Since the 1950’s, consumption of artificial food colourings has increased 500%. Food colours are in nearly everything we eat – from our soft drinks to our breakfast cereals, and to even our medications.
Despite the existence of many natural colourants made from foods like beets, carrots and other vegetables many manufacturers prefer to use artificial dyes in their products which may have potential health consequences, especially for children.
Studies have shown that many artificial food colours are associated with problems in children, including hypersensitivity, allergies, irritability, learning impairment, and aggressiveness. In this article, we will be focusing on some 5 common artificial food colours that have also been silently killing us without our notice.
Why do manufacturers use artificial food colours?
Manufacturers use artificial colours primarily because they are cheap. They also allow some very vibrant colours not easily achieved with natural food colourings. They are used particularly in foods which are targeted at children such as lollies.
Where are artificial colours used?
While soft drinks and lollies are obvious culprits, chances are that you can also find them listed on the ingredient list of your favorite baked goods and general groceries. Some companies also include them in some meat products and even in pet foods. They don’t just use one colour or dye in these products, it is not uncommon to find two or more artificial colours in one product.
What are the likely dangers of some common artificial food colours?
#1: E133 – BRILLIANT BLUE
E133-Brilliant Blue, also called Brilliant Blue FCF is a colourant that has been used in America since 1929. The artificial food colour adds a distinctive, bright blue hue to beverages, dairy powders, condiments, baked goods, jams, dessert powders, syrups, seafood, marmalades, seasonings, and fruit preparations.
The dye exists in two forms; the diammonium and disodium salts. While disodium salt is used in foods, the diammonium salt is limited to being used in drugs and cosmetics. However, in some countries, 133-Brilliant Blue has been banned because it’s known to cause cancer and also irritates the skin and the eyes.
According to a study conducted in 2017 to investigate the effect of Brilliant blue food colour on human DNA, it was found that the food dye has a damaging effect on human DNA, even at very low concentrations. The dye has also been linked with asthma attacks for individuals with the condition.
The effect of the dye was also tested on the liver, kidney, and testes function in rat models and was found to be linked with hepatocellular damage, decrease in spermatogenesis process, and renal failure.
#2: E102 – TARTRAZINE
Tartrazine is a synthetic yellow azo dye derived from coal tar. This artificial food dye has been banned in several countries like Norway and Austria because of its serious side effects. Tartrazine may cause allergic reactions to some individuals, especially those living with aspirin intolerance or asthma. It has also been linked to some medical conditions like migraines, anxiety, thyroid cancer, blurred vision, clinical depression, unexplainable itchy skin, and purple spots on the skin.
When combined with benzoic acid, tartrazine has been identified to cause changes in children behavior, including hyperactivity and loss of concentration.
Tartrazine is found in a variety of products, including juice drinks, ice creams, jellies, jams, and other canned foods.
#3: E123 – AMARANTH
Amaranth is another artificial dye you should try to avoid. It is also known as red dye #2 with E number 123. The dye got its name from the plant Amaranth because of their similar colour. It is often used as a food colouring in red soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, cake mixes, jams, ice cream, and many other processed foods.
However, Amaranth was banned in the U.S in 1974 because it is a suspected cancer-causing agent. Just like other azo dyes, Amaranth can also cause serious allergic reactions in people with asthma and aspirin intolerance. There have also been some recent studies confirming the link between Amaranth consumption and hypersensitivity in children.
#4: E110 – SUNSET YELLOW
Sunset yellow is a synthetic azo dye that has its common usage in fermented foods that needs to be heat treated. This artificial food colour is primarily used as a food colourant to give sunset yellow colour to foods (could be orange-yellow sometimes).
Sunset yellow is often used in food products like breadcrumbs, soft drinks, orange jelly and squash, lemon curd, citrus marmalade, Swiss roll, hot chocolate, cheese sauce, red sauces, chips, etc.
However, Sunset yellow is also a popular food dye that has been known to cause a number of side effects and allergies. The dye is banned from countries like Finland and Norway. Some of the common allergies and intolerance associated with sunset yellow include immune system compromise and hyperactivity in kids. Some symptoms that can help with easy discerning of sunset yellow allergies are gastric sunset, diarrhea, nettle rash, vomiting, swollen skin, sinus attack, asthma, constipation, sleep disorders, headache, etc.
#5: E112 – RED PONCEAU
Red ponceau food colour is derived from coal tar and often used to induce a red colour in a variety of food products including desserts, sweets, jellies, tinned and canned fruits and foods, soups, cakes, soft drinks, pastries, canned beverages, etc.
Red ponceau is an artificial food colour which is also known for causing allergic reactions and intolerances in individuals that consume them. Some of the side effects of red ponceau include stimulating allergic reactions to aspirin, aggravate existing asthma problem, causing cancer, causes hyperactivity in children and young kids.
Apart from dangerous food colours and harmful preservatives, there are also some food additives like artificial sweeteners, food acids, and food emulsifiers that can also be dangerous to our health. A very good example of artificial sweeteners to stay away from is sucralose which has been identified to cause damages to gut flora in animal models. This is particularly concerning as we are know learning how important the gut biome is for overall health and even emotional wellbeing. Over 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut and damaging this system can lead to serious mental health issues.
Natural Colours and Flavours
Artificial colours and flavours are used to a great extent in more foods, products and medicines than you would think. They are used because they are cheap, abundant and can create incredibly vibrant colours to attract consumers (especially children). The vast majority of these colours have been linked to health effects such as cancer, allergic reactions, asthma and behavioral issues. Natural colours are an easy alternative to these chemicals. Natural colours are derived from food stuffs like vegetables and can easily be broken down and absorbed by the gut. In fact, many natural colours like lycopene and beta carotene are anti-oxidants and have health benefits! There is a growing abundance of manufacturers switching to both natural colours and flavours to avoid the problems associated with the chemical backlash of these other products. Natural colours and flavours are increasing in quality and decreasing in price as demand from the public increases for them.