July 1, 2010

Red Popsicles: Summer Fun or Cancer Sticks?

I’ve long been concerned about food that glows.

Blue slushies that dye your tongue, cereal in rainbow hues, and squirtable yogurt so bright it looks like paint.  My research over the years has revealed more than alarming evidence of the link between artificial dyes widely used in food, and the development of allergies, ADHD, and even cancer. These gaudy foods, disproportionately marketed to children through every imaginable channel, (television, internet, stickers?), are used to cajole children into eating foods that someone has decided they won’t eat otherwise – most often foods with low nutritional value.

Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of many chemical and synthetic dyes as safe for use in food, drugs and cosmetics (FD& C colors), largely ignoring a growing body of evidence that seriously questions their safety.

These synthetic dyes are manufactured from coal-tar derivatives (from chemical compounds) which are made when coal is distilled, leading to a highly processed, petrochemical soup called, for instance, FD& C Red #40. For almost 50 years the safety of artificial food colorings have been called into question:

It all started back in the mid 1960s, when then little known San Francisco allergist, doctor Ben Feingold, through his practice, became aware of the link between food additives – particularly artificial food coloring agents – and so called hyperkinetic behavior, or hyperactivity, often associated with irritability, and difficulty to concentrate. Food coloring agents also seemed to be directly implicated in causing allergic reactions – such as hives, skin lesions, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, even skeletal disorders – in sensitive individuals.

In the following years, results of a number of trials carried out by Feingold, including some 1,200 cases, confirmed the link. However, many other studies up to this day have failed to come to a common conclusion. This created a limbo to this day, with the general public – including parents – inclined to think that food additives do affect children’s behavior, while organized medicine generally denying it. The later opinion is shared by the government’s regulative agency (FDA), and – needless to say – by food manufacturers.  Source – Healthknot.com

A new report  from The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) entitled “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks,” says food dyes pose a  variety of risks to the American public and is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban three of the most commonly used dyes: Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.  A new CSPI report says those dyes contain known carcinogens and contaminants that unnecessarily increase the risks of cancer, hyperactivity in children and allergic reactions.

“These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody,” said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. “The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”

In a nutshell,

“The science shows that kids’ behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they’re added to the their diets,” said Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, who conducted a 2004 meta-analysis with his colleague Dr. Nhi-Ha T. Trinh. “While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it’s hard to justify their continued use in foods—especially those foods heavily marketed to young children.”

The good news is that the time is right for natural food colorants. I faced up to the fact some time ago that, much to my dismay, some processed food in my life is a reality. Under recent pressure from the natural products industry, and naturally minded consumers, dye manufacturers have been pressed to explore alternatives such as food dyes from turmeric, annatto, spinach, beets, and elderberry. Greatly improved natural colorants, long dismissed as dull and unstable, are a step in the right direction.

Let’s hope the FDA gets the memo.

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