Q&A: Food Dyes

Question:  What’s the big deal about food dyes?  Are food dyes really bad for you?  What is the harm in eating them?

Answer:  Thanks for the question.  Food dyes have been a hot topic in recent years, and it can be hard to sort fact from fiction.  As I mentioned recently, General Mills is removing food dyes from their cereal products (read more here).

I think it is important to remember that any food dyes used in our food products have been approved for use by the FDA.  There are regulations for how to use these additives as well.

However, some suggest that food dyes pose risks for increasing hyperactivity in children, cancer, and allergies.  Are these concerns based in science?  Let’s look at each risk individually.

There is some research that shows that consumption of artificial food colors can increase behavioral problems in sensitive children.  It was originally thought children with ADHD would be sensitive, but other children may also show a sensitivity.  The responses seem to be very individual however, so general conclusions cannot be made for any large popluation group.

Artificial food dyes have been linked with cancer in animal studies only.  If there was strong evidence of a link, these ingredients would not be approved for use in our food supply.

A few people do exhibit allergic reactions to food dyes.  This is why it is mandated that these ingredients are labeled on all food products.  An ingredient being an allergen is not a reason to eliminate it from the food supply.  Much larger groups of people are allergic to gluten, milk, or peanuts, for example.  However, there are still food products containing these ingredients; the labels clearly indicate the contents to help those people.

There are strong movements in Europe and Great Britain to remove artificial food colors and replace them with natural based dyes.  There are petitions to the FDA and food companies about food dyes that you can join, should you desire.  Here is a link to one trying to remove them from M&M’s:  https://www.change.org/p/m-m-s-candies-stop-using-artificial-dyes-linked-to-hyperactivity

Personally, I don’t see any evidence that they need to be removed from the food supply entirely.  As I said in my previous post about the cereals, if you are focusing on a diet of whole foods, you won’t be consuming excess amounts of these ingredients.  If you do feel that you or your child has adverse reactions, try an eliminating them from your diet.  If you see improvements, great.  If not, you don’t need to stress about it.  But I don’t think the evidence is strong enough or effecting a large enough group at this point that they need to be eliminated entirely.

Hope that helps and thanks for the question!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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