What’s All This Food Coloring Good For?

By guest blogger Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD, physician (pediatrics and medical genetics), artist, serious vegetarian home cook, mother of three school-age active kids, and cofounder of Herbal Water Inc.

A new European law went into effect this summer requiring foods and drinks that contain any of six artificial food colorings linked to hyperactivity in children to post a warning label stating that the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Food makers in the U.S. don’t face such requirements. Despite the many health concerns regarding these chemicals, the use of artificial colors in food continues to rise in the U.S. Many multinational companies make dye-free food for European markets yet continue to load the dye for the U.S. market, which still has a great appetite for rainbow-colored food.  Much like butterflies and bees, we’re drawn to color—an attraction that must have served us well when colorful meant ripe fruits—and the cheapest, easiest, and most fadeproof way to saturate food with vivid colors is a chemical one.  Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 certainly deliver dazzling colors that attract kids, and entertain them, much like a new toy.

An excellent study in the prestigious medical journal Lancet found that children in general, and not just those suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can become more impulsive, inattentive, and hyperactive from the cocktail of artificial extras found in drinks, sweets, and processed foods.

The British Medical Journal published an editorial by Andrew Kemp, professor of pediatric allergy and clinical immunology, in which he recommends a supervised trial eliminating colors and preservatives from the diet of hyperactive children as part of the standard treatment.

But hyperactivity is not the only concern. Some dyes may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.  Some dyes have shown carcinogenicity in laboratory animals, and dyes may be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals.

What’s all this food coloring good for? The answer is simple: Synthetic colors serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever in food. They are not food—they are petroleum products added for aesthetic reasons only. The only reason they’re there is to help with sales.

I myself am crazy about color and surround myself with it. I also think it’s really important to serve food that appeals to all the senses. And the colors of the food, the dishes, and the table setting make a huge difference to how we experience the meal—even changing how it tastes to us. That’s why we should appreciate fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs so much. They are a delight to the eyes with all their different colors, textures, and shapes.

But added artificial colors in processed foods are a different issue. They surely add nothing to your health, and may be harmful, and if the food doesn’t seem appealing enough to you without added color, it’s probably not very good.

For now, in order to know if there’s food color in a product, you need to read the ingredients list on the label. However, as consumers show a growing preference for natural foods and for foods free of colorings, companies respond by omitting colors or switching to safe, natural colorings, such as beta-carotene, turmeric, paprika, beet juice, and annatto.

By choosing foods free of food synthetic coloring, we create a market demand that pushes manufacturers to make better food.

Would you like to see the FDA enact warning labels on foods containing food coloring in the U.S.?

Read further about food coloring.

Read more from Dr. Ayala at: herbalwater.typepad.com

Dr. Ayala and her team at Herbal Water Inc. want you to experience great flavor without the fake colorings. Herbal Water Inc. makes six flavors of water by infusing organic herbal extracts in pure artesian water. No artificial sweeteners, preservatives or additives are used. Comment below or email maria@rodale.com for a chance to win one of 12 sample packs of Dr. Ayala’s Herbal Waters and Sparkling Herbal Waters!

No purchase necessary to enter or win.  A purchase will not improve your chances of winning.  Void Where Prohibited.  Sweepstakes begins at 7:30 a.m. ET on October 5, 2010 and ends at 7:30 a.m. ET on October 12, 2010.  Must be Over 18 and a US resident of 50 United States or DC to enter.  Rodale Inc., 33 East Minor Street, Emmaus, PA 18098-0099, is the operator of the Sweepstakes.  For complete rules, or to enter the sweepstakes without commenting, please see the rules located here.

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