You may have seen television commercials recently for kid’s cereals proclaiming that artificial colors have been removed from their products. Another current commercial for a popular brand of macaroni and cheese makes the statement “Earlier this year, we started quietly selling Kraft macaroni and cheese with no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes. And guess what? It still tastes like Kraft macaroni and cheese.”
Why are food manufacturers removing these ingredients from their products? And maybe the better question would be why were those ingredients added in the first place?
According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, artificial colors are added to foods in order to “offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; (and) provide color to colorless and “fun” foods”.
While manufacturers believe that they are making foods more palatable there is evidence that the chemicals used to create artificial colorings contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity in children. Some are also linked to allergic reactions. The first studies on this were actually done in the 1970’s but there have been at least 8 analyses (comparing data compiled from multiple studies) done since 2011 that show that eliminating artificial food dyes reduces hyperactive behavior in some children.
How much artificial coloring does it take to create a noticeable difference in behavior? In one study it took as little as one serving of a beverage containing artificial coloring.
Artificial coloring is present in a wide variety of packaged food. It is obvious in some; things like candy, cereals, and fruity beverages, but also surprisingly present in things like pickles, yogurt, frozen dinners, and flavored oatmeal. Because these colorings are so prevalent in our food supply an average child will consume multiple foods in any given day that contain artificial coloring.
In a perfect world we would cook our own meals using whole fresh ingredients and we would not need to artificially enhance the color or rely on chemical flavorings and preservatives. But the fact is that most Americans will buy at least some processed and packaged foods. To avoid these chemicals the best advice is to read labels.
Artificial colors are listed in the ingredient label as the color and a number, i.e. red 40, yellow 6, etc. Other additives may also be listed, things that do everything from increasing shelf life to artificially increasing fiber and vitamin content. Look for foods that contain the fewest ingredients possible and preferably ingredients that you recognize.