Do You Know Nutrition: Artificial food colorings can pose rainbow of risks

By Phylis Canion
Aug. 21, 2012 at 3:21 a.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

Why do we have to put food coloring in our foods and when did the U.S. start that practice? If food has food coloring in it, does it always list it by the color number like Yellow No. 5 or can there be other names for food additives or coloring?

From ancient times, wide varieties of food colorants were delivered from natural sources such as plants, minerals or animals.

This changed in the middle of the nineteenth century with the discovery of synthetic dyes that soon found their way into our food. In 1960, Congress passed legislation governing color additives. The Color Additives Amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD & C) require dyes used in foods, drugs, cosmetics and certain medical devices to be approved by the FDA prior to their marketing.

Color additives in use prior to 1960 were allowed to be used only if they underwent further testing to confirm their safety. The amendment includes a provision which prohibits the approval of an additive if it is found to cause cancer in humans or animals.

Of the original 200 provisionally listed color additives, 90 have been listed as safe and the remainder have either been removed from use by the FDA or withdrawn by manufacturers. Food manufacturers are required to list all ingredients in the food on the label.

On the label, the ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount listed first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts. The FDA certified color additives are listed as FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Yellow No. 5 and so. If an individual has sensitivity to food dyes, it is important to know that some additives are listed collectively as flavors, spices and artificial flavoring.

In some cases of color additives, exempt from certification, they are simply listed as artificial colors. A few other names for color additives are: grape skin extract, beta-carotene, caramel color, fruit and vegetable juices, saffron, cochineal extract or carmine, annatto extract, and paprika oleoresin. UPDATE: While the Food and Drug administration stated years ago that there was no definitive link between food colorings and behavior or health problems, the FDA agreed to ask a panel of experts to review the evidence and advise of possible policy changes which included food labeling.

The concluding report stated that those individuals with behavioral disorders might have their condition exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food including synthetic color additives. In 1950, the FDA banned Orange dye No. 1 after rigorous testing suggested it was toxic.

In 1976, the agency banned Red No. 2 because it was suspected to be carcinogenic, only to create Red No. 40. FDA test show that the three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are tainted with low levels of cancer causing compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl in Yellow 5. Artificial food colorings can be a rainbow of risks.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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