I was floored recently when I learned that some Florida oranges are treated with food coloring to make them orange. Just when I thought I had mastered the challenge of only feeding my family foods without preservatives and artificial colors! This sneaky citrus color is a perfect example of how prevalent artificial ingredients are throughout our food supply and how vigilant we have to be to avoid them. After learning this startling fact I started to do some digging and learned that Americans now consume five times more dye today than in 1955 and there’s been a 50% increase just since 1990.
There are numerous reasons to be concerned by these numbers, but here are the top 3 reasons I see red anytime I see artificial coloring in food.
1. Color Safety is Not Always Clear
When restrictions on artificial colors began in 1906 with the “Pure Food and Drugs Act” the number of dyes allowed in consumer food were reduced from 80 to 7, of which 3 of the original remain today. Since then an additional 5 colors have been deemed “safe” bringing the total number of colors remaining on the FDA approved list to 8. And that’s just in food. When you look at all the colors that have been allowed in our consumer goods there were 200 different colors permitted in food, drugs,cosmetics and medical devices as recently as 1960, since then this number has been reduced by half.
This concerns me for two reasons, first it’s disturbing that although the number of color additives in consumer goods has been reduced, our consumption of the colors has increased as indicated by the above chart. According to Michael Jacobson, director of The Center for Science in the Public Interest, “That’s a good indication of how much junk food we’re consuming.” And second, if colors that were once approved have since been banned because they’ve been determined harmful it seems reasonable that this may happen again. Some colors that have banned in my own lifetime include Red #2, Yellows #1, #2, #3, #4 and Yellow #5 is currently under investigation which leads to the next reason I avoid artificial colors.
2. Health Concerns
The safety record of food additives is pockmarked by those that were once thought to be “safe” and have since been banned. Since 1960, when amendments were instituted to the FDA creating stricter regulations for color additives, there have been five colors banned that were previously thought to be safe (in addition to 10 other banned additives). The toxic effects from the banned colors include heart damage, liver poison, kidney damage and cancer.
In addition, for over 30 years there have been concerns that color additives cause hyperactivity in children. Over the years numerous parents have reported that eliminating artificial colors and preservatives in their children’s diets has improved their behavior and dozens of studies have been done. Many of these studies have come to the conclusion that consumption of artificial colors contributes to hyperactivity in both children who have ADHD and those who do not, however results have been mixed, some studies have been flawed and the FDA remains unconvinced.
Yet, concerns still persist and experts agree there is reason to be cautious. According to Andrew Adesman , chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, “Some of the studies are difficult or imperfect in that they don’t always tease out specific chemicals in isolation, but there is this body of literature that does suggest that food colorings are not as benign as people have been led to believe.” For now, the FDA will say only this:
For certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, artificial food colors.
As far as I’m concerned, my kids are wild enough without me giving them any chemicals that could potentially make them hyper. Furthermore, there is no reason why they should be consuming these chemicals which brings me to the third reason we avoid food with artificial colors.
3. Food with Artificial Colors is NOT Real Food!
Artificial colors in foods exist for cosmetic purposes only: to enhance, intrigue and help to identify (market) products. In my opinion, they exist to confuse and persuade consumers. And in most cases, where there is artificial color you can bet that food is also chock full of other additives. Color additives exist, according to the FDA,
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.
Did you catch that? Processed foods. And although they may make food look more pleasant, they are derived from a most unpleasant source, petroleum. Which leads me back to those Florida oranges that are actually dyed orange.
Comparing Apples to Oranges
Apparently ripe Florida oranges, early in the season, are not actually orange – they’re more of a green / yellow / orange — because they need cold night air to turn them orange. When I learned this it reminded me of my kids’ apple picking field trip this past September where we were told not to pick the Red Delicious variety because they would not taste sweet until the first frost of the year (the cold releases the natural sugars). So, both fruits need the cold air to come to perfection, however the similarities end there. The apple people do not artificially inject the apples with sugar to enhance the flavor, but the Florida orange people choose to dip their oranges in dye to artificially enhance their color. And it’s not just any dye! Remember the above list that showed Red 2 as being banned from food use in 1976 because it was deemed a “possible carcinogen”? It is now being used to color our oranges. The only restriction is that it can’t be used on oranges that are processed, just on the skins of oranges that show up in our produce section. Keep in mind that it’s not used on every Florida orange, and it’s mainly used only on oranges early in the season.
How can you avoid these oranges? Select citrus from Arizona or California because these states ban the use of Red No .2 or BUY ORGANIC!
Do you know of other sneaky places food coloring is hiding? Please share in the comments!