By Linda Bonvie
Food Colors
A new number has just been released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that should set off flashing red, yellow and blue warning lights for food shoppers throughout the land.

The FDA now estimates that at least 96 percent of children aged 2-5 years are being exposed to at least four artificial colors in food products – FD&C Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1.

What that means is that the great majority of America’s kids –especially those of preschool and kindergarten age — are now being fed foods that are tainted by virtue of being painted.

Perhaps you never thought of the use of synthetic food dyes in quite that way. But to “taint” can be defined as “to modify by or as by a trace of something offensive or deleterious.” In other words, to add a very small amount of a substance that can be harmful or “injurious to health.”

And that’s how many experts now view the artificial hues that are used to “pretty up” so many processed foods by making these nutrient-deficient products appear more colorful.

In fact, one of their primary concerns about these additives is how they may be affecting children – a worry supported by research. A few years ago, studies were performed at Yale University’s Department of Pediatric Neurology to determine the effects of five common synthetic food dyes on baby rats. Only unlike experiments that have used excessive amounts of substances in question, these used the equivalent of the “real world” exposures our kids have to these dyes. And the results were alarming – the rats became hyperactive and showed diminished learning ability.

Nor is this an effect that has been confined to lab rats. Not long ago, a British study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, which found that artificial food dyes increased hyperactivity in children, prompted the American Academy of Pediatricians to acknowledge a link between their consumption and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and to recommend parents try removing them from the diet of a child who suffers from the condition.

In other words, the road to Ritalin could well be paved with all those FD&C’s you see listed among the ingredients of today’s processed food products.

Fake colors versus true hues

But hyperactivity isn’t the only health problem that these fake hues are associated with. Red dye No. 40, a petroleum derivative and the most commonly used artificial color, has been known to cause allergic reactions such as hives and swelling around the mouth, and is a suspected carcinogen. Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) has been linked to chromosomal damage and may cause allergic reactions and migraines. Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow), currently banned in Norway and Sweden, can cause gastrointestinal distress, swelling of the skin, nettle rash and migraines, and may also be carcinogenic. And Blue No. 1, or “brilliant blue,” which has been banned in France and Finland, may trigger asthma, low blood pressure, hives and other allergic reactions. (It also caused serious complications and death in hospital patients when used in feeding tube solutions several years ago.)

The irony is that the “true colors” of foods – those that nature intended — not only make them look more appealing, but actually show that they’re rich in certain vital nutrients.

The red in a tomato, for example, indicates the presence of lycopene – a powerful antioxidant also found in red-tinged commodities like watermelon, sweet red peppers and pink grapefruit, which helps ward off heart disease and also is believed to lower the risk of prostate and breast cancer. The yellow color of veggies and fruits such as squash, pineapple and bananas is due to carotenoids and bioflavonoids, which also provides strong antioxidant properties that benefit your heart, vision, digestive and immune systems, and also are a great source of vitamin C. And the substances that give foods like blueberries, blackberries, pomegranates, plums and eggplant their ‘true blue hue’ help prevent both heart disease and cancer.

Given the many health benefits of the variety of vivid colors Mother Nature has imparted to our foods, the idea of buying foods disguised with unhealthy, counterfeit colors – in other words, that have been both painted and tainted –should be enough to make every consumer who’s not between the ages of two and five cringe.
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