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The vibrant colors found in so many of today’s foods may spell significant trouble for your health. Artificial food colorings offer no nutritional value, and additionally, many have been reported to lead to adverse health effects, especially in children. Food dyes, a food additive used in many popular candies, drinks, popsicles, puddings, yogurts, gums, boxed mac n’ cheeses, baking mixes, pickles, meats, fruits, sauces, and chips have gotten an increasing amount of criticism these last few years. As if that’s not enough, the dye in our day isn’t limited to food. Chances are, if you take vitamins, use cough syrup, brush your teeth, wash your hands, shampoo your hair, launder your clothing and moisturize your lips on a daily basis — you come into contact with artificial dyes quite frequently.

Health authorities in Austria and Norway have even banned the use of artificial food dyes and European health authorities require a warning label on food that contains the synthetic ingredients. In Britain, warn labels to caution that children who consume foods containing artificial food colorings are at greater risk for developing hyperactive behavior and ADHD. Meanwhile, the FDA in the United States has yet to say much about the proven health dangers surrounding these synthetic ingredients. So just how dangerous are artificial food dyes? The next four facts will inform you.

Made From Petroleum Originally made from coal tar, food dyes now come from an unrefined fuel source — petroleum. Consuming petroleum in any amount isn’t the most pleasant thought; however, that’s just what you may be doing if you eat non-organic, processed foods. Many popular sports drinks, sodas, powdered mixes, and energy drinks contain petroleum-derived food colorings.

Contributes to ADHD Risk Numerous studies have established a significant link between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children. An Australian study examining food dyes’ effects on 200 children found that 75% of parents noticed an improvement in behavior and attention once dyes were eliminated from their child’s diet. Other research has validated this finding, suggesting future studies to determine safe intake levels for these products (if they exist, which I doubt).

Possible Carcinogen Red 40 and Yellow 5 and 6 contain the chemical benzene, a known carcinogen. The CDC claims that very little is known about the health effects of benzene, despite the mountain of evidence pointing to its cancer-causing potential. While most of the world has banned the use of artificial additives containing this compound, American companies freely use Red 40 and Yellow 5 and 6 in many common processed food products. Processed macaroni and cheese, for example, commonly use Yellow 6 to bring out the food’s bright-yellow hue.

Estrogen Enhancers Perhaps “enhance” isn’t the best word because this isn’t a good thing. Sunset yellow (Yellow 6) and tartrazine (Yellow 5) have been shown to behave like estrogen in the human body. Why is this bad? Because high levels of estrogen, regardless of the source, can contribute to breast cancer and may decrease sex drive in males, among other highly undesirable effects.

Alternatives Exist – Choose Wisely! The only way to completely avoid artificial food dyes is to consume an unprocessed, whole-food diet. If you’re in a time crunch and have to purchase a processed food item, make sure it is organic. Organic products are prohibited from using artificial coloring, sweeteners, or flavorings. Although organic processed foods are not the most nutrient-dense food on the planet, they are a far better alternative to other options.