food dyes to avoid

Choose items with natural food dyes.
Choose items with natural food dyes.
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.

Wonder what makes the cherries red in fruit cocktail or where the blue comes from in a bowl of Fruit Loops? While there are many natural colors and dyes available on the market, most processed food uses food colorings that are considered unsafe by some groups such as the (CSPI) The Center for Science in the Public Interest.

According to certain studies, the following five food dyes have all been linked to hyperactivity in children and to various cancers in animal testing.

  • Blue 1 (brilliant blue): First approved in 1969. Can be found in candy, beverages, baked goods, jellies, and toothpaste. Could be the cause of cancer in tests done with mice.
  • Blue 2 (indigotin): Approved in 1987. Found in pet food, candy, beverages , snack foods, cherries and cereals. Found to cause brain tumors in mice.
  • Red 3 (erythrosine): Approved in 1969. Found in fruit cocktail, baked goods, diary products and candy. Shown to cause thyroid tumors in rats.
  • Yellow 6 (sunset yellow): Approved in 1986. This is the third most often used color, found in candy, baked goods, gelatin, sausages, ice cream and cereal. Has been linked to adrenal gland and kidney tumors and contains small amounts of carcinogens.
  • Green 3 (fast green): Approved in 1982. Found in candy, sherbet, puddings, ice cream and beverages. Linked to bladder cancer.

Other dyes on the market are questionable, but the five listed above have tested as having the most risk. The Food and Drug Administration regulates all artificial dyes, but groups such as the CSPI have lobbied to stop their use.

Always check the labels when purchasing products and look for natural dyes such as coloring from beets, hibiscus, red cabbage and cane sugar. Whole Foods Market (4 locations in the Houston area) carries many products with natural dyes and ingredients that can be substituted for items that are questionable.


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