Red Dye 40 and it’s colorful friends

Reading the ingredients of Fruit Roll-Ups got me thinking about something I read regarding food dyes and how some food manufacturers stopped using them in their UK products because the dyes are believed to be harmful to children.

So how is it something considered unsafe in the UK is considered safe here in the US?

Let’s take a step back and look at food dyes. There are several food dyes used in food including blue #1, blue #2, green #3, red #40, yellow #5, and yellow #6.

Where are they used?
These dyes are used in every category of processed foods. Anytime you see a processed food with a bright, vibrant color (especially anything red or “strawberry”), dyes are used. Some examples (by no means a complete list):

  • Cake mixes such as Duncan Hines and Pillsbury
  • Candy such as Starburst, M&Ms, Skittles, and Trident gum
  • Cereal such as Frosted Mini Wheats Strawberry, Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Special K Blueberry, and Lucky Charms
  • Yogurt such as Dannon, Weight Watchers, and Yoplait
  • Frozen treats such as Breyers Popsicle novelties and Edy’s sherbert
  • Snacks such as Goldfish crackers, Welch’s fruit snacks, Ritz Bits cheese, Lunchables
  • Breakfast items such as Toaster Strudel, Nutri-Grain bars and Pop-Tarts
  • Drinks like Gatorade, Sunny Delight, Strawberry Nesquik and Crystal Light

Why are they used?
There are several reasons why food manufacturers use dyes.

  • Cheap: The most obvious is the dyes are cheaper than the alternatives (such as vegetable dyes like beet juice)
  • Pretty: Kids have been conditioned to like and want bright, “exciting” food. You know, like  Tye-Dye Fruit Roll-ups.
  • Healthy Looking: Dyes are often used to add color back in when all the color has been processed out, like in Nutrigrain Bars.

Are they safe?
The FDA believes the dyes are safe. While the FDA itself doesn’t test, it requires manufacturers to test for safety.

What have independent studies found?
The use of these dyes, red #40 and yellow #5 especially, have been linked to hyperactivity, ADHD, migraines, hives, and asthma. Yellow #6 may cause kidney tumors and blue #2 has caused brain tumors in animals.

So, why are they still being used?
These dyes are cheap for manufacturers and the FDA has deemed them safe. Consumer outrage in the UK led Mars and Kraft to switch to safer dyes for their UK products only. Kraft spokesman Michael Mitchell said, “This is about listening to consumers.” In the U.S., there just hasn’t yet been enough public outcry for food manufacturers to make a change. Advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling for the ban of these dyes but so far has not had success.

The bottom line: Evidence suggests food dyes cause ill effects in children.  They are chemical additives, and like any chemical additive, should be avoided. Why take the risk for yourself or your kids? Seriously, do your kids really need brightly colored food on a regular basis?  Probably not.  Definitely not.

Think about it.

4 comments for “Red Dye 40 and it’s colorful friends

  1. February 14, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I read recently that Mars and Kraft removed harmful dyes from their UK products, the same products that are sold in the US. So instead of getting red dye 40, they get beet juice. The change was made because their consumers demanded it. Why doesn’t our country do the same?

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