Are food colors harmful?

Artificial food colors are used in the production of candy, sports drinks and some other products. They are even used in certain brands of pickles, smoked salmon, salad dressings and medicines.

Over the past 50 years, the consumption of artificial food dyes has increased by 500 percent, and children are the most consumed. Synthetic dyes have been claimed to cause serious side effects such as hyperactivity in children, cancer and allergies.

This is a very controversial issue and there are many conflicting opinions about the safety of artificial food colors. According to Health Line, this article separates reality from fiction.

What are food colors?

Food dyes are chemicals used to enhance the appearance of food in their production. People have been adding food coloring to some products and foods for centuries, but the first artificial coloring was added to food in 1856 from coal tar.

Today, food colors are made from oil. Hundreds of artificial food colors have been produced over the years, but some have since been introduced as toxic. There are only a handful of synthetic dyes still used in food. Food manufacturers typically prefer artificial food colors to natural food colors such as beta-carotene and beet extract because they produce a more vibrant color.

However, there is disagreement about the safety of artificial food colors. All synthetic dyes currently used in food are tested for their toxicity to animals. Regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have concluded that dyes do not pose a significant health risk, but not everyone agrees.

It is interesting to know that some food colors are considered safe in one country, but in another country their use is prohibited for humans, so their safety assessment is very confusing.

What are the synthetic dyes currently used in food?

The following food colors are approved for use by the European Food Safety Authority and the US Food and Drug Administration:
Red No. 3 (Erythrosine): The cherry red color commonly used in the production of candies, ice cream and cake decorating gels.
Red No. 40 (Allard Red): A dark red color used in sports drinks, candy, condiments and cereals.
Yellow No. 5 (Tartazine): A lemon yellow color found in candy, soft drinks, chips, popcorn and whole grains.
Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow): A yellow-orange color used in candies, sauces, cooked goods, and preserved fruits.
Blue No. 1 (Bright Blue): A greenish-blue color used in ice cream, canned peas, packaged soups, ice cream, and ice cream tins.
Blue No. 2 (Indigo Carmine): The royal blue color found in candy, ice cream, cereals and snacks.
The most popular food colors are red 40, yellow 5 and yellow 6. These three colors make up 90% of the total food color used in the United States. Several other colors have been approved in some countries, but are banned in some other countries.

Green No. 3, also known as Fast Green, is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but is banned in Europe. Quinoline Yellow, Carmuizine and Ponso are examples of food colors that are allowed in the European Union and are banned in the United States.

Food colors cause hyperactivity in sensitive children

In 1973, a pediatric allergist claimed that hyperactivity and learning difficulties in children were due to artificial colors and preservatives in food. There was very little knowledge to support his claim at the time, but many parents accepted the expert’s philosophy.

Elimination diet was introduced as a treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This diet, along with several other synthetic substances, removed all artificial food colors. One of the first studies published in 1978 showed no change in children’s behavior when receiving doses of artificial food coloring.

Since then, several studies have found little but significant association between artificial food colors and hyperactivity in children. A clinical study also showed that removing artificial food colors from the diet with a preservative called sodium benzoate significantly reduced the symptoms of hyperactivity.

The results of a small study showed that 73% of children with ADHD reduce symptoms when they lose color and artificial food preservatives. In addition, the results of another study showed that food coloring with sodium benzoate increased hyperactivity in 3-year-old children and a group of 8- and 9-year-old children.

However, because these participants in the study received a mixture of substances, it is difficult to determine the cause of hyperactivity, as well as tartrazine, known as yellow number 5, with behavioral changes such as irritability, restlessness, and depression. Problems with sleep are associated. In addition, 15 studies in 2004 concluded that artificial food colors increase hyperactivity in children.

However, not all children seem to react the same way to food colors. Researchers at the University of Southampton have found a genetic component that determines how food colors affect a child. While the effects of food coloring have been observed in children with ADHD and some without ADHD, some children appear to be much more sensitive to color than other children.

Despite this, both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have stated that there is currently insufficient evidence to conclude that food coloring is unsafe. Regulatory agencies work on the assumption that a substance is safe until proven to be harmful. However, there is definitely enough evidence to be concerned.

Interestingly, in 2009 the British government began encouraging food manufacturers to find alternatives to colored foods. Since 2010, warnings on the label of any food containing artificial food colors have been mandatory in the UK.

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Do food colors cause cancer?

The safety of artificial food colors is highly controversial. However, studies that have evaluated the safety of food colors include long-term studies on the animal phase. Interestingly, studies on the use of the colors blue 1, red 40, yellow 5, and yellow 6 have shown no evidence of carcinogenic effects. However, other colors are more worrying.

Worry about blue number 2 and red number 3

An animal study on blue No. 2 showed that there was a statistically significant increase in brain tumors in the high-dose group compared to the control groups, but the researchers concluded that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether blue No. 2 caused the tumors. Does not exist.

Other studies on blue No. 2 found no side effects. Erythrocyte, also known as red number 3, is the most controversial dye. The risk of thyroid tumors increased in male rats given erythrosine. According to the study, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a partial ban on the dye in 1990, but the ban was later lifted.

After reviewing the research, they concluded that direct thyroid tumors were not caused by this artificial dye. In the United States, red number 3 has been replaced by red number 40, but is still used in candies and some ice creams.

Some dyes contain carcinogens

While most food colors have not had any adverse effects on toxicity studies, concerns about possible color contaminants remain.

Red 40, yellow 5, and yellow 6 may contain contaminants, including carcinogens. Benzidine, aminobiophenyl-4, and aminobazobenzene-4 are carcinogens found in food colors. These contaminants are allowed in paints because they are available in small and safe amounts.

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More research is needed

Consumption of artificial foods is increasing, especially among children. Excessive consumption of foods containing contaminants poses health risks.

However, with the exception of red No. 3, there is currently no compelling evidence that cancer occurs in artificial foods. Note, however, that most food color safety assessment studies have been performed decades ago.

Consumption of dyes has increased dramatically since then, and often several food colors are combined with other preservatives in one food.

Do food colors cause allergies?

Some artificial food colors cause allergic reactions. Numerous studies have shown that yellow tartazine No. 5 causes urticaria and asthma symptoms.

Interestingly, people who are allergic to aspirin also seem to be allergic to this color. In a study of people with chronic urticaria or edema, 52% had an allergic reaction to artificial food colors. Most allergic reactions do not pose a serious threat to life.

However, if you have allergy symptoms, removing artificial foods from your diet is a good option. Red 40, yellow 5 and yellow 6 are the most commonly used colors and are the 3 substances that are most likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Should you avoid food coloring?

The most troubling claim to artificial food dyes is that they cause cancer. However, the evidence to support this claim is weak.

Based on the research currently available, it is unlikely that food coloring will cause cancer. Some food colors can cause allergic reactions in some people, but if you do not have allergy symptoms, there is no reason to eliminate them from your diet. The claim that food coloring is the strongest science is the link between food coloring and hyperactivity in children.

The results of several studies show that food coloring increases hyperactivity in children with and without ADHD, although some children appear to be more sensitive than others.

Eliminating artificial foods from your diet is a good option if your child is hyperactive or aggressive.

The reason for using colored substances in foods is to make them more attractive. However, there is not enough evidence to prove that everyone should avoid using artificial food colors. The biggest sources of food coloring are unhealthy processed foods that have other negative health effects. Eliminating processed foods from the diet and focusing on whole and healthy foods improves overall health.

Completely healthy foods are naturally colorless

The best way to eliminate artificial food colors from your diet is to focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods. Unlike processed foods, most whole foods are very nutritious. Here are some foods that are naturally colorless:
Dairy and eggs: milk, plain yogurt, cheese, eggs, cottage cheese.
Meat and poultry: Chicken, beef and fresh fish.
Nuts and seeds: Almonds without additives, Macadamia nuts, Almonds, Walnuts, Sunflower seeds.
Fresh fruits and vegetables: All fresh fruits and vegetables.
Cereals: Oats, brown rice, quinoa and barley.
Legumes: Black beans, kidney beans, peas, sea beans and lentils.
If you want to eliminate all the colors in your diet, always read the labels on the products before buying. Some seemingly healthy foods also contain artificial colors.

in the end

There is no conclusive evidence that food coloring is dangerous to most people. However, they may cause allergic reactions in some people and hyperactivity in sensitive children. However, most food colorings are found in unhealthy processed foods that should be avoided anyway. Instead, divert your thinking to good foods that are naturally colorless.
Translator: Elahe Zarei

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