You might think that artificial food coloring is only used in Jell-O or Kool-Aid. Think again. It is a common food ingredient used in the United States. Many popular drinks, Vitamin Water, puddings, popsicles, baking mixes, pickles, fruits, sauces and chips contain food dyes. I know because I read food labels since I am allergic to seven food products and do not use artificial food dyes for health reasons. In addition here in the United States, we also have these chemicals added to vitamins, cough syrup, shampoos, laundry detergent and cosmetics so children have multiple ways of coming into contact with these chemicals.
In the United States, the history of food additives dates back to 1906 when the Pure Foods and Drugs Act was enacted. The next three decades saw a process of eliminating colors that caused recurrent adverse health effects in the public. By 1938, only 15 synthetic colors remained. We started with over fifty. Today, we only have seven colors on the FDS’s approved list. Although there are many safe and alternative food dyes in the natural world, in our country we have continued to rely on synthetic food dyes. This is not true in many European countries, which have banned the use of some of the dyes we currently use here in the United States. As of 2011 the European Union now requires warning labels on food containing any one of six artificial colors.
The safety of products containing artificial colors has been a point of debate for decades. Adversaries claim that they are toxic, carcinogens and contributors to attention deficient disorder. I am an adult consumer and I can articulate my reaction to food dyes. Children have less language skills and are not able to articulate their body’s reactions to these chemicals.
The moral of the story is to read every label on all products, food, drink, lotions, etc. that you give to young children. If at all possible, avoid the use of synthetic food dyes. Food manufacturers will follow the consumer trend. For example, I am a celiac-I cannot have wheat (gluten) or I have an autoimmune reaction. Years ago there were very few gluten free products, now most large retail grocery stores carry gluten free items because the market has demanded it. Now most large restaurant chains have a gluten free menu whereas ten years ago, this did not exist. Again, consumers demanded it.
Having shopped in the health food stores, I know from labels that there are many healthy alternatives for coloring foods other than with synthetic chemicals. Be an advocate for children’s health and take a stand against using synthetic food dyes in your center’s menu planning.