Concerns Over FDA Approved Food Dyes Linked to Health Issues in Children

7 FDA Approved Food Dyeings That May Cause Health Concerns in Children

Artificial dyes, like the red tint in fruit punch and the green color in toothpaste, give thousands of foods their characteristic hue. But these chemical additives have been linked to health concerns in children. Several studies have linked them to hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral issues.

The FDA goes through a fairly rigorous process to approve food dyes for consumption. But are there alternatives?

1. Blue No. 1

Blue 1 is a synthetic dye, also known as Brilliant Blue FCF. It’s used in many foods including ice cream, tinned processed peas and candy. It is part of the triphenylmethane class of color additives.

Like other blue dyes, Blue 1 is poorly absorbed in the small intestine, and most of it is excreted unchanged in the stool. It has been permanently listed as a safe food dye under the Color Additive Amendments of 1960. However, it is not recommended for use in enteral tubes, due to its mitochondrial toxicity.

2. Green No. 3

Green dyes are the least used of all FDA-approved color additives. FD&C Green No. 3 is a synthetic triphenylmethane color derived by the oxidation of 2,2′-deethyl-bis(5-aminobenzenesulfonic acid) with either lead dioxide or dichromate. Animal studies show that only about 5% of the ingested dose is absorbed and excreted in the feces, but most is excreted unchanged (1).

Food safety experts are calling for a ban on all synthetic food dyes, particularly Red Dye No. 3, after a new report by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment found that the dyes are linked to adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in kids, including inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Fortunately, there are natural alternatives to synthetic dyes.

3. Orange B

Orange B is an azo dye approved for coloring the casings of frankfurters and sausages. It is also used in a few foods, including maraschino cherries and cake icing. At high doses, this dye can cause liver and bile duct tumors in rats.

CSPI and other groups have asked FDA to remove this dye. A number of animal tests have suggested that it may cause cancer and neurotoxicity, and it causes allergy-like reactions in some people. It is also toxic to the environment.

4. Red No. 2

Red dye is used to make food products and medicine look more appealing. It is also used to indicate a specific flavor.

It is used in maraschino cherries, candies, powdered drinks, pet foods, bakery goods and ice cream. It can also be found in topical medications and some dietary supplements.

While there are many problems with most studies on these synthetic dyes, they do show that kids who consume these colors experience increased hyperactivity and irritability. That’s especially true for kids under the age of 2. The FDA has not banned this additive yet.

5. Yellow No. 5

This dye, more commonly known as tartrazine, is also used in paints and drugs. It provides a bright lemon-yellow color in many foods and drinks. It’s a popular choice because it’s cheap and stable.

Food processors use these dyes for a variety of reasons, including improving the shelf life of a product and homogenizing a beverage. However, they don’t add any nutritional value and there is emerging data that suggests that synthetic dyes are dangerous to our health.

Several studies have shown that eliminating foods with Yellow 5 in children improves ADHD, migraines, and other conditions such as bed-wetting and behavior problems. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, these improvements are based on objective measures and parent and teacher ratings after a four week dye elimination diet.

6. Yellow No. 6

Artificial dyes are petroleum-based chemicals that do not occur naturally. They are listed on food labels by their color and number, such as FD&C Yellow No. 6, or by their name, such as tartrazine.

Animal studies have shown that azo food dyes, such as Yellow No. 5, increase hyperactivity and irritability in some children. This effect is limited to a small percentage of children, however.

The International Association of Color Manufacturers says all colors approved by the FDA have been extensively studied. They are safe when used in moderation.

7. Red No. 3

The FDA banned Red Dye No. 3 in cosmetics and externally applied drugs based on studies that showed high doses can cause cancer in lab animals, but it’s still permitted in foods and oral medicines. That’s one of the reasons why CSPI joined with other consumer groups and scientists in submitting a petition to the FDA calling for its removal from foods, dietary supplements and oral medicines.

After the agency’s action on cosmetics, advocates expected that it would ban the dye in food, too. But thanks to some heavy lobbying by the maraschino cherry industry, that didn’t happen. Despite the health risks, it’s still used in thousands of brand-name and store-brand products, including Dole fruit cups, some varieties of Yoohoo and PediaSure and some brands of ice cream, according to a search of the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores database.

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