5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ARTIFICIAL FOOD COLOURS
The subject of food colours has been nothing short of controversial, especially as studies emerged pointing out the risks of ingesting these chemicals. However, because artificially-coloured foods are so widespread and pervasive, most of us don’t even think twice about eating them. Even worse, because so many food items have fake colouring, most of us don’t know what the real thing is supposed to look like!
What do you need to know about food colours?
1. Food colours are often added to products as inferior ingredients are used. Food colours are used to make the final product more appealing and real. My favourite example is yoghurt. Yoghurts made with inferior ingredients, will use food colour to make the product look creamier and more real. Real yoghurt, using real ingredients, doesn’t require any food colour!
From the time that we were hunters and gatherers, our eyes and brains evolved to look for the most colourful things in nature. Bright and vivid colours usually meant a higher density of nutrients, like in fruits and vegetables, which are packed with sugar.
Food manufacturers want to replicate this response to food in our brains, which is why everything, from our egg yolks to our butter and sometimes even salmon, is artificially coloured.
2. There isn’t an acceptable daily intake set for children. You will often find that food colours are most prolific in children’s foods. If you compare the dosage our kids are receiving in relation to their weight, they are receiving a much higher dose than adults do. This presents a bigger risk, especially with children at crucial stages of development.
3. Additives are normally only tested in isolation. If you review any processed foods ingredients labels (as I do on a daily basis) you will see that there is often more than one food colour listed together with many other additives. Independent research conducted by the University of Liverpool released results in December 2005, announcing that combinations of additives are potentially more toxic than might be predicted from the sum of their individual compounds. Until there is further independent research, we have no idea how these individual additives react with each other, or the long term implications on our children. Additives are not tested for effects such as hyperactivity, behavioural and learning impacts.
4. The European Union has mandated a warning. A study published in Prescrire International showed a link between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children. In Journal of Pediatrics, tartrazine was linked to behavioural disturbances in kids. Doctors at the University of Southampton in the UK found that food dyes significantly effect children’s behaviour and their tendency to be hyperactive.
These are only a handful of the research showing the adverse effects of these chemicals on kids, prompting the EU to issue a mandate*. Now, any food and drink that contains any of the following six artificial food colours:
sunset yellow FCF (E110)
quinoline yellow (E104)
allura red (E129)
ponceau 4R (E124)
must have a warning label that states: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
5. The list of potential adverse health effects is long. It’s not just behavioural effects, either. Individuals that have a sensitivity to artificial colours will often present with the following ailments**:
– skin ailments (rash / hives)
– behavioural problems
– learning difficulties
I have seen the impact of food colours. The effects included asthma, skin ailments, behavioural problems, insomnia, and headaches. With the removal of these food colours (and other additives) these ailments have disappeared.
Should Food Standards Canada mandate similar warnings?
It will be a moot point whether Food Standards Canada continues to allow these additives in our food. As more people are made aware of the potential impact of these additives, consumers will choose products without these food colours. They will vote with their dollar.
This action by consumers will hurt the manufacturer’s bottom line and manufacturer’s will reformulate their products when they realise they are losing market share to natural/real products. There is a massive movement happening in the United States currently with a huge number of additives being removed from many popular food chain menus. If we make ourselves heard, it will happen here in Canada too!
What should you do?
Whilst food colours may not affect everybody, I recommend that if your children suffer from any of the ailments listed above, it is worth trialling the removal of these food colours from your diet to see if any improvements are noticed. You have nothing to lose!