Artificial colors are the ingredients that are often simply named a color followed by a number (red 40, Green 3, Yellow 5, etc.). While it is true that some have been shown to be more problematic than others, many have been identified as carcinogenic or hyper-allergenic (mechanism for the latter discussed in the clip above).  Attempting to steer clear of these as much as possible is a solid approach. The list of banned or recognized as harmful colorings continues to grow as the profit over people twist on capitalism rages on.

According to the FDA:

“Color additives are used in foods for many reasons:
1) to offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions;
2) to correct natural variations in color;
3) to enhance colors that occur naturally; and
4) to provide color to colorless and “fun” foods.

Without color additives, colas wouldn’t be brown, margarine wouldn’t be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn’t be green. Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat.

Certified colors are synthetically produced (or human made) and used widely because they impart an intense, uniform color, are less expensive, and blend more easily to create a variety of hues. There are nine certified color additives approved for use in the United States (e.g., FD&C Yellow No. 6. See below for complete list.). Certified food colors generally do not add undesirable flavors to foods.

Color Additives:

Offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; provide color to colorless and “fun” foods.

Many processed foods, (candies, snack foods margarine, cheese, soft drinks, jams/jellies, gelatins, pudding and pie fillings)

FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2,
FD&C Green No. 3,
FD&C Red Nos. 3 and 40,
FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6,
Orange B,
Citrus Red No. 2,
annatto extract,
grape skin extract,
cochineal extract or carmine,
paprika oleoresin,
caramel color,
fruit and vegetable juices,
(Note: Exempt color additives are not required to be declared by name on labels but may be declared simply as colorings or color added)”

As stated by the EWG:

“Questions have been raised about the safety of one class of synthetic colors, called FD&C (Food, Drug & Cosmetics) colors, and contaminants in other artificial colorings as well.
Caramel colors III and IV, for example, may be contaminated with 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), which caused tumors in a National Toxicology Program study (NTP 2004). The European Food Safety Authority has expressed concern about furan contamination, which is also associated with cancer (EFSA 2011b).

There is ongoing debate about the effects of the synthetic FD&C colors on children’s behavior. Some studies have found that mixtures of synthetic colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate were associated with hyperactivity (Bateman 2004; McCann 2007). The European Food Safety Authority concluded that synthetic coloring mixtures may have a “small and statistically significant effect on activity and attention in children,” and that this effect may be an issue for certain sensitive individuals (EFSA 2008a). Other studies have not found an association between hyperactivity and synthetic food coloring (Arnold 2012; EFSA 2008a).

Avoiding artificial colors such as Caramel III and IV can be difficult. Current regulation allows food manufacturers to simply print artificial color on the product label if the ingredient is on an FDA-approved list. But consumers can easily avoid the synthetic colors on FDA’s separate FD&C-certified list because they must be shown on the label with their full or abbreviated name, such as FD&C Yellow 5 or Yellow 5.”

A few take home points:

We see these artificial colors added to processed food. It’s no secret that one of the core principles behind any intelligent nutrition plan is to minimize processed and refined foods. This is yet another reason why.

Another fact to be acknowledged here is why these “foods” require artificial intervention in the first place. That bulk of mass that you voluntarily ingest has been completely synthesized in a lab or processed to the point of consisting solely of damaged, empty macronutrients. Often the result is so unappetizing from a visual and taste perspective, that in order to slang that pile of garbage masquerading as food to the public it must be cloaked in a costume consisting of artificial colors and flavors.

The even sadder thing is that, when it comes to the artificial colors in particular, a mass sect of the target population is kids. No kid wants a grey fruit loop. So again, for the sake of a buck, general moral, ethics, and simple courtesy are placed on the back burner and it is acceptable to market to and feed a growing child not only a nutritiously empty “food,” but one laced with harmful additives.

Good news is, due to consumer demand based upon the ill health effects that the industry would prefer to ignore, major companies are removing or pledging to remove additives like artificial colors from their ingredient list going forward. Even heavy hitters like Mars, Nestle, Campbell’s and Subway have vowed to make the change.

This is a good sign, but it’s still on each and everyone of us to, if you are going to consume processed foods, to choose ones with minimal ingredients; ingredients that sound like food, not a multiple syllable word you can’t pronounce; ingredients devoid of the artificial colors mentioned above.

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